Friday, January 18, 2013

When Momentum Takes Over (Armstrong and FTP)

Like many, I clicked over last night to watch a little of Lance Armstrong’s tell-all with Oprah Winfrey, the first part of which aired on her network, OWN. (And like many, I had to do a little bit of searching up and down the menu of channels to see if I received OWN.)

At some point early in the evening I saw Matthew Parvis of PokerNews had sent out a funny tweet alluding to his interview last September with Howard Lederer, the circumstances and dynamic of which did kind of resemble the Armstrong-Winfrey convo:

“Lance, were you doping during the Tour de France? ‘I remember one time at a party...’ #TheArmstrongFiles.”

I lol’d. And as the interview continued, I found myself involuntarily thinking further about how one might compare the motives of the two interviewees, with the idea of performing some kind of reputation repair perhaps foremost for both.

That said, I don’t really want to perform such close analysis of either of these two characters beyond simply noting that both were frauds, both were living a lie (so to speak), and both acted in ways that proved highly destructive and hurtful to others. Both also had others abetting their causes significantly, helping them to perpetrate their respective “schemes” further and further, and thus dig their respective holes deeper and deeper.

There was one moment in the Armstrong interview, however, that I did want to point to as having resonated especially strongly with the whole Full Tilt Poker fiasco, a fiasco which (I should point out) was obviously not just one man’s fault but the result of a kind of communal dysfunction (among the FTP BOD, owners, and marketers/PR people) and as well as a consequence made possible by an industry (online poker in the U.S.) that had evolved in such a way as to encourage exploitation by those willing to take advantage.

“Listen, all the fault and all the blame here falls on me,” Armstrong tells Winfrey. “But behind that picture and behind that story is momentum. Whether it’s fans or whether it’s the media or whether it’s... it just gets going. And I lost myself in all of that. I'm sure there would be other people that couldn’t handle it, but I certainly couldn’t handle it....”

When Armstrong talks about “momentum” taking over, it’s hard to avoid thinking about a riding a bicycle. Anyone who has done so has experienced that moment when the bike kind of feels as though it has “taken over,” giving the impression of moving on its own. Whether by the force of your pedaling or having found yourself on a downward incline (or both), enough impetus has been given to the bike for it to continue moving forward without any further action required of you. And as a rider, your task then shifts over to steering (and, if necessary, braking) rather than making the sucker go.

Perhaps because of Parvis’s tweet, when hearing this talk of “momentum” I couldn’t help but think of Lederer and FTP. Specifically I thought about Lederer speaking of having lost control of the “company culture” and how “something weird happened” and “clearly things got out of hand.” Sort of like the FTP bike could no longer be stopped and was recklessly hurtling down a steep incline toward an unavoidable crash. And that crash would be taking down others, too.

Like I say, I’m not too inspired to scrutinize this comparison too deeply. It does seem, though, that when Armstrong evokes that idea of momentum he isn’t primarily trying to deflect blame as much as to explain his own thinking and what might have been additionally influencing him to continue to cheat and lie (although that motive could be intermingled in there, too). However when Lederer evokes the same idea of momentum taking over, it’s pretty clear he’s mostly hoping to direct our attention to others’ culpability for the FTP situation getting “out of hand.”

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