Psalms 73:18-20

18. Only on slippery places do You set them; You cast them into darkness. 19. How they have become desolate in an instant! They came to an end, they were consumed by terrors, 20. like a dream upon awakening. O my Lord, disgrace their image in the city.



Lance Armstrong’s public confession to doping in the bicycle racing world is a famous scandal around the world. Chris Spence’s resignation as Director of Education for the Toronto School Board for serial plagiarizing is a more local Canadian scandal in the educational world. In the medical world, and even more locally known, the anaesthesiologist, Dr. George Doodnaught, is undergoing a criminal trial alleging that he sexually assaulted 29 female patients when they were under conscious sedation?[1]  He claims he is innocent of the charges.


These three cases do not have the same degree of fame or, rather, infamy. Lance was known the world over as winner of seven Tour de France Grand Prix in bicycle racing as the leader of the U.S. Postal Services Team as well as a cancer survivor and philanthropist. Chris Spence was known in educational circles in Toronto as the very popular superintendant of education. Though also from Toronto, but in contrast to Chris Spence until charged with sexual assault, Dr. George Doodnaught was relatively unknown outside medical circles. What he did share with Lance Armstrong is that both had five children and possibly both are sociopaths. I believe, though Chris Spence was a serial liar, the evidence does not indicate he was a sociopath.


All three share the same ignominy of being well respected members and even leaders in their field until they were publicly exposed. At least two were known for overcoming enormous challenges. Lance Armstrong overcame cancer and even established a cancer charity, Live Strong. Chris Spence was a hero to the black community having risen from a child of Jamaican immigrants in Canada to a star line backer for the B.C. Lions (cf. his 2000 biography, Skin I’m in: Racism, Sports and Education) and an educator who eventually led the largest school board in Canada. But all three have become better known as frauds or alleged frauds for serial lying. The doctor continues to deny that he committed sexual assaults over a long period while his patients were under anaesthesia.


Further, society was taken in by their frauds and subsequent denials. People suspended any willingness to disbelieve and initially protected the reputations of all three, insisting on the integrity, responsibility and honesty of each of the men. In fact, Lance Armstrong, as by far the best known, wore his heroic status like a cloak to help hide his perfidy. In his interviews with Oprah Winfrey, he disclosed that fraud had become endemic to his life. Chris Spence in football learned that an essential element in successful play was the fake (or feint) whereby one runs in one direction to mislead an opponent and then breaks away in another. And one can only imagine the extra thrill an anaesthesiologist might have in fondling, kissing and even sticking his penis in the mouth of a partially sedated patient as his medical colleagues operated on that same patient on the other side of an antiseptic blue curtain. In fact, if the charges are upheld, one suspects that the thrill of performing in public under such high risk of exposure was part of the adrenaline rush in at least the Armstrong and possibly the medical scandal.


In education, plagiarizing is considered the foremost crime. In sports, taking banned substances to enhance performance is currently considered the greatest sin. And certainly sexually assaulting a helpless patient and then telling her that she was hallucinating under the influence of the anaesthetic can be considered one of the greatest breaches of the Hippocratic oath. In each case, the history of deceit allegedly went a long way back. Subsequent to the discovery and proof that Chris Spence had plagiarized parts of an op-ed piece, journalists uncovered a history of plagiarism that evidently went back to at least his PhD thesis for the University of Toronto and likely even his term papers as an undergraduate at York University where I taught for 37 years. For faking is an acquired skilled developed over time, not simply in presenting borrowed material as one’s own, but in presenting oneself in public as a significant achiever. It is not just the specific act that is faked; it is the whole performance.


These are not victimless crimes either. Mike Anderson was a bike mechanic who worked for Lance Armstrong between 2002 and 2004 not only to maintain his bikes but as a personal assistant, but was fired soon after finding steroids in Lance Armstrong’s medicine cabinet. When he asked for help in establishing a bike shop as he claims he had been promised, Armstrong sued Anderson for being unstable and untrustworthy. As Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah, he couldn’t remember how many people he had sued and, one might add, how many lives his actions ruined — including not only that of Mike Anderson but also that of Greg LeMond, now the only American winner of the Tour de France. Armstrong charged LeMond twelve years before his admission to doping with having a questionable relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari, the famous doctor of dope,[2] which charges led to the cancellation of LeMond’s sponsorship by Trek even though it was LeMond who resisted Armstrong’s entreaties to establish a connection with Ferrari and was evidently fired from the US team for it. Other victims included Frankie Andreu, Armstrong’s former team mate, and Emma O’Reilly, his former masseuse who in her 2003 book depicted Armstrong’s doping and whom Armstrong branded as an alcoholic whore for accusing him of back-dating a prescription to cover up a discovery that he had elevated levels of cortisone in his body in 1999.[3]  


