The Fall of the American Hero
Recently, Lance Armstrong sat down and had his now infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey where he admitted what a lot of us had been expecting. He had used PEDs and blood doping to assist him in winning a record 7 straight Tour de France titles. We now know all of these titles have effectively been stripped away and Armstrong’s legacy will be questioned, if not completely disgraced, until his dying days. However, we as a society are left to pick up the pieces. Again.
Excuse me if you are a little confused; I will explain.
Heroes and Humans: When Fiction Meets Reality
Flashback to the summer of 1998. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated an entire nation on their march to break the single season home run mark in baseball. The media, fans, players, owners, and anyone who’s a sports fan anywhere could not take their eyes off the chase. It was so entertaining, so fun to watch, and we felt like we had never seen anything like it before. The sports media as well as the news media was riveted by the story and it ended up becoming THE story of that summer. I myself became a huge Mark McGwire fan that year, and I still remember the night he hit home run #62 to break Roger Maris’ record. I was 8 years old, McGwire could do no wrong in my eyes. He was a hero.
Now flash forward to today. McGwire and Sosa have both been accused of taking steroids or PEDs during their playing days, most specifically during that summer that captivated the nation. McGwire actually admitted to it, and is now back in baseball as a hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers after being St. Louis’ hitting coach for 3 years. I’m still a Cardinals fan, but McGwire is no longer a hero to me. He is merely human.
Flashback to last September. Manti Te’o, star middle linebacker for Notre Dame’s storied football program, led Notre Dame to a dramatic victory over rival Michigan State days after finding out both his grandmother and girlfriend had died within 24 hours of each other. Te’o continued to speak of his dead girlfriend during interviews, saying how he used to speak on the phone with her often, and even got emotional at times. The Notre Dame football team ended up finishing the season undefeated and made it all the way to the National Title game. Te’o finished second in the Heisman voting, racked up countless other awards, and was seen as Notre Dame’s spiritual and emotional leader after playing so well after the deaths of two loved ones during the season. Manti Te’o was, in the eyes of many Notre Dame and football fans, a hero.
Now flash forward to today. Deadspin.com released a story revealing that Manti Te’o’s girlfriend actually never existed and the whole thing was a hoax. News outlets everywhere scrambled to find out exactly what happened. Was the story true? Was Te’o involved in the hoax as part of an elaborate plan to garner publicity? The country was abuzz with the news, so much so that it actually overshadowed Armstrong’s impending interview with Oprah. Finally, after days of suspense, Te’o sat down and had an interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap and admitted that the girlfriend was indeed a hoax, but it was not his fault and he had no idea she was fake. The questions are still circulating around this story, but the damage has been done. Regardless of how you look at it, Te’o was either masterfully manipulative and is still trying to get away with it, or he was simply dumb and gullible to the point where he was actually in love with someone he never even met. Either way, it is clear Manti Te’o is no longer a hero. He is merely human.
Flashback to 2005. An athlete who had dominated his sport for almost a decade finally decides to retire. He is lauded by fans and critics alike as one of the most dominating athletes of any sport at any point in time. On top of that, he is also seen as a great human being for his work in raising money to fight a disease that kills millions of people each year. Lending his voice and money to the cause results in a movement where everyone who has the disease starts to look to him as hope for not only fighting the disease, but defeating it, and thriving afterwards. He is the epitome of all that is right with sports.
If you haven’t already guessed, I am speaking of Lance Armstrong. In 2005, Lance Armstrong was seen by millions as a hero.
It hurts me to write articles such as this, where there is so much lying and deception going on that it’s hard to discern the facts from the fiction, but it’s the reality of the society we live in. We as humans have the tendency to crown, anoint, and even worship people we see in the media. Most notably athletes. However, we only see them on our television screens, in newspapers, magazines, and on the internet. We consider ourselves extremely lucky if we ever get to meet them in person, and even then it’s only brief. I mentioned earlier that we as a society are again left to pick up the pieces after Armstrong’s admittance. Why? Because we built him up like this. Yes, he lied, and yes, he cheated. But we believed it. We ate up every word. The fact that he was the driving force behind millions of dollars raised for cancer research only made it easier for us. There was no way someone who did so much good for people could do so much bad.
But there was.
The fact is we don’t know these people we love to watch perform. We simply see them at their best and assume that’s how they always are. They become heroes in our own minds, in other people’s minds, until it snowballs to the point where the human gets lost in the legend. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. Something we as humans seem to like to forget.
So while Lance Armstrong sat there in front of Oprah, admitting to things he had repeatedly denied for years and years, you could see the armor falling off of him. The armor we put on him. The same armor we put on Mark McGwire, the same armor we put on Sammy Sosa, and the same armor we put on Manti Te’o. Now we are here again picking up those pieces of armor.
Only to find the next hero to put the armor on.
Feat. Image Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE