Dammit, we are all too human

The story of Lance Armstrong is fascinating to me.  Not because I wonder why he used performance enhancers.  That is easily understandable.  He wanted to be the best at all costs, and as he proved the risk/reward for it was skewed so high that even though he has no more income from endorsements, he has already banked a great deal of money and invested much of it intelligently.  So yeah, he has no more Tour de France victories and no more endorsement deals, but he isn’t going to debtor’s prison any time soon.

What really interests me most is all the stuff around Armstrong.  First, how did he manage to get away with this open secret for so long?  Why did everyone involved in the hierarchy of cycling not do anything to stop it?  Everyone knew (and knows) how prevalent doping was (and still is) in cycling, so why protect him so long?  Why protect him in the first place?

The same questions go for all the journalists who covered the sport.  It isn’t just about the American journalists who dropped into cycling just for the Tour just to watch Armstrong were the only willing accomplices for this cover up.  The European journalists who covered the sport were cowed by the Armstrong mafia to the point that they wouldn’t write about any doping in the sport.  Again, why were Armstrong and his people given so much power?

I come back yet again to the why are people so angry with an athlete getting caught cheating?  Look at the NFL.  Every few weeks a player gets suspended for some drug related offense.  It happens, it is announced, the guy serves his suspension, and the NFL world continues on without any blips.

His standing in the world outside of the cycling world is based all on cancer.  He fought and beat cancer and that has made him a hero, a role model.  Charles Barkley was pilloried when he said in a commercial, “I am not a role model.”  The problem with the hand ringing from many people about this statement isn’t that it’s about athletes, but it is about humans.

Our athletes are our superheroes, but they are more Batman then Superman.  They are utterly human and therefore utterly flawed.  It makes them more interesting and it makes our reactions to them equally interesting.

I have often said, after seeing an athlete do something utterly freakish on the field of play that our athletes are barely human.  They are in some sense the next evolution of humanity.  Yet, they will also do something all too human and all to flawed to remind me why we watch.  They are us despite their physical gifts.

That is why I have always agreed with Barkley’s commercial statement.  They will make mistakes; they will screw up something important just like everyone else.  Yes, to whom much is given much is expected, but what is expected?

Maybe that is where the problem is, we don’t want them to be human.  We don’t want them to make the same mistakes we make.  It reminds us too much of our own frailties.  Maybe Armstrong’s mistake was not making himself into a superhero through better chemistry.  Maybe it was getting caught and reminding people how human we all truly are.


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