The end of role models


Lance_Armstrong_Tour_2010_team_presentation_(cropped)

Being an avid quizzer right from my high school days, my earliest exposure to Lance Armstrong, the cyclist was the fact that he was the up and coming star of the sport (I am talking about the 1990s here, before he became the sporting superstar that he went on to become). I kept reading news here and there about how he was winning quite a few tournaments, and how he was well in the process of redefining the sport of cycling as a spectator sport.

By virtue of his achievements in the sport, Armstrong contributed to cycling becoming another sport which started enjoying a sizeable fan following. And the story of his comeback to cycling post his cancer treatment, and winning all those Tour De France events, well, that is the stuff that sporting legends and sports movie scripts are made of. His most famous and visible contribution to the world was The Livestrong  Foundation, which to this date has the following words in its manifesto – “We fight to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.”

Coming from somebody who is a survivor and not just any survivor but a multiple championship winning survivor in a tough sport, Lance Armstrong has always served as a role model to lots of youngsters the world over, and also as a very strong inspiration to all people fighting cancer across the world.

All this being said, the events over the past few months have cast a huge shadow over the aura of Armstrong. While it was the allegations of using performance enhancing drugs a few months ago, his public spat with the USADA and the WADA put a large shadow of doubt over the entire cycling community. The fact that he not only rejected these allegations outright, but also went on to blame all these authorities of trying to unjustly malign him struck me as quite funny. What took the cake was the fact that he even refused to fight his lifetime ban from cycling, the sport which had given him all that he has in his life today.

And yesterday, the news that he appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show and supposedly confessed to engaging in the usage of performance enhancing drugs simply took the icon Lance Armstrong and converted him to a villain of sorts. While it might have been “acceptable” (and I use this word with caution) for a normal sportsperson to engage in this sort of behavior to gain an unfair advantage, the fact that somebody as inspirational, as influential, as iconic as Armstrong did this, and probably ran a huge operation to cover it up as well, makes it quite an unpardonable crime.

While the USADA, the WADA, courts and other people might sue Armstrong for his last dollar for having actively concealed his doping practices, who will answer for the millions of people who absolutely adored and idolized Armstrong for being their inspiration to fight cancer. The fact that he robbed them of inspiration, hope to succeed in life after cancer, who will take Armstrong to courts for that? Who will sue him for cheating a lot of people by pretending to be a role model for them?

The fact remains that Armstrong is just another in a long line of inspirational sportspersons who have ended up using public affection and public love for them wrongly (Hansie Cronje, Tiger Woods, Mohamed Azharuddin to name a few that I can think of immediately). All of these above mentioned people were clearly aware of the fact that they enjoyed public love and affection due to their achievements in the sporting arena. They clearly understood that they were in a position where their actions could influence the way their sports was viewed by the general public. They understood that they were role models for youngsters who followed their sport. But the fact that they still chose to break the rules is in my opinion, quite unpardonable.

While a normal individual like you and me can break rules (even that is unpardonable if you ask me), our scope of influence and control are only over a few people who actually know us. However, when public personalities, especially popular sportspersons break rules so unflinchingly, the wrong sort of message is sent out. And that is a tragedy for anybody who loves sport, and who enjoys sport based on the understanding that sports probably is the only place in the world where rules are respected and is participated in “sportingly” (for lack of a better term).

4 thoughts on “The end of role models

  1. Things have changed so much. And more importantly they have kept changing so much that I dont expect much from the big sports heroes anymore. Tomorrow if a Federer confesses or Djokovic is caught, I wont flinch much. I have learnt it the hard way!

    For a while now, my heroes have come from people that are alive who I can relate to. The neigbhourhoods watchman who at 70, wakes up, cleans cars, gaurds the building, takes care of the family and has a very sunny outlook towards life inspires me no end. And I can bet, he is not on performance support!

    • @Kavi, completely agree with you on the fact that all of us are better off looking for icons and inspiration from everyday heroes such as the watchman, our parents, etc. At least we are more realistic in our hero worship with these icons…

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