Friday, January 18, 2013

Role model wanted


Once again a hero has fallen from grace. Lance Armstrong is finally coming clean about something from which even his most ardent supporters were probably having trouble defending him. And everyone is up in arms about how we were duped, how he lied, and about how much time he spent riding the coattails of the Livestrong foundation.

I'm not sure why we can't separate the talent from the person. There is no actual logical reason why a sports phenom MUST be a good person who stands up to society's moral codes. In politics, one can navigate the halls of Congress with dexterity and influence positive measures and still be a total bastard. A surgeon can save lives time and again through careful precision and a sharp eye and still be an abusive parent who embezzles money from the hospital. Moral fiber and skill in something are not required to live together.

And I'm not certain that the hypocrisy lies with the "offender." I believe the hypocrisy lies in us. We simply do not ever once allow for humanity in our heroes, and we continually confuse the art with the artist.

I don't believe Lance Armstrong should be honored for his role as a cyclist. I think it's right to strip him of his titles and competition should never be open to him again despite any effort to set the record straight. There is no amount of apologizing that will restore the lives he's crushed with the machinery of his denial. But I'm not sure why a dude who can pedal a bike is so glorified anyway. I'm not sure why a dude who carries an oblong ball fifty yards is a national treasure. I don't know why a skilled guitarist is a paragon of character. Entertaining, yes. Valued, yes.

But no one should be asked to stand on some kind of impossibly high moral ground just because of something they can DO. Lance Armstrong is an asshole, no doubt. He's a egotistical blow hard who got all wrapped up in himself and his "art." But he's not a monster. He used his name (and our eager, frothing love of him) to do good for cancer research and that is still desperately needed. The two sides of Lance Armstrong don't offset each other obviously, but they really don't need to.

We shouldn't keep confusing the art with the artist. The cycling and the charity are two different things. And he's one man, complete with a staggering array of good qualities and bad. I think that's really all of us, if we're remotely self-aware. Maybe we should look for heroes made of strong moral fiber rather than strong muscular fiber. If we can't do that we need to be honest and admit that the content of a man's character is not our measuring stick for the position of role model.

In any event, the truth is that we can't have it both ways.

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