BY Art Thiel 12:01PM 01/19/2013

Thiel: Stories of a sociopath, an addict and a fool

Three epic fails — Armstrong, Te’o, Leaf — made national news, but there is no connection except coincidence. Armstrong, however, has retired the trophy for sports sociopaths.

Lance Armstrong can never pedal fast enough to catch up to his grievous misdeeds. / Wiki Commons

Just as Aristotle observed that nature abhors a vacuum, so does human nature abhor a coincidence. Random events happening simultaneously bother us. Compulsion is strong to connect dots/pixels until it makes a picture, however irrelevant, but preferably suitable for Instagram. Once resolved, we can return to the TV and “Hoarders.”

This week in sports delivered us a cavalcade of crap in the persons of Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o and Ryan Leaf. At risk of ever more lethal brevity in a 140-character maximum world, here is my summary:

One is a sociopath.

One is an addict.

One is a fool.

You’re welcome.

For those preferring elaboration: In any workplace, bus or classroom of 40 or more,  chances are one or more of each can be identified. But because each of this week’s astonishers is a high-profile athlete, achievers in a realm where aberration is unwelcome, there must be some revelation here. The urge is irresistible to connect their events and circumstances that permit us to say the sports world is sufficiently toxic to drip through seven decks of the spaceship in “Alien.”


Certainly there are things to concern a fan the over seeming out-of-handedness in sports these days. I’m willing to start with 8:30 p.m. tipoffs for Pac-12 Conference basketball games to please its network (speaking of an alien beast growing inside a human host).

That aside, the idea that the coincidence of these athletes’ misdeeds says anything more or less about what most discerning people already have known about sports is silly.

Let’s start with the easy one. Te’o seems to be victim of a cruel prank so lengthy and so mortifying that he didn’t know how to disengage.  He liked being a hero and didn’t like being a fool. So rather than make a hard decision, he procrastinated. As loopy as this story is and will be — and I admit to being as familiar with online catfishing as I am with carbon nanotubes — the football player was guilty of being naive and irresponsible. Please join way over there, Manti, the back of a long line of 21-year-olds.

As for the actions or inactions of his school, Notre Dame . . . hey, it’s college football. If you’re looking for integrity, bring an electron microscope.

Leaf’s story is more familiar to most. Especially familiar around here, where he was one of the great figures in Washington State football history brought asunder by drug addiction and an a-hole personality. He blew his easier gig in a rehab center and was sent by Texas prison officials to the big house, where his reputation as a fallen sports stud will not serve him well. It’s a shame. His addiction has made him pathetic.

To the extent that that big-time sports and sports media enabled Te’o and Leaf to avoid accountability for too long, well, guilty as charged. That barely qualifies as news.

The guy who chaps me like a Mojave desert wind is Armstrong. Most galling is that beyond the drugging and thugging he engaged in as cycling’s one-man mob, and the consecutive betrayals he has spread relentlessly across the sports world’s landscape like railroad ties in the Trans-Siberian, he continues to dig himself deeper while attempting to dig out.

There was nothing remotely believable about his nationally televised interviews with the  schoolmarmish Oprah, even his second-episode whimpering. Why would anyone believe him now? He engaged for years in a mammoth, systematic and effective campaign of disinformation and intimidation that would make Soviet premiers weep with envy. That pathology does not evaporate with a few afternoons in a PR office and a scold from the national mom.

Through his foundation, his athletic deeds and cloying words, many benefited from Armstrong. I also have read that many Italians cheered Mussolini when he made the trains run on time. It is not that Armstrong was incapable of acts of generosity and grace, it is that he did it for self-aggrandizement. Those he helped battle cancer were, in his craven mind, targets of opportunity wrapped in vulnerability.

If anyone in a fight for life drew strength from the myth of Armstrong, I cheer. Most every person, most every culture, believe in some myths, because myths can sometimes serve as handrails in the maelstrom.

But in this case, the myth is nowhere close to the man. And the man is nowhere close to understanding the distinction. His responses to Oprah’s questions were as calculating, rehearsed and clinical as his deceptions that fooled drug testers, reporters and fans.

