We love to believe in our sports heroes We want to raise their flags up our flagpole and wave them into our personal battles. Our belief in them is such that we deny all challenges to our hardened sense of authenticity. Threats to our deeply held beliefs are swatted away like flies. The pursuit of facts be damned. No matter how strange it should seem to attribute god-like powers and abilities to our winning athletes we still do so and do so willingly. Paul Bunyon-esque home run hitters. Winged-feet runners. Winning grueling, month-long cycling marathons seven years in a row.
Watching Lance Armstrong become a 7-time winner of the Tour de France was magical. We were hooked on this guy. We wanted our children to ride their tricycles faster than the other kids. He certainly spurred my love for cycling and I still ride a bike to this day in no small part because I watched him win all seven times through 2005. Armstrong substantiated my interest in bikes and racing; he gave it cred. I build them, maintain them and commute on them. Agelessly, he singlehandedly made the sport cool.
Turns out that it was magical indeed. About as wizardly as the man behind the curtain. Now he kneels before us and admits to doping throughout most of his career. He was (gulp!) cheating. He was the best cheater of them all. He was, quite literally, the winningest cheater in a sport considered rife with cheating. Competitive cycling seems based on the notion that one should do anything possible to win. Armstrong certainly did. But this simply begs the question about our false idolatry. Should we really be heaping all the blame on the cyclist, Armstrong? Or should we be pointing our collective fickled fingers of blame back at ourselves for believing in something for so long that deserved a more critical form of incredulity?
Simply put, we built this guy up. We put him up on a pedestal and ratcheted it up year after year until he was a golden calf. We believed in him even though we had cause to find it all just a bit too much to swallow. Our faith was blind, but we blinded ourselves by his harsh light. It was probably easy for Armstrong to put this over on us. If I were to decry his actions to his face, he would no doubt identify me as an idiot for having believed in him. And, in my case, he’d be right. Armstrong was wrong, absolutely. So was I to have allowed myself to be so extraordinarily naive.
I am still a fan of his charity work, but it’s now tainted a bit by my mistrust of his motives. Good work notwithstanding, Armstrong doesn’t get cleansed by it.
Our headlong rush to sensationalize anything and everything gets us our just desserts. We all want to be seen as the product of myth. If we can’t do it for ourselves, we want to glom onto the myths provided by others. We see our lives as battles. We want flags. Armstrong was mine.