We don’t need another hero (like this one)
Thou shalt not worship false idols. The problem being, of course, that we only ever learn too late that they were false; that they were cheats or curs or degenerates.
Lance Armstrong, who has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from the sport for life, maintains his innocence in the face of doping charges.
It’s potentially the biggest sporting scandal of all time. The biggest downfall, the biggest disgrace.
The US Anti-Doping Agency says he orchestrated the most sophisticated doping program ever seen.
Here is where I have to admit to a bit of schadenfreude. I never liked the guy. It was part instinctive distrust of this cocky self-appointed guru that people seemed to mindlessly worship. The self promotion without a soupcon of self deprecation. The smarming up with celebrities, politicians, smearing their mutual appreciation around like honey.
The adoration hit fever pitch in Adelaide in 2009, when Armstrong hit town for the Tour Down Under. We, including then-Premier Mike Rann, collectively swooned.
Then, impossibly, the excitement ratcheted up one more notch when Armstrong chose to launch the Livestrong Global Cancer Campaign right here (in little old Adelaide!). His friend ‘Ranny’ was so overcome he named the research wing of the new Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer after Armstrong’s cancer foundation, Livestrong. It’s not clear whether the centre actually got any money from the foundation, or just reflected glory.
But even asking the question – how much will he give to the centre we named after him? – was apparently a breach of some code. He lent us his name, and that was enough.
Ugh. See what I mean about schadenfreude? It’s an ugly emotion, a gloating smugness. I seem to have completely ignored the fact he was still an extraordinary athlete, and responsible for raising hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research, not to mention awareness.
I’m trying to make a less self-satisfied point, which is that there is danger in being blinded by our idols. We raise our ‘heroes’ up so high, then we’re crushed when they can’t meet our expectations.
We deify winners. Then throw tantrums if anyone dares question their greatness, or we suffer eternal disappointment when we are forced to admit that they are not gods after all.
When Cadel Evans won the Tour de France last year, columnist Mia Freedman had the temerity to suggest that maybe sportspeople aren’t really heroes. That maybe we don’t need to revere them quite so much.
Oh, the maelstrom of hate that ensued. The tired old cry of ‘un-Australian’ was just the beginning. Ms Freedman was subjected to vile, sustained abuse. She ended up in tears. For mildly suggesting that a sporting ‘hero’ should not be so readily worshipped.
It’s as though people suffer a form of collective brainwashing. My colleague Ant Sharwood describes Lance Armstrong as having a dangerous level of charm:
“Lance Armstrong was capable of making half the sports fans in the world believe anything. Like a cult leader, the man is dripping in charisma. You don’t just want to like him, you want to believe him,” he wrote.
It is unhealthy to have this level of belief in someone, to discard scepticism entirely.
Look at what has happened with other untouchables; the clergy and the soldiers.
These, too, are people you were not meant to question, not meant to rattle their pedestals. They too, let us down. The ongoing church child sex scandals, the repulsive behaviour of some people at war. There is a clear danger in being dazzled by anyone.
Our blindness lets them break the rules, unseen.
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