I don’t follow sports.  I couldn’t give two damns about cycling, football, curling, or pro bowling.  So maybe I’m not invested in this as some other people, but I have to admit this whole Lance Armstrong backlash confuses me.  I understand people, especially fans, being disappointed in Armstrong.

Except I don’t think this has much to do with that.  I think it’s about facing our own limitations, our own disillusionment.  We love our heroes as much as for what they represent as who they are.  There is, it seems, an animal instinct in us to venerate the strong and powerful.  We call them athletes, and we love them.

But can we honestly say we’re surprised that Armstrong was using enhancement options that aren’t strictly allowed?  The competition is fierce, and the drive to win is what makes these athletes into champions in the first place.  We adore their accomplishments.  We hold them up as ideals.  And then, when they do what it takes to meet those ideals, we turn on them as if they’ve betrayed us.

I’m not trying to justify Armstrong’s choices.  At the same time, we’re only talking about those choices because they made him popular and famous in the first place.  Before Armstrong, how often did American’s even hear about professional cycling?  It’s the athlete’s paradox.  We really only care about them if they’re great, but if they do what it takes to be great, we shake our heads and act shocked.  Let’s face it.  There are limits to what humans can accomplish.  But we don’t want to stop.  We want our athletes to be faster, stronger, tougher.  We want them to break records.  We love it.  And we really don’t care how they do it until they get caught.

If Armstrong was using performance enhancing drugs, are we supposed to believe he was an exception, not the rule?  Are we supposed to believe the guy who came in second isn’t doing the same?  It’s like expecting a guy to fight the Hulk without the benefits of gamma-induced superstrength.

It’s like a great big lie we all know isn’t true but is simply too appealing to resist.  I’m not endorsing such tactics, but we should be honest about it.  We shouldn’t pretend as if an awful lot of athletes aren’t doing exactly this, and that they have to because other athletes are doing it.  And because we demand it.

Folks cheered Armstrong on.  Now they hate him for his perceived weakness.

And maybe that’s his real crime.  Lance Armstrong isn’t a hero.  He’s just a dude.  Fallible, weak, prone to bad decisions, eager for glory, willing to do dumb things to get what he wants.  His crime is that he’s human, and that’s probably the worst thing any athlete can be.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Posted January 23, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    I believe the outrage and backlash comes not nearly as much from the doping as it does the intimidation, harassment and lawsuits by Lance Armstrong against people who tried to stand up to him, like Emma O’Reilly, Mike Anderson, Frankie & Betsy Andreu and Greg & Kathy LeMond.

    Please search for these names to read articles about their sad, nearly unbelievable stories. Here’s one very small example of the way Lance Armstrong treated these people: during his special with Oprah, Lance Armstrong said, “I said ‘listen, I called you crazy. I called you a bitch. I called you all these things, but I never called you fat’.” when referring to how he spoke with Betsy Andreu (who was only trying to tell the truth about Lance Armstrong, nothing else).

    I believe it was the lies, the intimidation and the complete lack of integrity that is causing the backlash, not the act of doping itself. Lance Armstrong ruined careers and lives just so he could make more money and win more championships.He is a monster.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:51 am | Permalink

      I’m not defending his choices. I’m just suggesting that, if he is a monster, he is a monster of our own making. It doesn’t make us responsible for his misdeeds, but it doesn’t change the fact that he is the product of a world that venerates athletes to the point of addictive adoration and then we get mad at them for being so addictive to it that they will do horrible, destructive things.

      • Posted January 25, 2013 at 1:14 am | Permalink

        Oh goodness, no! I hope my comment didn’t come across as accusing you of defending his choices. I don’t believe you were doing that in the least! And I can most certainly appreciate the point about veneration.

        • A. Lee Martinez
          Posted January 25, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          It’s cool. I didn’t think you were doing that. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the internet, it’s that one can never make an effort to be too clear.

          Thanks very much for the comment.

  2. Louis
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    if he beat everyone using a unicycle, then i would be impressed. otherwise he is just a guy who defeated cancer to ride around Europe.

  3. Gabe
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    You have to understand that tied in with the cycling narrative was the narrative of him overcoming major afflictions and going on to the win one of the world’s greatest events. The fact that he kept winning inspired a lot of people, and while doing so he claimed he did it clean, even despite the allegations that were surfacing at the time of his championship wins. Other cycling legends like Bernard Hinault defended him, called everyone who accused him a bastard, and it turns out that Lance, who lied, manipulated, bullied, intimidated, threatened, and smiled the whole time he was lying, was the deciever. *That’s* why everyone was pissed. I don’t know if he intentionally used his survivor narrative to boost his star power or if it was thrown upon him, but he shouldn’t have did what he did to his accusers. He didn’t simply win and lie; he spun his story around one of the most horrific affliction people face to become an icon, he profited from it, made it sound like it was all just hard work and inspiration, and hid the fact that he got a huge boost from drugs.
    Granted he won in a whole field of drugged up people, but how many of them spun emotional stories to boost their personality. That’s why foolks are pissed.

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