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.
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?