Floyd Landis is a gifted liar who seduced many people into believing that he was the victim of a witch hunt. Sports fans have always been enthralled with miraculous come from behind victories, and Landis contributed a chapter to that lore with his fairy tale triumph in the 2006 Tour de France.
Although we repeatedly had been burned by the fall from the hero pedestal by an increasing number of sports icons including Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Marion Jones, and Michael Vick, many of us wanted to bask in the reflected glory of Landis's achievement. Sadly, the post race positive test findings of his significantly elevated testosterone levels led to the stripping of his title and a two year cycling ban imposed by the USADA.
Fueled with fury Landis went on the offensive. He not only denied the doping allegations, but he took extreme measures to justify his innocence; including the writing of a book titled Positively False, to substantiate his claim of being falsely victimized. His lame explanations for the spiked testosterone findings ranged from the alcohol he drank the night before, to his thyroid medication, to dehydration.
Caught in the crosshairs of scandal and disgrace Landis went into overdrive in self deception and attempting to deceive the public. Dealing with the humiliation of being labeled as a cheater, and having to permanently wear the Scarlet Letter was too much to cope with, and instead he cushioned the trauma by invoking an array of defense mechanisms to a pathological degree.
His first line of defense was to attack the French laboratory for the flaws in their testing procedures. This was an expression of the mechanism of externalization, in which you locate the source of a problem as coming from the outside rather than from within yourself. Blame is a central element in externalization, and Landis was quick to blame the antidoping authorities and the scavengers in the media. He also embraced the mechanism of rationalization to facilitate his transgressions. By telling himself that doping was something that many cyclists resorted to in order to gain an edge in endurance, he highlighted the group contagion effect, to justify his crossing the line of integrity. He also may have rationalized that if his idol, Lance Armstrong, who was often suspected of using performance enhancing drugs, could cheat and get away with it by flying under the radar of discovery, then why couldn't he.
Landis appears to have used compartmentalization as another ineffective coping technique designed to separate his devious and unethical behavior from his moral and religious values and belief system. Compartmentalization allows the contrasting sides of one's personality to co-exist side by side, and through this sectioning mechanism he could underplay and distance himself from his "dark side" and over represent his "virtuous side". In his current admissions to ESPN he is trumpeting the latter in stating that one of his motivations is to spare other cyclists the anguish of dealing with what he had to go through.
His primary mechanism of defense was denial, and Landis was heavily invested in portraying himself as an innocent victim; and deceiving himself and others in his quest for vindication. Denial and outrageous indignation go hand in hand, and he went so far as to spend almost $2 million in legal fees in a filed attempt to clear his name. He even was successful in corralling numerous admiring but naive followers to contribute to his legal defense fund. The extent to which denial can distort reality is reflected in the cover jacket of his book which states, "Landis went from winning the most prestigious race of his career to being unfairly labeled as a cheater, a liar, and a doper."
It should be noted that Landis's accusations about Armstrong and others may eventually turn out to be true. Even chronic liars sometimes do tell the truth. Would we be shocked by such revelations? Our accumulated disappointments, induced by the cavalcade of fallen sports heroes has hastened the transition from illusion to disillusionment to indifference. Floyd Landis has reinforced the growing knee jerk reaction of cynicism about superior performance in sports.
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