The Lance Armstrong dog and pony show has come to a circuitous and anti-climactic ending. He confessed! He said “I’m sorry”! He said “I want to compete still”! He said “my fortune is going away”! But. He did all of this with little show of emotion and in his typical robotic, defensive manner. I am not here to deconstruct the interview with Oprah, though. There is enough of that out there by individuals far more in the know. My point of view is this: how did this happen in the first place?
It comes down to hero worship. Actors, sports figures, business tycoons. Every industry has their celebrity, and with the advent of paparazzi and social media regular people who do irregular things are boosted to a status that incurs mania. When any single individual is given that much notoriety and that much exaltation it becomes impossible for them to live up to the expectations foisted upon them causing them to engage in childish, reckless and sometimes dangerous acts.
The Lance legend grew on this kind of philosophy and he said himself that things spun out of control and it took a lot of conniving and lies to maintain an image that wasn’t even true right from the beginning. The symbiotic relationship between heroes and the general public is not a new one, but it seems that the stakes get higher every year with increasing amounts of money and fame up for grabs and the more mind-blowing the story the greater the frenzy surrounding it.
People want something incredible to believe in. They need something incredible to believe in. And that is how the Lance story perpetuated. An entire industry of movies and comic books has been constructed around the notion of people with super powers; the very concept that a real life person might possess something akin to extra special strength or ability is captivating.
As ordinary people, society delights in others who do something extraordinary. It boggles the mind of the general public to see a World Record broken, medals collected, races won. It is a realm that most people will never live in, so any window into that world is exciting. Every detail of the hero’s life is nitpicked and folklore surrounding any accomplishments ensues. But we often forget that perhaps, it is the very thing that makes a super sports hero so good at what they do is what also makes them so fallible.
The question is, then, how much adulation is too much? I don’t think that “adulation” is necessarily quantifiable. Looking up to a sports hero and deriving inspiration from his or her achievements is healthy. Swooning at their feet, obsessing over every stat and following the minutia of the mundane aspects of their lives is taking things a step too far. If any lesson is to be learned from the Lance debacle it is that no matter what any individual accomplishes, no matter how phantasmagorical, he or she is merely human and should be treated accordingly.