In our "win-at-all-costs culture," has winning become so important that cheating, lying, bullying and stealing have become accepted, or even worse, expected? Has this type of behavior become ingrained in our athletes, politicians and businessmen?
Does it matter how you win? Is the way you win as important as the result?
The answer, to me, is a resounding, "yes." It does matter how you win. Grace, humility, integrity and gasp, even honesty, are important elements in winning. I would even say they are integral components of winning, and that "winning" without them actually losing.
In 1990, after graduating from UC Berkeley, I decided that I wanted to be a bike racer. Two years later, I was in Barcelona competing in the Olympic Games with USA Cycling. I turned pro after the Olympics and in 1997 was picked up by the top American team, U.S. Postal Services Professional Cycling. Yes, those guys. They're not exactly known as pillars of grace, humility, integrity and honesty.
In May of that year, I was presented with a Faustian choice: use drugs and move up the ranks or continue to race clean but remain mired in mediocrity. Our team doctor, Pedro Celaya presented me with a 17-day training program consisting of 100 miles or more per day with intense intervals at the end of the workouts. A typical day would be a hard five-hour ride followed by an hour of wind sprint-type efforts. He had marked each day on the calendar with stars or dots and then handed me a Ziploc baggie filled with pills and syringes filled with clear liquid: steroids. In his heavy Spanish accent he told me, "This will make you go strong like bull, but no racing. For sure you will test positive!"
I grabbed the baggie and left the room. At this point, I wasn't sure what I was going to do.
A week later, it was time to start the training regimen so I had to make a decision. There was nothing that I wanted more than to be a professional athlete. I had started my career late and was just beginning to make real progress. I had mixed feelings about the use of the drugs. In a sense, I didn't consider it cheating. Everyone was doing it. Imagine you are at Harvard and when the professor leaves the room all the students take out their notes and books for a test. You will either fail or transfer. But there was no getting around the lie. I was going to have to look my friends and family in the eye and tell a boldfaced lie.
My peers and roommates, like George Hincapie, who completed 17 Tours, and Tyler Hamilton, who won a gold medal, decided early in their careers that doping was the answer. However, I felt that if I started down this path that it would be a slippery slope. I didn't see how it could end well.
So I made an extreme decision. I walked. I was not willing to sell my soul.
We rarely talk about the price of making good decisions and the price I paid was steep. I willingly walked from my career as a professional cyclist because I did not want to "live the lie." I never raced in the Tour de France or another Olympic Games or World Championship, but what I received for my payment is something worth far more: honor and integrity.
Just as we see many, including Arianna Huffington, question our focus of success based upon power and money, I believe that we have to ask ourselves, "Does it matter how you win?"
Because really, if we think about it, how one achieves money and power says a lot about that person and his or her character. Integrity cannot be bought or bartered.
As the doping scandal became front-page news last year, my wife called me on my way home from work and said, "Aren't you glad you aren't sitting down with our son and daughter and explaining to them that their dad cheated and lied to get what he wants? That's a conversation you don't have to have." Sometimes, to really win, you have to be willing to lose. And I can't think of a better win that the respect and love of my family.
Follow Scott Mercier on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ScottMercier1