Lance Armstrong was held high as an American sports hero.
His efforts on and off the bike were very successful and he received high praise. The Livestrong brand that Armstrong started is one of the most successful sports brands in recent history.
But doubts about the legitimacy of Armstrong’s Tour de France victories have come full circle recently.
Eleven former teammates testified that Lance was at the head of a major doping program within the U.S. Postal Service cycling team. Armstrong has seemingly fallen off the pedestal he was placed upon, with the heroism washed away in a sea of allegations.
He has become yet another fallen sports hero.
Players are praised in the media and worshipped by fans. They attain an almost mythical status. We put our confidence in them, we pay money to see them and praise their play. But they often do not stay that way.
Michael Jordan was my sports hero. I always wanted to "Be Like Mike" when I was growing up.
I was a marketer’s dream. I was a Jordan jersey- and shoe-buying, Gatorade-drinking, basketball-playing kid. Just Do It? I did it. I’ll never forget the championships he won for the Bulls, especially the thrilling fashion in which he brought them. I wanted to do everything like him.
But soon cracks began to emerge in MJ’s character.
The Hall of Fame speech he gave was very surprising, almost arrogant in some ways. Perhaps I truly did not know enough about Jordan the person instead of Jordan the player. His game was not diminished, but my faith in his off-the-court conduct was not the same as it was. The great 23 had failed somewhat in my eyes.
This fall of sports figures is an inevitable and significant part of being a fan.
Sometimes we make the mistake of forgetting that no one is perfect. Sometimes the athlete is just not who they seem to be. When things get bad for an athlete, fans have to decide whether or not they will continue to hold that person in a positive light.
Figure out what you value in a player. Is it flash and attitude? Hustle? Humility? Pure dominance?
These values can be ones you would like to emulate in sports and your life. Use those qualities when you praise athletes.
I learned to enjoy certain facets of Jordan’s game rather than his character, which at times was questionable. He was relentless and he never quit. Those facets can’t be taken away, can’t be shattered by a doping test, and can’t be ruined by your wife chasing you down with a golf club.
Certain sports require more caution than others. Track and field and cycling have become bastions for drug use, with records and results being erased soon after they are published. The steroid era has begun to calm down in baseball, although the cases of Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera remind everyone to stay on their toes.
We wish our favorite athletes were infallible. But they make mistakes, just like us. They have vices, some more serious than others. So whenever you choose someone to be your sports hero, be wary, they might not always reward your faith, because they’re human too.