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The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Lance (and Manti)

THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND LANCE (AND MANTI)

WHAT THEY SAID

Sosa_McGuireIn November 2005, Lance Armstrong said: "How many times do I have to say it? … Well, it can't be any clearer than 'I've never taken drugs.'"

And in June 2012, he said: "I have never doped … I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one."

Then, in January 2013, he said: "All the fault and all the blame here falls on me. I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. I made my decisions. They are my mistakes, and I am sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I'm sorry for that."

Manti_TeoMeanwhile, Notre Dame Linebacker, and Heisman Trophy Candidate, Manti Te'o said on November 14, 2012: "every morning I wake up and my girlfriend is not on the phone. It reminds me that she's gone. That's the hardest part." He was referring to his "girlfriend," who turned out to not exist at all, despite his repeated and public mourning of her well-reported "death."

BUT IT TURNED OUT NOT TO BE TRUE

What does all this say about truth, how we perceive people, and how we judge whether people are telling the truth.

One thing we do, not just in legal cases, but in many other facets of daily life, is evaluate people for credibility. We look for things like eye contact, facial and body tics, vocal inflection, to aid us in this process. Most of us think we are pretty good at determining who is lying and who is telling the truth. How often do we follow along movies or television shows and make pronouncements about who did it or whether a particular character is believable?

Lance-Armstrong-said-in-2-010Lance Armstrong made pronouncements repeatedly, publicly, and legally that he was absolutely, 100% telling the truth and that the accusers were the liars (which was why he sued them, called them names, bullied them, and jettisoned them).

As it turns out, Lance, as he recently "revealed" to Oprah Winfrey, was the big liar.

What was it about Lance that made so many people want to believe him?

(Full disclosure: I am an avid cyclist, a cycling geek who actually watches bicycle races on television).

With all that being said, why did I consistently "know" that something did not seem to add up in Lance's story? Was it my more detailed knowledge of cycling that lead me to deduce that his claims did not hold water? More significantly, why did so many people WANT to believe him (and buy Livestrong bracelets, Trek bicycles, Nike clothing etc.)?

There certainly appears to be a component to his story that is so inspirational, so positive, that it almost feels "wrong" to say emphatically that a guy who nearly died from cancer is lying when he says he won the world's toughest cycling race an unprecedented seven times clean.

Some of the reasons I have heard people give for why they believed Lance for so long:

  • He is a cancer survivor.
  • He is raising money to "fight cancer" (let's not quibble that it was really for "cancer awareness").
  • The French press were after him because he was American
  • The French labs were flawed.
  • He never tested positive.

My conclusion is that many people simply WANTED TO BELIEVE LANCE ARMSTRONG FOR REASONS THAT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT HE WAS SAYING BUT FOR HOW HE WAS PORTRAYED (AND PORTRAYED HIMSELF) IN THE MEDIA.

FIRST LANCE, NOW MANTI TOO?

Now we turn to the ongoing Manti Te'o saga. Short story is he is a great football player at a great school (Notre Dame) with a great personal story, which was pushed publicly at every opportunity. Some saw the "dead girlfriend hoax" as inspirational--he played a great game in which he was credited with twelve tackles after rising from the throes of despair, having lost his grandmother (true) and girlfriend (not true) within the weeks leading up to the big game.

Manti Te'o had much of the same "stuff" Lance had going for him--he was great at what he did, he was handsome, he seemed to portray "American values," whatever we perceive those to be, and overcame hardship to become a great champion.

But it was mostly nonsense. Either he was the biggest sap in the world or at least some of what he said he knew to be untrue. Most people have now decided that he HAD to have known something was "funny" and that he must have been lying about at least some of this. His story has spawned so many "imaginary girlfriend" jokes that it is not worth repeating them here.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN THE COURTROOM AND SOCIETY AT LARGE?

Much of this synchs with what trial attorneys have known for years; namely, that jurors will give the benefit of the doubt to people who tell a consistent story and try really hard to believe those people who seem to be "good, "like them," and "inspirational."

When I go to trial on a personal injury case, I make sure my client is polite, attentive, makes eye contact, and is courteous no matter the situation. Jurors generally try to find a way to award monetary verdicts to nice people. And just as often juries do tend to hold it against witnesses who are arrogant, argumentative, inattentive, and inconsistent in their testimony. Perhaps Shakespeare was on to something with his "all the world's a stage" play quotation. Maybe we do filter what we see and hear through our "judgment software" in our brains--if the person seems like a nice person, they might just be telling the truth.

By the same token, many people who are not touched by the court system or personal injury cases, have very different perceptions of the major insurance carriers than those of us on the inside. Costly commercials featuring accented and funny geckos, chirpy Flo pushing insurance on her retro-hip sets, comical "mayhem" guys, or deep-voiced actors promising you to be in "good hands," have their desired effect on the public at large who may become future jurors.

We all come in to every judgment we make with inherent biases, perceptions, and beliefs. No jury instruction telling us to listen only to the evidence will eliminate completely this element of human nature.

THE TAKEAWAY FROM LANCE AND MANTI

It is apparent that many people believed Lance Armstrong for many years because they WANTED to believe him. There are a plethora of situations throughout history, be it in politics, culture, or sports, where similarly truth-challenged individuals were given the benefit of the doubt for far longer than was logical.

In this 24-7 media cycle, many of us have been sucked in to failing to challenge much of the data we are fed. Critical analysis of information is crucial to determining the truth.

In the courtroom, we have an adversarial system, with each side presenting its case with as much positive spin as possible. The "facts" are often slanted as much as possible to put as pretty a face as possible on the facts, as they are. The "truth" is often what one makes of the two opposing sides in our system.

Similarly, the media these days is much less an objective forum than a multitude of "opinion" factories. If everything posted on the Internet was true, we would all be in trouble. It is safe to say, for instance, that Fox News and MSNBC cannot both be telling the complete truth without any opinion or bias; for if they were, the "truth" would be wildly inconsistent.

Our job, as citizens, sports fans, prospective jurors, and lawyers is to use our "dog poop" detectors early and often in scrutinizing information we are told, hear, read, or see. Walking in the park you may step in something brown, squishy, and smelly. The logical conclusion is that this is dog poop you have stepped in, even if there is a 7-time Tour de France winner, a star linebacker, or commercial actor telling you it is not.

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