Fun, deep dives into interesting topics
Summary: Lance Armstrong has done a lot of good for the world. Everybody cheats in sport. We shouldn’t hold any modern athletes in high esteem based solely on their competitive record, but instead on their entire lives. Corporations have an interest in manufacturing heroes to drive sales. Humans have an ancient need to hero-worship, so please do so. Just find someone else to make your hero- someone truly worthy of your praise and trust.
Reading time: 10 minutes.
Let’s explore why people care about Lance Armstrong and why they shouldn’t.
—All the Good Lance Armstrong has Done—
Lance raised lots of money for Cancer Research
The estimates vary wildly, but Lance raised somewhere between $20-500M dollars for cancer research. If I raised $1M and that was the main accomplishment of my life- that would be a life I would be proud of. What other athlete has done more for the world? (honest question, I’m sure there are many)
Maybe Magic Johnson? In the end, Magic may generate many, many millions for HIV/AIDS research- but he contracted HIV by cheating on his wife. He has also obviously hit on an effective and massively expensive treatment regime that is only available to the very, very wealthy. He’s done great things- but is he a role model? But that’s not relevant so let’s move on.
Lance made the world Healthier
Lance got lots of people to think about being active through a fun new activity. What Michael Phelps (the pot smoker- a performance inhibiting drug) is to swimming and Forrest Gump (a violent dunce who fathered an illegitimate child)* is to jogging and ping-pong, Lance is to cycling.
Lance generated lots of positive activity- getting people to plan work out routines and healthy diets. Just the health benefits he kicked off from popularizing cycling probably generated millions of additional man-years of healthy life (1 additional year for 1 million people is probably a gross underestimate). Granted, dozens of newly inspired cyclists were probably killed in bicycle vs. motor vehicle accidents or heart attacks- but net/net- still massively positive.
Lance made the world Wealthier
The economic engine that was Lance Armstrong (6-time Tour De France Champion) generated billions of dollars of economic activity. He sold so many products and services to so many people for so many years.
Kids bicycles, adult bicycles, stupid shorts, cool sunglasses, fitness beer, sugary energy drinks, unused gym memberships, annoying wristbands, ugly shoes, expensive watches, odd-shaped helmets, postage, crappy electronics, bad movies, metric tons of carbon fiber and aircraft grade aluminum…etc, etc, etc. (LINK)
Lots of jobs, corporate revenues and government revenues (taxes) were generated by the international cycling phenomenon, money-making tornado and overall awesome winning winner that was Lance Armstrong 1999-2012.
And yet so many people are angry and feel betrayed. Why? Because they held up Lance as a hero that inspired them- and he gladly took on the public persona of hero. He asked you for your trust. Why did we want to trust him?
—All the Harm Lance Armstrong has Done—
So, lying to millions for 13 some odd years is in itself a crime and caused a great deal of harm.
Suing people or newspapers for libel when you know you are a liar causes a great deal of harm. You are suppressing truth, which is always wrong.
Serving as an example to others that lying and cheating pays, (very, very well) causes a great deal of harm.
Perhaps forcing others (teammates and competitors) to inject foreign substances in their body to compete when they otherwise would not have is a bad thing. This one is tenuous because if there was no Lance Armstrong- there would be some other alpha dog doper pushing the rest of the field to dope or be left behind.
Why do we hero worship?
My conjecture here is that for the vast majority of human history, superior physical performance and martial skills carried large survival and reproductive benefits.
This may sound like a macho argument, but in part it’s about women choosing the best father for their children.
Say you are the strongest male in the village, impressing others with various feats of strength like wrestling, boulder lifting or log tossing. You are going to be able to intimidate or defeat your male rivals. You will be selected by females for your ability to protect your family and to sire robust children.
Say you are the best archer in the village, impressing others with your ability to shoot targets, game or enemies during combat. You are going to be able to catch a girl’s eye- being a good bet to put food on the table.
These heroes were looked to as leaders. They would lead hunts or be selected as champions to fight for the collective- sparing the other males from risking life and limb. They got their pick of the females in the tribe- sometimes having harems and thousands of offspring (see Genghis Khan whose DNA is in 35 million people today, or 0.5% of the global population LINK).
