Heroes Diminished

The lives of two heroes named Armstrong ended this past week. Lance Armstrong won seven straight Tour de France titles and one Olympic championship. The Tour has been called the most physically demanding event in the world. To win it once—extraordinary. Seven times? Unimaginable.

Lance Armstrong isn’t dead but his status as a hero was greatly diminished by the recent ruling of the US Anti-Doping Agency which said he used banned performance enhancing drugs. I was very sad at this ruling, as I saw Lance as a hero. Whether he actually cheated, we may never know, but the actions of the executive director of the US ADA show an animus against Lance that smacks of unfairness.

Our other hero, Neil Armstrong, was the first man to set foot on the moon. Even after his death last Saturday, 08.25.12, he’ll be considered a hero throughout our history. Ironically, he shunned the spotlight and did not use his fame to promote himself. He remains largely unknown, yet he will live forever as a hero in the eyes of all Americans.

If you were around on July 20, 1969, you remember listening with 600 million other earthlings to the live broadcast of the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon. My mother, aunt, and I were on a ferry between British Columbia and Washington State that lovely evening.

Temple at Luxor, Egypt, commemorating heroes of the ancient past.

Fellow passengers from a host of countries listened with us. Then we all applauded and cheered as Neil Armstrong intoned, “That’s one small step by a man, one giant leap for mankind.” So powerful was that achievement that it pushed aside a shocking story, the report that Senator Ted Kennedy–a hero to many–had driven his Oldsmobile off the Chappaquiddick bridge, killing Mary Jo Kopechne.

The very word Chappaquiddick became synonymous with deception and abuse of power, raising questions about Ted Kennedy’s honesty and courage. He didn’t report the accident for a full ten hours, though his passenger was trapped inside the submerged car. She is reported to have died of suffocation within three hours. His run for president against Jimmy Carter a decade later was effectively derailed by Chappaquiddick. Afterward, Senator Kennedy partially resurrected his reputation and was lionized by the left when he died in 2009.

Each of the three men achieved a high profile in the public consciousness—two were considered heroes on the basis of their accomplishments and the third, Kennedy, began on the basis of his persona and the expectation of greatness. His noteworthy successes came after his crisis. Though he would doubtless have preferred to be president, his greatest achievements came because of his appalling failure at Chappaquiddick. Humiliation will do that to a man, if he doesn’t break under the shame.

Lance Armstrong’s story remains to be completed. He never failed a single urine or blood test during all those years of competition yet he remained suspect and last week was condemned by the US ADA. I would have been happier if the US ADA had dealt with Barry Bonds, suspected of using steroids while he set a new record for most home runs, supplanting my hero, Hank Aaron. Hank Aaron played for the Milwaukee Braves, along with other greats—Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews, and Lew Burdette. They all played before the age of steroids.

It’s sad that the ones we thought we knew the best, Lance Armstrong and Ted Kennedy, revealed serious flaws when viewed up close. Neil Armstrong didn’t disappoint, but we scarcely knew the man! Is that how we want to view our heroes?


About samuelehall

A follower of Jesus, husband, father of 3 adult children, writer and learner.
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3 Responses to Heroes Diminished

  1. In a court of law, if the defendent chooses not to testify, the prosecution still has to prove guilt. In this court, the prosecution is spared the need to prove anything. People can say they have proof, maybe they do and maybe they don’t. The willingness to lie for personal gain is more of a national pastime than baseball. If anyone doubts this, listen to the political ads. Yes, I’m cynical. Everyone knows pro wrestling is staged with a script. But, some things should be too important to lie about. If our president, the most important person in the country, can win his office based on our acceptance of his ability to lie, why should a bicycle rider be held to a far higher standard?

  2. I don’t pay much attention to cycling, as it appears to be as rigged as wrestling. However, I don’t get the current events. If he never failed a test, and is retired, nothing discussed is remotely current. So, why now? Where were all of the accusers when it actually happened? If they are really looking for the truth, what difference does it make if he participates or not? Have they actually presented anyting in a legal situation? Their goal seems to be stripping awards, not really proving anything. Rewriting history is one of man’s favorite pastimes. Why else would they be doing this?

    What I do understand from my own personal experence is his decision to let go. As it appears the opposition will never stop, right or wrong, I think he made a good decision. We all have only so long to live. To spend the rest of his life hopelessly fighting unending opposition isn’t worth it. So many better things to do. He wants his life back to do them.

    All this crap about heros, one of the most overworked and useless words in the English language. I think Lance is more of a hero for letting go then for anything else.

    • samuelehall says:

      John! Good comment, spoken with feeling. I like that.
      I may have left the wrong impression–Lance Armstrong isn’t retired from racing. Even since the US ADA ruling, he raced … and was defeated by an up and coming 16-yr.-old!
      I’m not certain re the accusers but believe that US ADA got one of his teammates to testify against Lance. However, he never got a chance to face his accuser. Totally unfair! Yeah, it looks as if Travis Tygart (ADA exec.) was out to get Lance, regardless. It’s a mess.
      However, John, I believe sorting this out is important. Your reference to pro wrestling–cynicism. Not a good thing. I think that the drama that is pro wrestling harms the image of legit wrestling all the way down thru collegiate and high school wrestling. Competition at those levels demands the utmost from those young athletes. I’ve never wrestled but attended college at Oklahoma State, the recognized leader in collegiate wrestling with 34 national championships! If cheating were allowed to infect collegiate and HS wrestling, it would spread to other sports, deepen cynicism, and further erode the way we look at ourselves as a people.
      The concept of fairness and justice is at the heart of how we as a people see ourselves.
      You have strong feelings about the idea of heroes. Good! I’ll talk more about that in my next post.

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