Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey is huge.
It’s not because of what he admitted to. It had nothing to do with cycling getting justice. It’s because finally now we should all just realize the obvious: Athletes aren’t heroes. Neither are singers. Got to throw actors in there too. While so many Americans may disagree, our President and other Washington leaders belong here just as well.
It makes no sense to keep doing this.
I didn’t waste 2 1/2 hours of my life watching the Armstrong interviews, but I heard clips on the radio and saw the reaction of others who worked alongside him. Sure, I was bummed. I got caught up in everything back when he was destroying the competition and making the Tour de France into a glorified bike ride. It was an amazing story. But 14 years of sportswriting taught me something valuable: People in the spotlight are just people. They’ve got major flaws, and some of them are quite honestly jerks. I could name off plenty of names that would shock you. People you probably assume are “good guys” who in real life are anything but. That’s their choice. I developed thick skin and did my job.
I’m not saying we can’t admire them for their skills and accomplishments, but I hope that parents will finally realize it’s time to take things a little deeper than what you see or hear in a two minute TV soundbite. The definition of a hero has now become so twisted, manipulated and shallow that we’ve forgotten what is truly heroic. We’ve also been sold a thin, surfacey veil of heroism by those who refuse to dig.
This is where I see another positive from the Lance Armstrong interview. Maybe, just maybe, sportswriters everywhere will step back and tap the brakes on the hero narrative. For those keeping score, this is the same bunch who didn’t bother with steroids during the 1998 Home Run Chase. I understand the addiction of the too-good-to-be-true story, but I also can tell the difference between a legit story and a contrived, cheesy, ESPN “My Wish” type story. I can also give you name after name of the larger-than-life athlete who wound up with his/her life in a gutter. Yes, the perfectly polished stories are a journalist’s dream, but I also value honest journalism where the shiny marks and smudges are included together in the same story. Fact is my favorite heroes have never been spotless.
I’m still a huge sports fan, and I still marvel at certain athletes and their talent. But what I love even more is seeing people who’ve been blessed with much who take pride in personal responsibility, accountability and being a good example. If they’ve made mistakes in the past, they own it. They don’t hide from it.
That’s the stuff I want my kids to pick up and observe someday. And if they happen to like individuals with great character who succeeded through hard work, integrity and following the rules?
Then I’ll tell them that’s something worthy of admiring.