So, being able to shoot arrows, wrestle, throw stones, hurl spears, ride horses, shoot arrows from horseback, use spears from horseback, sprint and broad jump had real world applications that led directly to higher chances of survival for the individual and/or their offspring.
Blame our Boredom
Since we were bored out of our minds most of the time, men would also do these activities to have fun, to kill time, to practice and to establish a pecking order. In a sense, competition was born out of boredom as much as out of actual necessity.
Don’t forget how terribly boring life was then (and still is, hence our love of entertainment/sport). It’s estimated that hunter/gathers were only had to work 20 hours a week to maintain their food and shelter. By definition, we would only live in places where there was food to be had, just lying around or walking by. Even farmers in warm, fertile places need only farm 6 months of the year at a maximum.
We know the properties of many, many plants and animals because we were so damn bored. We have smoked, snorted, injected, fried, baked, boiled, eaten, drank, and smeared every piece of animal flesh, bone, skin, organ, fluid; every plant leaf, bark, stem, and root to find out if they were performance enhancing, narcotic, nutritious, medicinal, biologically inactive or poisonous. That’s how mind numbingly bored humanity has been with our big brains and free time.
Why caring about Cheating is Stupid
In the past, when one was fighting for survival- there was no such thing as an unfair advantage against some animal prey or human foe. Any genetic or technological advantage was a god-send. Any superiority in weapon technology was generally exploited to the maximum. I suspect that the bow&arrow spread so fast because any humans without this weapon quickly found themselves murdered, enslaved, conquered or assimilated.
So, all living humans would quickly possess the bow&arrow. The same thing probably happened with horse mounted warfare, metal weapons, the gun, the machine gun, the cannon, the sailing ship armed with cannon, the steel battleship, attack aircraft and the nuclear bomb. If you didn’t possess these weapons, you were quickly killed or subjugated by those who did.
So, why do we want modern athletes to 1) win at all costs and 2) to do so without seeking any “unfair” advantage? ”Unfair” meaning ridiculous rules governing these narrow, useless past-times. What’s with the contradiction? If someone breaks into your house with a knife, you’d like to have a shotgun- right? Any ethical qualms there?
So, in our new, modern, pointless games- why do we impose fake morality on the activity of hitting a little ball with a little stick, some participants wearing a piece of dead cow on their non-dominant hand and everyone running around in circles? That is baseball. Why does it matter at all what these people do? I honestly don’t know.
Lance Armstrong clearly doped in every race. So did the person who finished 2nd each time. So did the person who finished 3rd each time. So did the person who finished 110th each time.
Tour De France Winners:
1999-2005 Lance Armstrong. Doper
2006 Floyd Landis. Doper
2007, 2009, 2010 Alberto Cantador. Doper
The history of dopers winning goes back to 1957 with 35 championships going to men who tested positive, admitted to doping, or were banned from the sport. So why the outrage if Lance was just doing what every other athlete in his sport was doing?
Why care that a person riding around France on a $20,000 bicycle wearing tiny shorts, silly shoes and an odd shaped helmet is putting substances into his body that give him the same advantage (therefore none at all) over all the other silly participants in a competition that accomplishes nothing?
Olympic Sprinting- the margin of victory is hundredths of a second and the difference between gold and silver is millions of dollars- so it is obviously stupid not to cheat. Apparently, it is also easy to not get caught so only the dumbest, laziest sprinters test positive.
Proper use of human growth hormone and steroids will increase your performance, hasten healing and recovery time while also adding millions to your income….hrmmm. Baseball is just as silly as cycling so let’s not get to far down this path.
Let’s just put it this way:
|Outcomes||Get Caught||Not Caught|
|Win (by cheating or not cheating)||Make lots of money||Make lots of money|
|Lose (by cheating or not cheating)||Work at UPS||Work at UPS|
The only time it doesn’t pay to cheat and win is when you get caught immediately after the cheating- so you aren’t able to collect prize money or endorsements. Caveat being that front runners generally make money on the run up to the competition- remember “The Dave’s” from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics? (LINK)
However, 1) It is impossible to win without cheating because everyone else is, and 2) It is easy to avoid detection- so winning and then getting caught immediately is a very remote possibility.
