A wise man once said “we are our own worst enemy”. Truer words were never spoken. Whether you are a student, a working professional or a superstar athlete, you can probably look in the mirror and see the person that stands in the way of you reaching your true potential. I certainly believe this wisdom applies to me, and most of the people I care for.
Lance Armstrong’s withdrawal from the fight to clear his name against implications of steroids is a very sad moment in sports history. Armstrong’s accomplishments on a bicycle place him light years ahead of any other professional cyclist. His defeat of cancer has inspired millions of people diagnosed with the brutal disease. He is a hero to millions, both as an athlete and as an individual. Which is why the news is so enormous. It rocks the world of professional cycling, and robs many of their inspiration.
Of course there will be many that will stand beside Lance no matter what. And I would never argue with them. As a cancer survivor, and someone who achieved so much after his diagnosis, he has made a tremendous impact on the world. His Livestrong Foundation remains a stellar organization that will do good work for many years to come. So no one can deny the fact that Lance Armstrong did wonderful things in the face of cancer. For that, unless you’ve walked in his shoes, you should applaud him.
What is troubling is that we may never know exactly HOW he did those wonderful things. In fighting cancer, anything goes. There are no rules. If you fight cancer (or AIDS-see “Magic Johnson”), you do whatever it takes. And if you beat it, you are spectacular in your strength and determination. But in sports, no one likes a cheater. If Lance took “performance enhancers”, even as part of his cancer battle, then whatever work he did as an individual gets in large part negated by the fact that he may have “cheated” his way to his numerous Tour De France victories.
If that’s the case, and we may never know, then at some point Lance (or someone around him) perhaps should have put a stop to his racing career. As we have seen with Tiger Woods and LeBron James, the other two icons of the Mount Rushmore of Sports who have fallen, we all want greatness from our heroes, but we also want integrity and honesty.
When I was a kid, sports hero troubles were limited to excessive drinking, womanizing and the occasional locker room brawl. Yes, back then the media shielded bad behavior in order to remain drinking buddies with the icons they covered. But the problems were much more simple. And fans knew the guys were imperfect. Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Magic Johnson, Terry Bradshaw and all the rest were “regular guys”. Athletes today get themselves in trouble when they try to portray themselves as perfect, and then fall from grace. And their issues (steroids, drinking and driving, association with bad dudes) are much more complicated. Fans seem to expect more while athletes deliver less.
I always advise my clients to be authentic. I really think that’s all fans want. We paint our heroes, and they paint themselves, as something they cannot life up to. We reward them for super-human achievements, and don’t want to believe that they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Ultimately, their true essence is revealed and we are heartbroken. When you are revered by millions, and make millions for being so exceptional, it must be pretty easy to believe the hype. Ego gets in the way, and athletes themselves can lose track of the difference between who they really are and what the public perception of them is. We may want to believe our heroes are perfect, but the minute they start seeing themselves that way, they are vulnerable to a severe fall from grace.
Somewhere along the way, it seems to me Lance must have lost perspective. No one is bigger than the system. And those of us who love music know that when you meet the devil at the crossroads, the deal he offers you isn’t worth it. We live in the age of transparency. The truth ultimately is revealed. Whether your ego blinds you from the pain you may cause in Cleveland, or you are addicted to sex with women other than your wife, or you take steroids that make you ride faster than anyone, the truth shall be revealed. It’s tragic to see so may icons fall from grace, but that’s the age we live in. And we will always believe in the “next” one. Come on Mike Trout, Andrew Luck and Kevin Durant. Don’t let us down.