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Armstrong tale underscores perversity of modern media

Publication Date : 22-01-2013


He spent over a decade not just lying about how he achieved success, but also attacking, defaming and bullying people, including those closest to him, for telling the truth about him. He allowed himself to be celebrated as a hero and a role model for the young. He refused to come clean in the face of possible death after being diagnosed with cancer. Only after the evidence had become so overwhelmingly convincing, his name so tainted, did he decide to confess.

But given the celebrity-obsessed world we live in, the true question is sadly not why Lance Armstrong did what he did, but what else could he have done. Imagine where Armstrong would be had he not doped. He wouldn't be worshipped by millions, some of which still stand by him, or interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. Fame-wise, getting all his seven Tour de France victories cancelled is not the same as never winning them in the first place. Proof? Name the true winners of those seven races.

Even his so-called confession is nothing more than a carefully calculated script in the archetypical comeback story. In one way it is the part where the contrite hero finally recognises his tragic flaws and starts on a journey of redemption. More to the point, it is the part when a busted crook fights for a comeback to commercial relevancy by selling the story of trespassing to the biggest bidder. From the outset the Oprah interview is understood to be less a trial on Armstrong but a comeback opportunity not only for Armstrong but also for the interviewer, whose TV channel is in trouble and in serious need of a game changer.

The Armstrong saga is not a tragic hero story but a sad tale of the distorted media world. In terms of athleticism, Armstrong was never a hero, but someone who would do anything, hurt anyone, cross any line, for success; he was and still is rewarded by the world for being such a person. Someone who would call his assistant an “alcoholic prostitute” and sue her for libel, when she was clearly telling the truth, is not a hero. Someone who used his star power to bully others from speaking out is not a hero. Someone who, after all his wrongdoings, would quote the dictionary definition of “to cheat” in order to justify his actions is not a hero. If there is anything such a person is dedicated to, it is saving his own skin.

The reason Armstrong is still relevant today is because the world often prefers false glory to real integrity. And the reason for that is not because people are shallow, but because victories, outward glories and good looking people are easier to package and promote for the media than true kindness, legitimate courage and bona fide sportsmanship. It is easier and more profiting to tell the story of a non-hero with talking-points than to celebrate true heroes who are often unsung.

If there are lessons to be learned from the Armstrong interview, it is that the people celebrated by the media are not necessarily heroes, and that the true face of a hero is not always photogenic. Take a look at your family, your friends and the people you work with. You will probably find someone with more courage and strength than the former seven-time Tour de France “champion.”


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