If you weight these outcomes by monitory award and probability- there is only one course of action- ALWAYS CHEAT.
It would be stupid of Lance to chose to not cheat, completely giving up any possibility of competitive or financial success. For fans, it would be naive to think that a smart and pathologically competitive athlete would chose to not cheat.
Why hero worship of modern athletes is Stupid
Modern, popular sports do not have this connection with practical skills and survival benefits.
Ignorant (uneducated), immature athletes earn ungodly sums of money to perform entertaining but meaningless physical tasks. Tiger Woods may achieve a billion dollars in lifetime earnings for hitting a tiny white ball with a thin metal stick into a hole, thereby allowing him to sell unrelated products and services to affluent men. The same Tiger Woods who cheated on his supermodel wife with dozens of women- and he’s a Stanford grad.
Baseball, soccer, basketball, and hockey all apply completely impractical skills. Remember, these sports were invented specifically because they were more entertaining than the traditional practical sports. The traditional sports are now relegated to Olympic competition- where even the winners make no money.
Forbes 2012 Athletes List (LINK)
Note that 145 lbs (66 kgs) boxers are the two highest paid athletes. Floyd Mayweather Jr. recently served jail time for beating his wife- and I suspect she is not a professional fighter. Manny Pacquiao appears to be a great guy, but don’t be surprised if a scandal happens. These men who punch each other while wearing large mittens and shiny shorts hiked up to their nipples wouldn’t last long against Wrestling, Brazilian Jiujitsu, or Muay Thai practitioners- let alone against a decent Filipino knife fighter or anyone with a gun.
These top earning athletes have been selected for wealth and fame due to their skills and abilities in narrow, useless entertainments. They are often very ignorant and immature- having done nothing their entire lives except practice their sport in an all or nothing bet to make it big.
Have you ever wondered why so many of these athletes have this common story of coming from difficult circumstances? Growing up in poor neighborhoods filled with crime- Born to a young mother with a dysfunctional home life?
That’s because, 1) Unfortunately, there are just lots of people born in these conditions and 2) if you were born in better conditions, to parents that are educated and in the middle class or higher- your parents would never, ever let you make such a bad bet with your life- letting you pursue an obviously stupid sport where you develop no skills useful outside of the sport and where only the vast minority ever earn anything close to a decent living.
This goes the same for art, music and acting unless your parents are rich or have already succeeded in this domain and so are 1) again, rich and 2) know how to rig the game…cheating. See Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen, Nicholas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Miley Cyrus, The Osbornes, Paris Hilton...
We should not hold athletes up for moral or ethical acclaim based solely on their athletic accomplishments. We should not hold microphones to their mouths, transcribing their clichéd utterances and uninformed views on politics for global consumption.
Who are you angry at? Why are you angry?
Lance is a person you know from 30 second Nike commercials and still photo magazine ads. You have never met him. You don’t know him, and yet you feel betrayed by him. He lied to you and he isn’t the person you thought he was- though you don’t actually know him. So- that negative emotion moves you to anger. You want to speak out against this liar and cheater- you want to heap shame and scorn upon him. This person who has never spoken to you- he took advantage of your trust. He played you for a fool.
Do we blame the massive marketing machines that Nike, the USPS and Madison Ave put behind Lance- no. They made it about Lance so Lance is the one who betrayed our trust in him…isn’t this all ridiculous? You were betrayed by the fictional public persona of Lance 1999-2005 and now don’t like the more current but still manufactured (by the news now and not Nike) public persona that you still haven’t ever met.
You are being played for a sucker
Commercial interests made Lance a star so they could sell you more product: bicycles, sunglasses, postage, watches, wristbands.
Media companies are making a villain out of Lance so they can get their ratings up and sell commercial time at a higher rate.
Your emotions are being manipulated so that large companies can make money off of your energy and attention. Please realize that.
