Friday, August 24, 2012

Say It Ain’t So, Lance

So Lance Armstrong has given up his fight against all the doping accusations. 
This makes me sad. I desperately want to believe that Lance didn’t cheat as part of his remarkable story. He says this is not an admission of guilt, just that he is worn out by the “witch hunt,” the “nonsense,” and the “toll on his family.” He believes he cannot win in an unfair fight. I can understand that, particularly since he is the most drug-tested person in history. Of course, many people will ask, “Why now?” There will be the conclusion some sort of deal is being struck because the anti-doping agency finally has the goods on Lance. Maybe so.
But that’s not what depresses me. During my life I’ve seen plenty of heroes fall because of their human flaws. I understand that’s the power of classical tragedy, and that in modern tragedy all humans (not just the “great” ones) have our flaws that bring us down.
What really makes me sad is how blasé people seem to feel about this. Similarly, while I care, I have to admit I’ll be disappointed but not surprised if he did cheat. I had discussed this with several people throughout the saga, and many simply assume he cheated. Indeed, they would be much more shocked to learn that he hadn’t than that he had. After all, cycling is a sport in which illegal doping has gone on for years, with amphetamines used heavily before that. We’ve seen the prevalence of PEDs in many other sports. Just this week two major league baseball players received fifty-game suspensions for illegal use of testosterone. Much of the commentary I’ve heard on one focused not on the act, but on the ludicrous attempt to cover it up by creating a fake website. I worry that we accept, even expect, cheating to be part of sport now.
By extension, then, what do children come to internalize as normative behavior? That holds true in many aspects of their lives, particularly since they haven’t developed their filters yet. I’m not suggesting that we have to express outrage at every turn.  I just hope we are talking about cases like this with our children in ways they can begin to understand.
That’s why I want Lance to be clean. I yearn for champions who inspire. I love to tell kids, “Look at what this guy did. Listen to his story. It’s incredible! You don’t have to cheat or take shortcuts.” Now I have more doubt in Lance than I had before.  And if he really is clean, then I want him to keep fighting, just like he did/does against cancer, no matter how much the struggle beats him down. Because that’s another lesson we have to try to teach young people: that when you truly believe you’ve done the right thing, you keep on fighting the good fight.
I believe it was Charles Barkley who said professional athletes should not be given the responsibility of being role models (or something along those lines). That reminds me of celebrities who complain about a lack of privacy. In both cases, it simply comes with the territory, rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly. That’s why, even with all the good he has done through LiveStrong—maybe even more so because of that—one of my first thoughts upon seeing today’s headline was, “Say it ain’t so, Lance.”

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