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Zack Cahill

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Lance Armstrong - The Danger Of Having Heroes

Posted: 12/10/2012 00:35

I don't care about the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. I don't mean to diminish the man at all, if he were a friend I'd be upset for him. Nor am I about to segue into a rant about the insignificance of the issue in comparison to the starving children in Africa or some other social injustice, because I can't honestly claim to spend much time thinking about that day to day either. I just don't care. If this were twitter there'd be a hash tag at the end of this post with "apathy" next to it.

So this is not an article about drugs in sport nor a "did he/didn't he" invitation to debate. It's about the reactions to the story.

The outpouring of emotion I've witnessed online, from the cynical to the mawkishly sentimental has made me uncomfortable and I'm not sure why. It seems people are genuinely upset about this, with the most emotional fitting broadly into one of two camps.

On one side we have the die-hard supporters who will never believe Lance cheated no matter how much evidence surfaces. On the other side are those for whom it totally undermines not just the man but sport as a whole, and are sad and disillusioned as a result.

I would suggest that both sides have attached too much of their own identity to someone who is, in spite of his impressive cycling ability, his recovery from cancer and his admirable charity work, still just a man. If Lance Armstrong inspired you in some way to do something you might not have otherwise done, or simply to feel better, no amount of doping allegations can change the fact that you did and felt those things. The man being stripped of his titles does not strip you of the feelings and actions he may have inspired.

Heroes are dangerous things to have. Believing that a person's ability to cycle or run fast (or even sing a song well or write a compelling book) elevates them to the status of an inspirational "legend" makes it uncomfortable when that person turns out to be imperfect.

The inclusion of Armstrong's cancer in the doping debate also feels odd. The fact that he survived the disease should have no bearing on whether or not he used drugs. Yet cancer is inseparable from the Armstrong legend, it is crucial to the simple narrative of hard work overcoming obstacles. This too is dangerous.

The characterisation of cancer victims as battling heroes may be intended as encouragement but it has a dark flip side. Talk of "winning" or "losing" a battle against an illness has always felt like an ugly and unhelpful metaphor to me, because if I "lose" does that make it my fault?

Armstrong is a hard working and talented individual who achieved great success. He recovered from a terrible illness thanks to medical science (the real hero in the cancer battle.) He does admirable work for charity. These things will always be true. Draw inspiration from his actions if you like, and if his story encouraged you to work for something you want that's a good thing. Regardless of any doping scandal, you still did those things, you own them, they can't be taken away.

That's my two cents.

Hashtag apathy.

 

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