Culturally, he has accomplished another improbable feat: He has pulled further apart the floodgates of cynicism, a toxin pouring over American politics and business and now threatens sports.

If you still enjoy sports, please do one thing: Connect no dots among our sports miscreants. Generalizations are psychic death to the many good people still holding to ideals, who remain much greater in number. And make no connection between the myth and Lance Armstrong.



  • I love your linguistic excellence, however I believe Lance did make the best attempt within limited capacity to come clean. He admitted to having a narsasistic personality ….it is a step in the right direction

    • art thiel

      Well, the characteristic would be obvious to a psych 101 college student. He would have been better served to have waited, testified testified with WADA, then did a serious interview with a credible reporter. “Truth shall set you free” C’mon, Oprah

    • Svensun

      Why give him a B+ when he deserves a D-? Because he SAID he was to busy to study? Shheeeesh. Armstrong is a type– and a type that steps on anybody and everybody who dares challenge his supreme pooh-bah-ness. Narcissitic, sure. Sociopathic? maybe the DSM would disagree. But, armchair diagnosis or not, it’s the ruthless and sustained stepping-on that demands censure more than the doping. He is not a good guy, he obviously has not changed into a realistic self-effacing human being. If that were true, he would testify to WADA, skip the O cheezy, pandering and disingenuous confession to her softball “interview” and come clean for real.

  • Tian Biao

    You’re on a roll, Art, great article, fun to read. what really bugs me about Lance is the bullying he did for all those years, as part of his cover up, just what a jerk he was to other riders (and team mates). With Leaf, my feelings have gone from a sort of glee (he is a Cougar) to just feeling really sorry for him as his problems mount and he can’t seem to ever work it out. And with Teo, what the heck? i can’t really piece together what happened. but you’re right: no connection. But they all did come at once . . .

  • Will

    Seems the main difference between Bonds and Armstrong is that Barry was really good before he juiced. Lance, without the chemicals was what – average?

  • just passing thru

    Athletes have become little more than entertainment “stars” to me. Their accomplishments would go unrecognized and even, perhaps, undone if not for the almighty dollar. While I enjoy sports a lot, to hold any of these folks up as icons of virtue or adoration sets our own selves up for an emotional fall.

    Leaf has a debilitating illness, Te’o is a child and Armstrong is flat-out evil, as sociopaths are. I only can imagine how awful it’d be to have to work with someone like him.

    Keep up the good work, Art!

  • notaboomer

    thanks for watching oprah so i don’t have to:) liestrong. lance.

  • Michael Kaiser

    Thiel says, “As loopy as this story is and will be — and I admit to being as familiar with online catfishing as I am with carbon nanotubes — the football player was guilty of being naive and irresponsible. Please join way over there, Manti, the back of a long line of 21-year-olds.”

    One SMALL point. “Naive” Te’o continue to perpetuate the lie publicly long after he knew the truth.
    Armstrong was in a sport in which its origin–in Europe really–involved drugging. He just did it better. But his situation does raise a much deeper issue about human nature than whether he is a sociopath. Many humans are willing to believe anything the rest of the herd believes. The herd thought Armstrong was a hero and saint, and those who said otherwise were shunted aside. The whole thing is more an indictment on about 90% of the population, the same 90% that are now, as the direction of the herd has shifted, piling on.
    As for Leaf, he may have had a difficult personality. I never met him. However, I also have a difficult personality, and am quite fine with it. But as for Leaf, he rose from the backwoods of Hooterville, and it went to his head. As, for example, you see with Seattle proper these days.

  • Big

    I got a boat. Food and water for one. Put the three into this boat and I will tow them into the ocean (that’s in the boat). I’ll provide the reading material and a thumbs up.

  • Zip

    great piece, Art – hope you finally jump back into old fashioned newsprint now that Times has vacancy (I know, but only sea newspaper left)

  • Da Kid

    Gee, who would have thought Chuck Armstrong was a doped up sociopath riding around in circles? No wonder the Mariners suck. (Talk about soft balls.)

    And in other news: Jesus Montero has been officially loaned to the Millionair Club for $486,900. Opinion: The charity, which feeds the homeless with free turkeys at Thanksgiving, overpaid for this one.