Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lance Armstrong: Heroes and Villians

Tomorrow and Friday Oprah will air her interview with Lance Armstrong when he will supposedly admit, to a greater or lesser degree, that he participated in doping for his entire career.

Do I care? I'm mildly interested since I'm a fan of cycling.

Am I hurt, disappointed, or mad at a person I've never met?  No, I am not.

This is just one more act in the circus called the American media.

But I guess I can say that because I figured out long ago never to bet on a horse if I'm not riding it. I learned not to get emotionally tangled up with sports teams and players, because what logic is there in wanting to slash my wrists after, say the Red Sox blow a ten-game lead in the standing in a matter of weeks? There's nothing I can do about it, and when it comes out that grown men who are making tens of millions of dollars are acting like children, or worse, like drunken sailors on shore leave, why should I care?

It's just one more lesson in human behavior that the Greeks understood 2,500 years ago and we still haven't learned yet. Their gods and heroes were flawed, and why are we always outraged when a human being plummets from the heights of Olympus is beyond me.

We all know sports organizations and athletes are not the squeaky-clean enterprises and gods and goddesses we make them out to be. It's just part of their branding in order to sell overpriced tickets and logo clothing and eight dollar cups of crap beer at their venues. It's marketing, folks, and frankly most of the marketing goes to stem the tide that most sports are going the way of professional wrestling. It's all phoney and geared to make the most money possible.

I was, though, a huge Lance Armstrong fan and have been a fan of the Tour de France since I was a kid and rode a Schwinn Varsity, my first bike, and American Greg LeMond was wearing the yellow jersey. I was following le Tour when people here in the United States were calling it the Tore day France (rhymes with pants) if they were even talking about it at all. What am I saying?--there are still people who pronounce it that way.

During the heyday of the U.S. Postal Services' team's dominance of the Tour, when Lance (see, I call him by his first name, as if I really know him) won seven Tours in a row, for 21 days in July I'd be incommunicado. I still had a television set then, and I'd get up in the morning around 6:00 and watch the race on the Outdoor Network Channel. Then in the afternoon I'd watch the highlights and that night I'd watch the entire race all over again. Wonderful races, very dramatic, and of course in the back of my head I'd wonder if he was doping. What do you think I am?--an idiot?

The same way I imagine any baseball fan with half a dose of common sense had to be wondering about the likes of Mark Maguire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens when they had their runs as sports giants.

Yeah, Clemens (notice I don't refer to him by his first name) was called before Congress, but they let him off. I still don't understand why Congress cared what Clemens shot in his big butt, but, like most people, I don't understand much of anything that Congress does.

I just got finished reading Neil Young's autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, (don't read it unless you're a crazy Neil Young or music fan; it's terribly written) where he admits he wrote all--and he does mean all--his songs while high. When he was writing his book he had quit all drugs including alcohol, and wrote that he had writer's block and hadn't written a single song since going clean. Is anyone saying, hey, Harvest or After the Gold Rush suck now since you wrote them under the influence? No. But then again, everyone knows that drugs play a role in music--as we should just admit in sports.

But I'm digressing. Lance is a little different from the other boys.

After Lance's time on the hero's podium, he's going to have to serve his time getting raked over the coals of the American judicial system, better known as popular opinion run by the media. He didn't just bamboozle us in the hero department, he jeopardized the income of a lot of big names: LiveStrong. Oakley. Nike. Trek. Giro helmets. 24-hour Fitness. Anheuser-Busch. Radio Shack. The Discovery Channel.

What do they say about Bernie Madoff? Why was he the only person from Wall Street who went to jail? Because he ripped off the 1%. The U.S. Postal Service ponied up about $30 million to sponsor the team. South Australia is considering suing him for appearance money paid to him. The Sunday Times is suing him for $1.5 million for a libel settlement. Money, money, money, money. Everybody was making huge sums of money of each other. Now there's hell to pay.

And Lance jeopardized his own income and this poor boy from Texas who rose to those dizzy heights of wealth and popularity isn't going down without a fight. I'm not so enamored with Lance that I don't realize he's probably behind all this noise. He--or rather, his brand, that third-person entity that is composed of not flesh and blood, but rather public opinion--is at stake here.

If I can say one thing about Lance, he did a lot of good. He took his fame and used it to fight cancer. Maybe his story was hokum--a superhuman defeat of the Big C--but it still got people to fight cancer. That's a lot more than a lot of rich celebs ever attempt to do. Seriously, what does Mick Jagger do with all his millions and fame? Of course, Mick Jagger doesn't try to come across like Glinda the Good Witch either. He is who he is, and Lance is who he is, too.

I still think it's our society that's at fault here, as much as Lance. Our society seems rife with people who will do anything for success. And we let them and even encourage them, and then get mad at them when they let us down.

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