I wasn’t the most angelic child in the world. I was mean to my sister, fought with my brother, spilled paint on the carpet, tried to run away from home (more than once), threw plenty of tantrums, and frequently talked back to my parents. I got punished…often. As bad as some of my deeds were, the discipline was always worse when I tried to lie. I wasn’t very good at lying, and I had established such a bad track record of bending the truth, that my level of credibility was almost zero. My sister took great pleasure in turning me in to the proper authorities, and it took me way too long to realize I was only making it worse on myself when I tried to hide the truth.
But lying was always easy, and it just felt right at the time. It sure seemed better than admitting anything. These days, there are plenty of prominent sports figures who are finding out the hard way that lying only makes things worse.
Just ask Jim Tressel. The Ohio State football coach, who portrayed a squeaky clean schoolboy image with his sweater vest and tie, resigned this week after lying to the NCAA about his knowledge of his players receiving improper benefits. Last year, Tressel was alerted to the fact that several of his players had received tattoos in exchange for Ohio State apparel and memorabilia, a clear violation of NCAA rules. Instead of informing his athletic director or anyone else in the athletic department, Tressel kept quiet. In September 2010, he signed a compliance form saying he had no knowledge of any violations. When Ohio State began its own investigation, emails were uncovered which indicated Tressel did indeed have knowledge of his players behavior. Even though the school handed Tressel a five-game suspension and a $250,000 fine, the mounting pressure from the public and the media led to Tressel’s resignation on Tuesday. If Tressel had exposed his players’ transgressions from the start, Ohio State may have been slapped with violations and suspensions, but its unlikely Tressel’s job would have been in jeopardy. A lie is the reason Tressel is unemployed, and the NCAA doesn’t take kindly to lying.
Just ask Dez Bryant. Oklahoma State’s standout receiver thought he was helping himself when he wasn’t completely honest with the NCAA about his relationship with Deion Sanders. Bryant was nervous and probably a little scared while he was being questioned, which led to a hasty, poor decision. Had Bryant been honest and admitted that he did visit Sanders’ home, the NCAA may have only suspended him for a couple of games. Instead, Bryant was forced to sit out the rest of his junior season in Stillwater. Again, twisting the truth only dug Dez a deeper hole and caused questions to arise about his character.
Bruce Pearl knows his lies did a number on his character and reputation. For 17 months the NCAA was investigating Tennessee’s basketball program for possible recruiting violations. During that time, Pearl provided incorrect and misleading information to the NCAA. Tennessee reduced Pearl’s salary and placed him on probation but allowed him to keep his job. Then, just days after a tearful and apologetic press conference, Pearl once again violated recruiting rules. Tennessee learned of this violation and an additional violation in early March, only after the NCAA continued to dig deeper. Pearl, who claimed he had learned his lesson after his initial punishment, chose to keep lying and kept covering his tracks. When the lies were finally exposed, Pearl was canned.
In the baseball world, the players that have done the most damage to themselves are the ones who continue to lie and deny the overwhelming evidence pointing to their steroid use. Look at the players who finally came out and admitted their misdeeds like Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettite, and Jason Giambi. Sure, their reputations took a hit, but the American public was quick to forgive because they came clean. Meanwhile, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens continue to look foolish in their repeated denials. They have become so entrenched in their lies, there’s no turning back. As George Costanza once said, “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.” Bonds and Clemens have lived in the bubble of denial for so long now; maybe they’re actually starting to mistake excuses for truth. They may never make the Hall of Fame, and they may never get out from under the shadow their lies have cast. All players who cheated the game have tarnished their reputations, but at least the ones who own up to their mistakes can move on with their lives and are no longer public pariahs.
For all the athletes and coaches out there, can’t you see how lying makes everything worse? Please learn something from your peers. The fans know you’re only human; you’re going to make mistakes. We don’t expect perfection, just honesty. Be a man, admit you were wrong, and accept the consequences. Can you hear me Lance Armstrong?