Anderson, in his interview with Sports Illustrated[4], depicted Armstrong as completely lacking in empathy and incapable of genuine contrition. Kathy LeMond said he lied about her husband Greg, depicted him as a drunk and alcoholic and she recalled him as threatening, screaming, crazily angry and out of control, even suggesting he could access emails and phone calls. Greg lost his income, his company and his reputation.[5] Betsy Andreu said that, when she would not keep silent about the in 2007 admission she had overheard from Lance Armstrong to doctors that he had taken five PEDs, Armstrong went into character assassination mode and depicted her as a neurotic psychopathic who was bitter, jealous and vindictive.[6] However, the personal damage was not only psychological. Almost surely as a result of the doping culture in world cycling, just in the 13 months leading up to the 2004 cycling season, seven competitive cyclists died of heart attacks. (Hamilton and Coyle 2012)


Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), who had built the overwhelming case that Armstrong had been doping for years by using the banned blood booster miniature doses of EPO that were undetectable, blood transfusions, oral testosterone (only detectable for a few hours), corticosteroids like THG that was undetectable, masking agents, trafficking and for administering those drugs to other riders[7], received death threats when he investigated Lance Armstrong. Armstrong denied in his second interview with Oprah that he once offered USADA a donation of $250,000 though Travis Tygart confirmed that such an offer had been made in 2004.[8]


Even in the Oprah interviews, Armstrong continued to lie and denied that he had bullied other riders to dope; he insisted that he rode clean in 2009 and 2010 contrary to the evidence. As Anderson contended, the really big crime is not doping (or plagiarism or even sexual assault) but “the crime against human decency, against the truth”.[9] In his Oprah interviews, Armstrong presented himself as going along with an existing culture rather than as the strong and bullying proponent of the culture that he actually was. Though trying to blend the confessions with other lies may be part of the strategy of attempted recovery, not only is the recovery unlikely, but Armstrong and the others will not only have their careers ruined but, in the case of Armstrong, he is likely to lose much if not all of his reputed $125 million fortune as various parties sue him, such as the insurance company who paid him a $12.5 million bonus for his 2002 Tour de France win and The Sunday Times which erroneously settled a defamation suit for $1.5 million. The higher they have risen the further they have to fall.


Chris Spence, when initially exposed for plagiarism about one op-ed piece[10], apologized, offered an excuse and pledged to take an ethics course in journalism. When revealed as a serial plagiarist, he resigned as Director of Education and pledged “to restore my reputation, and to uphold academic integrity I consider to be so important. But most certainly, to make amends for what I have done.”[11] How is that possible? How can you return and uphold academic integrity when you have spent your whole life undermining an essential principle? Anyone can inadvertently plagiarize. But in Spence’s case, the pattern demonstrated continuous and outright borrowing from other people’s work. How do you make up to the numerous staunch supporters over the years and those deceived into awarding accolades?


Why do they really own up? First, they find themselves totally entrapped by their fraud. Lance Armstrong said he could not look his 13-year old son in the face who he overheard defending him. He also claimed to not want to compromise the charity he had set up though Anderson in his interview claimed that Armstrong had set up the charity as a sham, a cover up and disliked spending participating in its public events. Chris Spence said that he did want to be a further distraction to the Board of Education. George Doodnaught has not yet confessed to anything and still insists on his innocence even though over 20 women have given statements that they were sexually assaulted. What does he say to his children?


Why are the families closest to these fallen heroes last to know and most profoundly hurt? Why are the institutions around these men initially in such a state of disbelief and incredulity when accusations are first made that it may take years before any real investigation is undertaken and then, when the situation is uncovered, express such shock and dismay?


