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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sociopath alert: Lance Armstrong



The public loves nothing more than a comeback story, and Lance Armstrong's is one of the greatest: he survived testicular, lung, abdomen, and brain cancer, then went on to win the Tour de France a record seven times. Americans have a tendency to confuse victims with heroes, but Armstrong's triumphs have made him both.   

Yet I've long had the impression that he is one of the most contradictory figures on the public scene, with an unblemished public persona which is hugely at odds with his real personality.

People will often excuse the bad behavior of champion athletes by saying, oh, that's just his competitive nature coming out. But it is one thing to be competitive, another to have a narcissistic personality.

Armstrong is evidently happy to hang with famous guys and romance famous women. But when it comes to his family, his fans, and eventually, even his famous girlfriends, they all just become secondary adjuncts to The Lance Show, minor moons orbiting his greatness. Time after time former friends and teammates say that when they were around Lance, they were effectively expected to scrape and bow, and run errands for him.

Only extreme narcissists will try to create a cult of personality around themselves. Armstrong has even named his foundation (Livestrong) partially after himself. (The really greedy narcissists want a reputation for goodness as well as greatness.) And he guards that reputation jealously. Anybody who dares to criticize him in any way immediately becomes his enemy.

As always, the most interesting question is why. Why did Armstrong turn out this way? Wikipedia is usually a reliable source for this type of information, and sure enough, the "Family and Personal Life" section of Armstrong's entry was quite illuminating: 

Armstrong was born to Linda Mooneyham, a secretary, and Eddie Charles Gunderson of Norwegian ancestry, a route manager for The Dallas Morning News. He was named after Lance Retzel, a Dallas Cowboys wide receiver. His father left his mother when Lance was two and has two other children from another relationship. His mother later married Terry Keith Armstrong, a wholesale salesman, who adopted Lance in 1974. Linda has married and divorced three times. Armstrong refuses to meet his birth father and has described Terry Armstrong as deceitful.

There's certainly enough dysfunction there to explain Armstrong's personality. He never really knew his own father, and now refuses to speak to him. His mother has married and divorced three times, an indication that she may not have been that easy to deal with herself. Armstrong even describes his adoptive father as deceitful.

Deceit is something that Armstrong knows well. For years it's been obvious that he's been doping, an allegation he denies. But there are too many people who have leveled that charge at him, people who claim to have actually witnessed him doping, or been asked to store his vials of blood, or even been encouraged to dope themselves by him, for there not to be some fire behind all that smoke.

Armstrong continues to deny all of this. This past summer, while competing in the Tour de France, news emerged that federal subpoenas had been issued in connection with the current investigation, in particular allegations that Armstrong had gotten his teammates to dope as well. Armstrong's response: "As long as I live, I will deny it. There was absolutely no way I forced people, encouraged people, told people, helped people, facilitated. Absolutely not. One hundred percent."

For most people, a simple "No I didn't" would have sufficed. But a certain personality type tends to vehemence. Armstrong's denial is reminiscent of OJ Simpson's murder plea: "I plead absolutely, one hundred percent not guilty." It is also reminiscent of the way Bill Clinton wagged his finger at the assembled reporters and angrily declared, "I did not have sex with that woman!" (As Shakespeare once said, "The [gentleman] doth protest too much.")

It's harder to hold doping against an athlete who competes in a sport notorious for it. But at same time, it makes it all the more unlikely that a clean athlete would be head and shoulders above the others in that same sport. The Tour is the toughest of athletic contests; it has been likened to running a marathon every day for twenty straight days. (One would almost need drugs just to survive it.) 

What is easier to hold against Armstrong is the pristine image he has cultivated, and the vehemence of his denials. Armstrong often refers to the number of doping tests he has passed. But dopers always seem to be a step ahead of the sports police. Michelle Smith always passed her tests (until well after the '96 Olympics). Marion Jones always passed her tests. Barry Bonds always passed his. The long list of athletes who've tested clean despite being dirty makes those results seem somewhat irrelevant.

People who believe in Armstrong attribute his success to his work ethic, and there is no denying that he is an extremely hard worker. But most top level cyclists push their bodies as far as they possibly can while training. What is it that allows one cyclist to train that much harder? Desire may be one factor. But an extraneous source of rejuvenating male hormones could easily be another.

It is mere coincidence that Armstrong once rode for the US Postal team, and thus got government funds, which he certainly didn't need. But that taxpayer money will probably prove Armstrong's downfall: it is what has prompted the current federal grand jury investigation into his drug use and possible fraud.

Lying to a grand jury is a serious crime. Martha Stewart didn't get sent to prison for her insider trading, which was minor; she was sent away for having lied about it to a grand jury. Likewise, Marion Jones wasn't sent away for having juiced, but for having lied about it to a grand jury. The Feds don't like it when you lie to them.

The people who have recently been subpoenaed by the grand jury convened for the Armstrong case must be aware of that. Floyd Landis, the recently disgraced and disqualified Tour winner, has already testified against Armstrong. More recently Greg LeMond, a longtime critic, has been called in. Many of the lesser names will undoubtedly sing when it is their turn to testify. And many of these people, who have been ridden roughshod over by Armstrong in the past, will be only too happy to do so.

