Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ignorance Was Bliss

Greatness, it seems, always comes at a cost, and no individual embodies such a mantra better than Lance Armstrong. His was the perfect story, the man returning from a near-fatal bout with cancer to win seven Tour de France titles. However, on January 18, 2013, the legendary cyclist’s world and athletic career came crashing down, but the good he has done , intentionally or not, can never be undone. 

     Armstrong was an inspiration. To millions of cancer survivors, he was walking proof that anything was possible. To others, he was a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. He was on episodes of Arthur, wrote two books, and made millions through endorsements. A poster of him once hung in Mr. Zimmerman’s classroom, a reminder to us that we could succeed in a class that, at times, seemed impossible. The man started his charity, Livestrong, to aid cancer research and averages nearly $30,000 in donations every day. Despite all his achievements, Armstrong was, quite literally, half the man he used to be, yet still proceeded to dominate his sport with reckless abandon. It seemed too good to be true. In retrospect, we now know that his story actually was. In this case, ignorance was indeed bliss. He is now seen as the great pretender, a liar, a mere mortal, human, a man determined to propagate falsehood, all without recognizing the largely positive impact Lance Armstrong has had on the world. Despite his obvious shortcomings, the careers he has ruined, and the hearts he has broken, any objective code of morality Armstrong has sinned against by doping, any kind of wrong he has done because of it, not by the ensuing lying, is far outweighed by the good he has done. 

    One of Armstrong’s autobiographies is titled It’s Not About the Bike. No statement could better define the man’s legacy. His achievements were not confined to what he did on the bike, what he did off of it was and still is far more important. The hope he instilled in the masses can be withered, but never taken away. The seven yellow jerseys he won were the lights at the end of the tunnel, and he was showing us the way. At least we hoped he was. Ultimately, the cyclist’s narrative raises the question judging the merits of telling a beautiful lie rather than the ugly truth. However, sometimes the truth isn't good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded, regardless of the truth. Armstrong’s ultimate sin in doping is not in the act itself, it is in the deception. But looking back at the good that has come from it, is that necessarily a sin? Destroying careers and tarnishing the reputations of innocent men cannot be forgiven, but I believe that his cheating can be.

     Lance Armstrong’s greatness came at a price-his soul. However, if we look at his entire existence, not just his career as a competitor, we see that he was a man who put his reputation and  life on the line to inspire the masses, whether that was his intention or not. His greatness is not defined by his achievements or failures, but what he has done for the benefit of humanity. Some may say that choosing to cheat was selfish and for monetary gain, and rightfully so, though he donated winnings and endorsement money to research, but if we see that he risked the totality of his being by doping to breathe life to the dying, it is obvious that such actions were not selfish, but selfless. The poster that hung in my classroom may be gone, but the impact the cyclist had can never be taken away. In the televised interview, Oprah said that “the truth will set you free,” but in all honesty, sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes we deserve more. At the time, we deserved more than the truth. We needed a hero. Lance Armstrong gave us one, at least for a while.   

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