Professional athletes are icons. Their mastery of physicality transcends normalcy, and inspires the common man to aspire to and admire such feats of impeccable strength. This ascension to superhuman capacity makes a fall from grace all the more dramatic. With the recent exposition of Lance Armstrong's doping and secrecy during his seven Tour de France titles, and the unsettling trial of South African paralympian Oscar Pistorius, the occasional fall of an icon has seemed to turn into an avalanche. Between allegations of bullying, deception, and violence, these formerly revered men make us wonder how we could have been fooled for so long. Lance Armstrong's prolific cycling career has inspired millions. With his tremendously successful brand and non-profit foundation for cancer patients and survivors, LIVESTRONG, Armstrong set the bar high for high-endurance athletes on an international stage. A young triathlete, Armstrong made the transition to professional cycling in the early 1990s, winning 2 Tour de France titles. After being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 and declared cancer free a year later in '97, Armstrong returned to competitive cycling in 1998. The sheer journey of overcoming a potentially life-threatening disease to ascend once again to the highest heights of physical prowess inspired many to ascribe to his newfound success and LIVESTRONG mission.
Over the next 12 years, Armstrong continued to build an international fan base that was not only built on the principles of athleticism, and fierce denial of allegations that he had been doping, or influencing his team to do so. Realizing the gravitas of these accusations, Armstrong entertained a number of tests that appeased fans and officials alike for much of the time he was competing. In February of 2012, his case for cleanliness began to disintegrate with members of the U.S. Postal Service sponsored cycling team coming forward with doping evidence once again. The fallout has been devastating, Armstrong's seven Tour de France titles revoked, multiple law suits pending, millions of dollars owed, a life-time ban from competition, and a career of followers disappointed.
The New York Times published an article chronicling the woes of individuals who had elected to embolden their support by getting LIVESTRONG tattoos. The tone of the article was surprisingly upbeat, and focused on reclaiming LIVESTRONG for what it represents to survivors of cancerous diseases. Almost all of those interviewed said they wouldn't take back getting their tattoos either. It was clear that Lance Armstrong has been relegated to only the impetus or even lesser catalyst for the decision to brand such a brand. While it is believable that one would tattoo themselves in the name of cancer survivors, choosing the Armstrong association is a choice to be distinguished.
Now, after an apology on Oprah Winfrey's network, a myriad of hearings, trials, and verdicts, it's still hard to believe the wool was pulled over our eyes. Humanity is connected by our everyday corporal experience, and the magnitude and reverence with which we regard professional athletes directly correlates to an identification of a talents beyond our own bodies' comprehension. Our impressed and awed nature stems from aspirations of asking our bodies the same physical questions. Surviving a cancerous disease and returning to the highest heights of athleticism render our image of Armstrong superhuman. Now, we have evidence-proving blood tests, a confession to using steroids and blood-doping techniques, and an admittance to bullying members of the USPS cycling team to follow the same regimen. In our quest for seemingly unattainable feats of strength and competitive physicality, where do we lose the humanity?
Upon visiting lancearmstrong.com, you find a simple website offering one link that directs to his management company for speaking engagements, and a mailing address for the LIVESTRONG foundation. There is one photo that shows Armstrong running, not cycling. In the end, the betrayal is far too much for forgiveness. "You bundle it all up and say, ‘So what?’" said David Howman, executive director of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The season for the fallen athlete has also swept up the unsightly tale of Oscar Pistorius, the South African paralympian who dazzled in London's olympics, being the first paralympian to compete at the level of olympians with fully developed bodies. It truly was a feat of superhuman strength and determination, one that fans and viewers wanted to laud in spite of his hot-headed temper and fierce competitive streak. It shocked the globe to find that he had recently shot his girlfriend Reeva Stankamp in his own home, through a locked bathroom door. Stories have arisen through a lengthy trial, and Pistorius' defense is murky and oddly reasoned; he was convinced it was an intruder, he was disoriented, he didn't notice his model girlfriend had left the bed and gone to the bathroom.
Yet again, it seems as though the world audience is confused, unsure of how quickly to assign such indelible blame to another person who exceeded expectations in ways many thought impossible. Pistorius refused to be limited by the complications of his physicality, and yet, has crippled his life in a way that will last much longer than the victory of racing. Does athletic ambition inspire honesty, or further, is its discipline emblematic of good character? It would appear that it does not, however professional athletes will continue to be considered iconic for years to come, scandals and trials aside. In questioning our own role models, does the drive of commitment and the will to be honest ever prove contradictory? Hopefully, a true inspirational figure finds the point at which the two intersect, and finds freedom in their ability to achieve in the truest sense of themselves. Perhaps that is asking for superhuman sensibility, too.
Source Material: The New York Times, lancearmstrong.com, oscarpistorius.com