Lance Armstrong lied to us. He cheated, doped and silenced anyone who tried to expose him. He also raised millions of dollars to fight cancer, but who cares? He deceived us and we’re hurt. We looked up to him and he betrayed our trust. We praised him and his great American story — the story about fighting and winning and competing and, most importantly, more winning. Armstrong’s desperate desire to win helped him survive cancer and then seven Tour de France titles. So good for him, but better for the poor souls fighting cancer. Without those victories — which he said himself he probably wouldn’t have earned without doping — he wouldn’t have had the celebrity-status to start his Livestrong Foundation, which has today raised about $470 million, according to Livestrong’s website.
But we still don’t care about his successes, because he betrayed us. This story circles back to the too-familiar theme of any another American idol deceiving his or her worshipers. Remember President Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods’s affairs? What about the baseball players who doped? Well, it turns out Armstrong is just another flawed human being like the rest of them — like the rest of us. Why do we assume athletes and other celebrities are perfect role models? We have no one to blame but ourselves for our disappointment after investing so much into heroes like Armstrong.
But who’s to say Armstrong is a bad role model? When I make a mistake, I’m usually rushing to the drug store for Plan B. When Armstrong made his mistakes, cancer research got more funding. I wish I could make mistakes like Armstrong’s.
If we get to make mistakes, show arrogance and fall to our vices, so do the supposed heroes. I’m not saying it’s good. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying that’s the way it is and we should be aware of it. Sure, we’d love all our heroes to be infallible, omniscient and pure. We’d have truly honorable role models for our kids to look up to. But those don’t exist.
Even Homer’s heroes and gods were a little screwed up. Zeus raped people. Odysseus cheated on his wife. Was Homer trying to convince us that these actions should be accepted, no questions asked, because they were gods? In my opinion, he wasn’t. But what was true of Greek gods and heroes is true of modern American heroes: they’re all tragic; they’re all imperfect.
So if you’re waiting for Superman, fuck off. He’s not coming. Even our great American stories — you know, the ones where the protagonist overcomes some great obstacle (cancer), overcomes more obstacles (seven Tour de Frances), uses him fame and celebrity to raise money to fight disease, then lives happily ever after — these stories usually only maintain their greatness so long as the dark truth remains hidden. And perhaps it would be better not knowing the real story and believing the nobler one.
In the end, the guy cheated; but so did everyone else. Sure, he raised millions of dollars for fighting cancer, but he did so dishonestly and deceptively, so fuck him, right? I say: whatever. Fuck him or punch him — this one dude doesn’t matter as much as we pretend he does and we can’t continue believing in perfect idols like we thought he was. We’ll continue to be let down. We also need to examine how and why we judge people. Does our judgment spawn from personal feelings of betrayal, or are we truly examining a person’s actions? $470 million to fight cancer? I’ll let the cheating go, because it’s only sports (in fact, it’s only cycling). But money for cancer research? That’s life or death. I say that end, however unintentional, justifies doping.
Charles Barkley once said, “I’m not a role model.” I always wanted to tell him: Chuck, you are whatever we say you are. Hasn’t he listened to Eminem? And so, the blame is on us — the fanatics searching for someone to follow and then dropping them when they make a mistake.
So perhaps like you, I’m left asking myself: Who should I follow? Who should I copy? And then I look in the mirror.
Zak Witus is an LSA freshman.