These people will always let you down
These athletes are human and so are inherently flawed. Any athlete that performs their silly skills at such a high level that they become role models will have money and fame heaped upon them. And any athlete lucky enough to become rich and famous for being good at silliness is so very likely to be corrupted by it all.
If I was a 25-year-old worth tens of millions of dollars, who simply has to work out or play a game a couple of hours a day, who has no support network to help me make good decisions- only hangers-on taking 10% here and there, who can get women any time I want, who is full of natural and artificial testosterone, who is ignorant and bored- yes, oh hell yes- I’d let you down too. In a heart beat.
I’d hide it so I could get more endorsements- but I’d be living a life not worthy of praise. When finally discovered, I would apologize. I might even go to rehab or get counseling. I’d make public service announcements and go talk to kids. I might then write a book about my journey of redemption. I would keep making money through my tremendous salary and wait a couple of years before I could once again make money through endorsements.
***My apologies to the athletes this does not apply to. Arthur Ashe, Roberto Clemente, Steve Young, Pele, Bill Russell, Bill Bradley, Jesse Owens and many, many others- but still a minority of the professional athlete population.
******I don’t think this is just a male thing either, it’s just that women don’t make lots of money playing sports. If you look at female actresses, musicians and socialites who achieve money and fame young- it’s not a pretty track record either -see Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse (1983-2011), Lindsey Lohan. Paris Hilton has been spared only because her family wrote her out of the will -LINK- and her family also spent many millions straightening her out….relatively.
Madonna shrewdly assumed the persona of a promiscuous person and acted accordingly. She’s a great entertainer and smart business woman. You cannot disappoint people when you act according to expectations. That doesn’t change the fact the she is horribly ignorant and so her political and economic views should be considered in that light.
Who should you Admire?
Admire good parents, teachers, public servants, public leaders, astronauts, activists, thinkers, doers, explorers, discoverers, people who have brought about tremendous positive change in the world, people who have lived good and honest lives.
Admire people long dead that have been thoroughly researched and vetted- whose true impact can be clearly seen and felt.
Admire fictional people whose narrative cannot be changed.
Admire animals or forces of nature. Just don’t admire these silly, silly athletes who will always let you down.
Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Cincinnatus, Martin Luther, Seneca, Socrates, Leonardo Di Vinci, Emperor Meiji, George Patton, Epaminondas, Cyrus II…
Honor, fair dealing in relationships, integrity, sacrifice, focus, extreme skill and expertise…all these are good things. I’m not against any of them. I’m just not an athlete, movie star, pop star hero worshiper.
Who’s on your list?
Please leave your comments. I’d love your feedback and critiques.
Love of Sport
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love sport. I love watching competition and amazing feats of skill, agility, speed, dexterity, pain tolerance, determination, will. I have been moved to tears by sport- from emotional joy, emotional pain and physical pain….but modern sport is for fun. It’s just silly entertainment and nothing else. Sure, life lessons are present and accessible here, but it would be so much better to pattern your life off a non-athlete role model if at all possible.
I love athletes. I just don’t believe in their herofication just for their sports accomplishments. If they do things outside of the sport or through the sport that really matter (Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson)- ok then.
My sports activities: high school basketball, high school football, club soccer in college, snorkeling, scuba, beach volleyball, indoor volleyball, survival swimming, pool diving, sky diving, paragliding, hiking Mt. Fuji, land navigation hiking, cars (Subaru WRX), motorcycles (Yamaha R6), pistol shooting, shotgun shooting, rifle shooting, knife fighting, archery, tae kwon do, brazilian jiujitsu, krav maga, yoga, free weights, racquetball, tennis, ultimate frisbee, bowling, golf (honest 85), sprinting, jogging, 10K’s, trail running, weight lifting, plyometrics, flying planes (T-34, Cessna 172), flying helicopters (Bell 206, MH-60), flying jets (F-15), jet skis, water skiing, snow boarding, snow skiing, ice skating, bicycle riding, surfing, indoor rock climbing, indoor trampoline gym, flag football, dodgeball, canoeing, open ocean kayaking, rowing, obstacle courses, ping pong, walking on stilts, paintball, running around in thunderstorms and blizzards, coaching youth soccer, playing with my son. I love sports.