FDA criminal investigator Jeff Novitzky, who is in charge of this investigation into possible doping conspiracies in cycling, has a reputation as a pit bull: he is the one who led the BALCO probe. This can only have a further tongue-loosening effect among those he questions.

Armstrong's public image, like Tiger Woods', has been at such a high level for so long that the sound of its crash will reverberate through every publication in the country. But unlike Tiger, Armstrong will be guilty when it comes to his sport, not just sloppy in his personal life. He's undoubtedly got enough money put away to live well for the rest of his life, but he won't be getting the endorsements the way he used to. (Tiger himself may have further to fall should it turn out that his steroid use can be proven as well.)

Sociopaths, when accused of something they are guilty of, react with all the outrage of the unjustly accused innocent; this is exactly how Armstrong has reacted. And it is one thing to dope oneself; it is downright sociopathic to manipulate one's teammates into doing the same. And it is sociopathic to treat those around you as expendable servants. 

(Side note: one thing I've noticed over the years is that a large percentage of sociopaths, at least the Caucasian ones, seem to have thin lips, like Armstrong. I don't know why this would be so, and it's probably just coincidence. But, spurious or not, I have noticed a correlation.)

I have to admit, I've been watching the net close in around Armstrong with some glee. (This is just ordinary schadenfreude, not sociopathy.)

Addendum, 1/20/13: Two more recent posts about Lance's sociopathy, here and here

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

That is sooo funny "they all have thin lips.."

John Craig said...

I know it sounds ridiculous, and I have absolutely no explanation for it, but it is a correlation I've noticed. Type in "Thin lips" into the search box of this blog, I have a couple of other posts about it.

Anonymous said...

This article was really interesting. We have been dealing with exposing a sociopath within our church and everything you said about Armstrong sounds very familiar. The manipulation and lies are infuriating, to say the least.
And he has thin lips. :)

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
Good luck, I hope you expose him.

Anonymous said...

This proved to be spot on

Anonymous said...

Well guess what. There is still hope...

http://www.livestrong.com/sociopath-disorder/

John Craig said...

Ha! That's great.

No hope for Lance, though, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

thin lips, impulsive, lacking awareness, reckless... - FASD.

Anonymous said...

You called it. Well done.

John Craig said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...


Hi there, I liked your article.

* Thin lips are associated with high testosterone levels. This is correlated with masculine traits, such as increased aggression.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you.

That's interesting; I had wondered about that, especially since so often gay guys seem to have fuller lips. These aren't fail-safe measures, of course, but there is a positive correlation.

Anonymous said...

Wow - no idea who you are but man, were you ahead of the curve...LA really has proven to be a textbook sociopath. It does lead one to contemplate where the line is between being fiercely competitive and being sociopathic (or if there is a line)...

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you.

The difference between the two is basically, what are they willing to do to get ahead?

Anonymous said...

Found by googling "thin lips sociopath." Okay, not really, but you are right on that point and on the rest as well. I've a sociopathic ex-husband with virtually nonexistent lips. *shivers*

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you. I feel almost foolish posting about the correlation with thin lips, it seems specious, but I've just noticed it too many times not to note it. And this blog is not about cleaving to mainstream opinions, but rather being honest about stuff I've noticed.

Manfred said...

there are lots of hardcore sociopaths with fat lips.

John Craig said...

Manfred --
I've no doubt.

Anonymous said...

"That's interesting; I had wondered about that, especially since so often gay guys seem to have fuller lips. These aren't fail-safe measures, of course, but there is a positive correlation."

But don't a lot of gay guys have higher levels of testosterone? Very slippery slope of wild speculation, it seems to me, though you are probably right about Armstrong being a sociopath, thin lips or not.

John Craig said...

Anon --
You're right, the thin lips thing is completely wild speculation. Which is why I keep saying that I can't think of any reason why it would be, and I know it sounds ridiculous, etc. But I do keep noticing it.

John Craig said...

PS -- I don't think gay guys have higher testosterone as a group, I think they have lower levels on average. Keep in mind, taking steroids seems to be part of gay culture these days, and that can be misleading.

Anonymous said...

Lance is definitely a sociopath. He is completely devoid of conscience and has no ability to feel empathy, from all accounts. I've just recently finished extracating myself from a sociopath at work, and my god she was the most unbelievable liar and was absolutely cold and dead inside, but scared the hell out of me. I know. Lance fits it. The intimidation, arrogance, narcissism. Classic.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! Your description
perfectly matches that of my ex-husband. Such a person can be so charming that it is easy (and much less frightening) to disregard the undeniable sociopathic attributes.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you. And congratulations on making him your ex.

Jutta said...

"...His left arm was in a sling...He had sort of a pointed nose, and thin lips." (Eyewitness description of Ted Bundy on the day he abducted and murdered two women)

John Craig said...

Jutta --
Thank you. See:

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2011/09/thin-lips-ii.html

(Your observation confirmed.)

Anonymous said...

Read some excerpts from his interview with Oprah, immediately thought *sociopath* googling brought me here - you called it!

