Livestrong-Scandal-Induced Contemplations

February 18, 2013
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Unless you live under a rock, you know that Lance Armstrong has come under fire, and righteously so, for using performance-enhancing drugs to complete the Tour de France – his seven titles for which have been stripped away. As I fervent exerciser myself, I was disappointed and disgusted, before I took a step back and thought the situation through. After all the media hype, a (few) revelation(s) came to me.

The first is how we judge others in our society. Let me backtrack approximately two hundred years for a moment to comment on this – the Roman author Lucretius wrote in his epic poem On the Nature of Things (which I studied extensively in Latin this year) that it is human nature to watch a shipwreck when you are safe and dry on shore and feel grateful that it is not you out there on the water before you even think about the safety of those people.

Fast forward to the present day, and this serves as a marvelous allegory for the responses of the public to celebrity scandals (such as Armstrong’s) that are constantly spattered all over tabloids and news sites. It is easy for us to shake our heads and “tsk, tsk” at these disgraced celebrities, but my question is: Where is our empathy and understanding?

Don’t get me wrong – Armstrong’s deception was not only inherently unethical but unfair to the other cyclists that perhaps could or would have won the Tour. However, that fact that Armstrong doped does not detract from the many drug-free hours that he spent training. He didn’t just pop some ‘roids and win the Tour effortlessly. The truth is that Armstrong did work extremely hard for the level of stamina and strength that he achieved in cycling – it’s just that he wanted more.

In his interview with Oprah, Armstrong asserted that he felt that completing the Tour was impossible without the help of performance-enhancing drugs. For Lance, a highly accomplished and publicized athlete, there was no option but to win, and with winning came doping.

Let’s call great accomplishments like winning the Tour de France standard A. Let’s name standard B the skill level of people like Armstrong. Society commands that we reach standard A. In order to fulfill these demands, we resort to things like performance-enhancing drugs. This pattern can even be traced in disgraced Bernie Madoff, who orchestrated the greatest financial fraud in the history of the United States in order to attain wealth.

What does this say about the society in which we live, that impresses upon us the idea that nothing is good enough except being the best? And if society is defined as a “broad grouping of people”, then are we unknowingly perpetuating the cultural trends that torture not only these disgraced public figures but also ourselves?

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