Lance Armstrong vs. the New Honor Code
Do people who have acted horribly in public life deserve a second chance, or does giving them a pass contribute to a decline in morality and standards that makes us all worse off?
I’m not talking about the extreme and obvious cases, like movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison on rape and assault convictions. And I’m not talking about people getting fired or pushed out of jobs because of random dumb posts, woke mobs, or years-old statements ripped out of context.
I’m talking more about public figures such as Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles in 2012 after getting caught using banned substances for basically his entire professional career and lying about it. Should we let him and others like him back into the public spotlight when they don’t really own their mistakes or try to repair the damage they’ve done to public trust and confidence? Overall, I think we’re generally too quick to let bygones be bygones, with the predictable result that our trust in each other and our institutions is tanking.
Armstrong is working his way back into the spotlight after making a few public apologies that didn’t really convince anyone. Last year, he was the subject of an ESPN documentary and he’s currently the face of WEDŪ, an events and media company where he hosts a podcast that covered the 2019 Tour de France and raked in an estimated $1 million in revenue during the month-long event.
Cultural anthropologist and brand consultant Grant McCracken is a hard no on Armstrong. “Here’s a guy who doped, who insisted that he didn’t dope, and accused his competitors of doping,” says McCracken, who has taught at Harvard and MIT and worked with Netflix, Google, and Kanye West. “We are open-hearted Americans, we like to think that all people should be forgiven. People make mistakes. It’s always the second act in American culture. I’m not sure there should be a second act. I think once you’ve done something as bad as that you’re done, you’re out.”
His new book is The New Honor Code: A Simple Plan for Raising Our Standards and Restoring Our Good Names and I interviewed him at length for a podcast (listen here). Honor, or the expectation that we’ll hold ourselves and others to high standards, has gone missing in too much of our lives, he argues. We often let celebrities and public figure
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