Friday, January 18, 2013

When heroes fall: Lance Armstrong admits to doping

Well, we were told the former seven-time Tour de France winner would confess to using performance enhancing drugs in his interview with Oprah last night night, and he did.

Has the sports world screeched to a halt? Unfortunately not. That's the professional sports world we live in today.

To some extent, I can understand why Armstrong did it - in a sports culture where professional athletes are doping so much that they're breaking records left and right, if you are relying simply on God-given talent, even if it's phenomenal talent, you simply cannot compete. There is implicit and explicit pressure to dope. All things being equal, you cannot beat someone who has given themselves that unfair edge.

But even though I can understand, I can't excuse, because using performance enhancing drugs is embracing a win-at-all-cost attitude, which Armstrong admits. It's professional athletes showing us and more importantly our children that winning is the most important thing, even when it's because of cheating, even when it's at the cost of the integrity of the sport and the integrity of your character. When we're trying to teach our children that sportsmanship, love of the game, and a game well played, even if it's not won, is what it's about, professional athletes show them that all of this is not enough.

The Lance Armstrong situation is even more heartbreaking because of his battles with cancer. He overcame life-threatening cancer twice to compete - and win, or so we thought. That was an inspirational story we could look to, that we could point out to our children, but it was just a fairy tale. The sad thing is, even if Armstrong hadn't won those Tours, the fact that he overcame cancer just to compete, just to ride another day, would have been inspirational enough. People would've loved that story. The story of someone who fights for a dream, even if he doesn't win, is a story people will always get behind. Hello - Rocky, anyone?

So yeah, it's heartbreaking when our heroes fall, when we find out that for them, being great wasn't good enough. I admit to being upset the day Andy Pettitte admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. I think of one of my all-time sports heroes - Derek Jeter - who I believe to be a player of integrity and who has a love of the game and happens to be an extraordinarily gifted athlete and I think, what if he was to admit to it? I don't believe he's part of this culture, but you never know. The use is so rampant that it sullies the image of everybody.

But the truth is, professional athletes are human. They are just like the rest of us - except a lot richer. They make mistakes. They do stupid things. They're arrogant and egotistical and full of $h*t. So why are these the people we choose to look up to, to be our heroes? Yes, because they are famous, because they are public figures, we can point to them and say to our children, "This is someone to look up to." But if we're going to choose flawed humans - and who isn't one? - for our children (and ourselves to look up to), maybe we're better off pointing out the teachers in their schools or the policeman or firefighter down the street or even our children's grandparents or maybe even ourselves. Our athletes - and other celebrities, but that's a story for another blog - certainly don't want the pressure and certainly don't feel the need to be the heroes we make them out to be.

And so really, today is just another day - another suspected dopers admits to cheating. It's become the norm. Some people will forgive Armstrong. For others, his vehement denials over the years and a sense of betrayal will make it impossible to forgive. Some will see this as his trying to make amends. Others will sense that it's simply a PR ploy. If you were a Livestrong supporter, keep supporting them, even if you initially did it because of Armstrong. He is no longer affiliated with them and they still do good work. The fact is, Armstrong is just the latest athlete to come clean (no pun intended). He certainly won't be the last. Heroes will rise and fall, we'll continue to teach our children to love the game and hope that's enough, and the world will keep on turning.

1 comment:

  1. I was disappointed that he was a fraud all this time. He seemed like a natural talent all these years.