My ex-husband is a sociopath, and thin lipped....

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you. And congratulations to you too on making your husband your ex. As you and the second-to-last commenter have found out, after a while you really have no choice.

Anonymous said...

I googled and found this article, too.

Great job.

And now, I beware the thin-lipped man.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you.

Ha! I've noticed that a strikingly high percentage of Caucasian heterosexual male sociopaths seem to have thin lips, but that doesn't quite mean that thin lips indicate sociopathy.

Robin said...

Most caucasians have thin lips, especially once they are out of their teens/twenties... Just saying.

John Craig said...

Robin --
I probably shouldn't have mentioned the thin lips thing, it's a little silly and has become too much of a focus.

Anonymous said...

I have studied SOCIOPATHS for years...due to a close family member being one. Yet I found this article and comments so inciteful. A narcissist sociopath really does have a competitive spirit and a drive to look superior at any cost. As children they will often cheat in games of any nature and become angry if they lose at something, even if they come in second. In many ways this makes them quite entertaining, but eventually it catches up with them. Still checking on the thin lip thing.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you. Yes, if you've had extended contact with one, the others become easier to recognize.....I know I've gone out on a limb with the thin lips observation (which I mention elsewhere in the blog as well), and I know it sounds ridiculous, and I can't even think of a good reason why it would be, but it's a correlation I've noticed quite often.

Oscar Madrid said...

Hi John, I find this sociopath subject fascinating and I would like to ask you if you are a psychologist or have been studying this science. I do have a personality disorder (borderline) which is considered more harmful than antisocial personality disorder, but that doesn't make of me a dangerous character. Regards.

John Craig said...

Oscar --
I'm not a psychologist. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology from Harvard, but the truth is, I graduated from college without any clue as to what a sociopath is. I found that out at age 25, through personal experience, and have been fascinated (and horrified) by them ever since. I've met a few in person, have read about many more, and have also read most of the books on the subject. If you read the news you never have to look far for one, as they are constantly making headlines.

Anonymous said...

Your article showed that Lance Armstrong is probably the most extreme example of a sociopath that has ever existed.

I know a woman, who I dated many, many years ago and got back in contact with her recently on Facebook (initiated by her) who is also a textbook sociopath. She is as charming as all get out when trying to establish a relationship with someone, mainly to be able to use them for her own bidding later on. She is totally incapable of any genuine feelings and it is impossible for her to form a genuine bond with anybody. No wonder she is 60 years old and despite being very attractive physically, has never been married. When some man tries to get too close to her she pushes them away.

I was used and abused by her when we dated over 30 years ago. She was very adroit at playing me like a yo-yo and it took me a while and many bruised feelings on top of a few visits to a therapist to finally figured out I was being played big time before I finally got up the courage to to her to go fly a kite.

Narcissists and sociopaths are all around us. If you feel like you are being jerked around emotionally by someone then you probably are in the grips of a sociopath and you need to recognize it and run the other way.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Yes, they are all around us, unfortunately. Sociopaths are roughly 3% of the population, narcissists a much larger percentage. But they are everywhere, and often they have connived their way into positions of power and prestige.

It sounds as if the woman you got involved with is a classic sociopath; congratulations for having recognized her as such before she could do any more damage to you.

One of the most frustrating things about the whole phenomenon is the number of people who will make excuses for such a person when all the evidence is there that the person is a sociopath. This is what happened with Lance, who was actually adored by the multitudes, and I'm sure it happened with the woman you were involved with as well.

Anonymous said...

I have tremendous respect for one of Lance Armstrong's victims, Greg LeMond, a true hero.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Couldn't agree more. LeMond was clean, a true sportsman, and unfortunately he was eclipsed by the cheater, so very few people mention him anymore.

Thanks for bringing him up.

Anon said...

Speaking of thin lips, this article says individuals with autism also frequently have thin upper lips:
http://sfari.org/news-and-opinion/in-brief/2012/clinical-research-facial-features-can-help-diagnose-autism

Perhaps sociopaths do have some physical characteristics in common and maybe folks with other neurological syndromes, too.

John Craig said...

Anon --
That's interesting, thank you, I hadn't heard that before.

The thin lips thing is something I've seen so often with Caucasian sociopaths that it's uncanny, but I can't think of any reason why such a trait would be correlated.

Anonymous said...

Well, there's a researcher who says differences in the face reflects differences in the brain. Here's the article about it: http://sfari.org/news-and-opinion/news/2011/facial-features-provide-clue-to-autism-severity

Perhaps in addition to neurological differences in the brain for sociopathic disorders, there are physical differences as well. I think sociopath is a neurological disorder, right?

John Craig said...

Anon --
Interesting, thank you. As I said, this is the first I've heard of the phenomenon.

Sociopathy can be neurologically-induced, if there's damage to the frontal lobe, but it seems to be caused mostly by a lack of parental bonding in the first year. That's why so many kids who grow up in orphanages become sociopaths.

Anonymous said...

Wait wait ....I'm just

So, everyone who lines up after either idolizing or financially benefitting from armstrongs endevours is now pissed off?. You creeps!! You one way recipients of grandeur ...

I