Upside down – Alzado, Seau and Armstrong – and I

A while back, I wrote that I was wrong about Lance Armstrong.  To say I was wrong so understates the degree of my error that the statement itself is nearly false.  Lance not only took drugs all of his cycling career and lied about it, he sued, intimidated and ruined the careers of anyone that crossed him.  He was an arrogant liar and bully.

Prior to this week, in my mind, Armstrong was in the same category as Superman, Batman and Spider-man – chemically enhanced but a hero using his powers for good. Without judging the others, Armstrong was clearly not a hero and he did not use his powers for good; even his charity work is tainted with his evil intent – he only wanted to win without regard for the collateral damage.

Armstrong sees no wrong in what he did, in his mind he was simply leveling the playing field – you know, like Barry Bonds did the season after McGuire and Sosa had the home run derby.  That may be a valid comparison and one might ask if the individuals or the governing body of the sport was the real criminal.  But both blaming the competition and the governing body is simply a way of denying individual responsibility and Armstrong is responsible for his actions.   I did not hear Armstrong blame cycling’s hierarchy, just the competitors; that was once my argument.

The underlying issues of honesty, rightful behavior and good intent are much larger that one man on a bicycle.  Is it not our culture of winning – “winning at all costs” and “winning is the only thing” – that creates such monsters?   Professional athletes are handsomely rewarded for winning, the become rich and perhaps more importantly they become heroes.  Some pay a very high price for that glory; Lyle Alzado destroyed his brain with drugs used to make him strong.  Junior Seau’s brain was destroyed by violent contact with other players.   Lance Armstrong destroyed his integrity, not with drugs, but with his voice.  Few of the great ones who committed crimes or suffered from the intensity of the game did so for money.  They may have liked the money, but it was the winning and the glory afforded the winner that was the real motivator.

As a result of Armstrong’s confessions, there will be investigations, there will be prosecutions and there will be new laws, regulations and tests and it may well carryover into other sports.  I don’t think it will make much difference, those who are incentivized to do so will find news ways to cheat.  Finding a solution to cheating in sports is not my quest in any case; I am more interested in finding the solution to my own lack of critical thinking and lack of a value system that would have lead me to doubt Armstrong.  But more than that, I need a mechanism to prevent myself from making heroes of ordinary people.  Regardless of how well a person may play a sport, perform an art or govern a people – the person is an ordinary human being, not a god or superhero.  There are no god-like heroes – okay Mother Teresa might be an exception – there are just people with special skills.  I want to appreciate those skills, but not to deify the person – is that too much to ask?  As I enter my eight decade, is it too much to expect of myself, a bit of common sense and a sense of proportion in all things, especially in sports?


2 Responses to “Upside down – Alzado, Seau and Armstrong – and I”

  1. 1 rexdstock1 January 22, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Charles Barkley was right:  don’t make them into role models, unless, the only role you want to model is athletic performance–that something that can only be seen during competition.  Turn off the lights the rest of the time. 

    Unless that person wants to do something for mankind using said celebrity, and then judge it only on those merits alone. Compare Ty Cobb with John Wooden. Think Makembe.  Bobby Jones vs Tiger.


  2. 2 ken adams January 23, 2013 at 8:11 am

    Charles was right and I heard him say that, but somehow it did not soak into my thinking. And now with a former UNR quarterback going to the Super Bowl, we stand again at the edge of precipice. Alexander, Napoleon and Buddha are all part of god’s cruel trick – it is in our nature to worship – and sometimes our gods are very, very flawed. However, in the spirit of full disclosure just a few weeks ago I was defending Armstrong and finding fault with his critics. So while I may write the words, it seems I don’t understand them.

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