A search through the literature on sociopaths provides most of the answers.[12] Sociopathology was once referred to as moral insanity but in the language of the antiseptic present it is called an antisocial personality disorder characteristic of those who suffer from a lack of respect for the moral and legal order. Sociopathology begins with a person’s sense of self and sense of the Other, a magnified sense of themselves and a diminished sense of the Other, the magnitude of the view of themselves and the diminution of the Other providing the measure of their degree of sociopathology. So when you ask yourself how could they believe they never would be caught, remember that they regard themselves as omniscient and omnipotent and entitled to full self-realization without taking into account their impact on others


That is why Lance Armstrong of the three cases seems to be a leading sociopath. That is why sociopathology is so closely linked with narcissism. As Martin Buber pointed out in I and Thou, the other is treated as an object and not a self-determining agent with his or her own rights while sociopaths regard themselves as “entitled” to their rights, including a ‘right’ to return to the field where they caused so much destruction and from which they have been banned. In fact the one thing they cannot tolerate is banishment from living on the edge. That is also why they seem so incapable of any deep love so that when Armstrong seems to show empathy and compassion for his own son, it is difficult for others to know whether it is feigned and sincere since, in the past, such expressions were only tools to serve an ulterior motive. Why only when he was totally uncovered did he not understand the horrible situation into which he had put his children in conscripting them into the business of being a serial liar?


Where they demonstrate genuine passion is the outrage they feel when their own sense of self is damaged or threatened and why that outrage is accompanied by verbal outbursts, rage, abuse and efforts to mete out punishment on those perceived as out to hurt them. That is why their efforts are insatiable and that is why, when they are caught, they profess to want to make amends and seem to express some empathy perhaps for the first time, but show so little understanding of the depth of pain they caused others and what genuine atonement would really require – that is, directly and publicly recognizing and apologizing to those harmed, taking full responsibility for th harm caused and making amends in full and paying compensation.

That damage was mostly caused to others who thought they were their friends. Those friends, when their use as accomplices was over, were humiliated, punished and victimized. Sociopaths never truly recognize how they wrecked the lives of others; they only express a superficial sympathy for those others for being run over by a depersonalized truck. Sociopaths are no more responsible or reliable when they express contrition than when they built their edifice of double dealing for they never recognize that they are deeply sick, only that they were caught up and carried along in a systemic process for which the only responsibility they bore was not resisting its powerful effects.

All sociopaths are serial liars but not all serial liars are sociopaths. Though Chris Spence developed a habit of failing to credit others and hence of misrepresentation, his repeated lying and deceit did not seem to be undertaken for personal profit or pleasure but seemed to have been indulged in repeatedly in a way that increased the risk of discovery. Nor did he leave his route to success strewn with victims. Once caught he quickly assumed responsibility for his misdeeds, resigned and did not resort to trying to talk his way into redemption. Though a habitual deceiver, Chris Spence recognized he was engaged in an unacceptable practice. There seems no evidence of a record of vindictive behaviour. The irony is that, while the serial liar who is a sociopath will try to redeem himself in the eyes of others, the non-sociopathic serial liar will want to disappear into the woodwork. But serial liars who are not sociopaths are redeemable; genuine sociopaths do not seem to be.

[1] Dr. Doodnaught pleaded not guilty to 21 counts of sexual assault between 2006 and 2010 to 21 women age 25 to 75.

[2] Cf. Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle (2012) The Secret Race. Dr. Ferrari was banned for life from having any relationship with professional cycling.

[3] Emma O’Reilly, “Lance is a bully who branded me as an alcoholic whore,” Mail OnLine, 18 January 2013. Cf. David Walsh and Pierre Ballester (2004) L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong, Paris: Editions de la Martiniere.

[4] David Epstein, “Mike Anderson, Lance Armstrong’s former bike mechanic, speaks out,”

[5] David Epstein, “Kathy LeMond: Armstrong embarrassed, not truly sorry,” Sports Illustrated, 18 January 2013.

[6] Austin Murphy, “Betsy Andreu always knew that Lance Armstrong doped,” Sports Illustrated, 18 January 2013.

[7] Juliet Macur, “Witnesses Made Case Against Armstrong Potent,” The New York Times 24 August 2012.

[8] Michael O’Keefe, “Fiery Lance Armstrong in a state of denial,” New York Daily News, 18 January 2013.

[10] Spence had written: ” In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, this is what our children need: For us to reassure them, listen to them and comfort them. We must also remind ourselves that schools are still exceedingly safe places for our children to be and believe it when we tell our children.” Those identical words were published by Aisha Sultan in the 24 December St. Louis Dispatch. Other paragraphs repeated Sultan word for word without attribution.

[11] Megan O’Toole and Chris Selley (2013) “‘You can’t be the director of education and plagiarizing’: Chris Spence resigns as head of school board,” 11 January.

[12] For an amateur scissors and paste but excellent summary of the literature on sociopaths, see, “Profile of a Sociopath” at

One comment on “Sociopaths

  1. Would redemption be possible for Spence?

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