Sunday, May 22, 2011

Heroes Fail

That's what I kept thinking through my sadness while watching 60 Minutes earlier this evening. I listened with pain as Tyler Hamilton talked about his years of using performance enhancing drugs and procedures. I was disturbed as he talked about Lance Armstrong being part of this in spite of years and years of serious denial on Armstrong's part of any involvement in such things.

Why did Hamilton use the drugs? He felt he had to in order to compete with athletes who, in some cases, were less talented than Hamilton. If he didn't cheat, he wouldn't be able to beat them since they WERE using. Hamilton showed a mixture of disgust (at the questions and himself) as well as sadness and pain at what he was doing. Last Wednesday, after the information began to come out, Hamilton had returned his Olympic Gold Medal. He said he couldn't bear to look at it anymore anyway.

The pain and sadness in the story has many elements, but at the heart is Lance Armstrong. If this is true he has been lying and cheating for a long time. Perhaps he would say the same as Hamilton that he needed to do what he did in order to maintain his position as one of the world's greatest athletes. Perhaps, if he ever admits to any such use and gives us an explanation, it will ease the pain for many of us who have looked up to him for his courage and endurance.

Does this take away from that? I am not sure. He has been a great athlete who worked far beyond himself to accomplish greatness. He has inspired and challenged and encouraged many who may have felt like giving up. He was also, I am sure, overwhelmed by his own greatness. This is not uncommon among the elite of any field. In spite of their heroism and greatness and achievements, they feel that they are justified, different, entitled.

Congressmen, presidential candidates, and governors have done the same. Wall Street bankers, TV preachers and Hollywood stars act this way. Barry Bonds, Brett Favre, Pete Rose, Mark McGwire have become fallen heroes. They lie or manipulate or blur their stories in order to maintain for themselves the semblance of honor. We may find it hard to believe that even the elite and great ones among us could be as tempted and fallible as we are.

But they are. They are human. They will fail. Themselves and us. That perhaps should give us pause to be cautious about our tendency toward hero worship. We should not place others on any pedestal that is higher than it should be. They cannot and will not be able to vicariously pull us out of our daily lives.

Respect their abilities and what they can do. But don't put that heroes mantle on them too soon. We may be disappointed.

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