Not that I ever paid it much mind, but during the years of Lance Armstrong’s denial of doping allegations, there wasn’t much doubt in my mind that he was guilty. The evidence was seriously stacked against him and conspiracies of the sort and the magnitude that would have had to have been the case to support his innocence just don’t exist. It seems that there were, however, lots of people out there, many being sports fans and cyclists who just didn’t believe it and continued to support him.
One of those it seems was Armstrong’s own 13 year old son, Luke. In the second Oprah interview Armstrong tearfully recounted his having to tell his son to stop defending him. From that we have to gather that Luke was in a position where he had to defend his father against what he felt were untrue allegations, probably against friends at school and who knows who else. For him, finding out that it was all a big lie must be absolutely crushing. My feeling is that it is probably a good idea to line up the therapists and the rehab centre booking right now. How could it not be a seriously traumatic experience not only to have the very foundation of trust in a parent demolished, but to have been made of fool of at the same time because he stood by him. –Stood by him for years as his father lied to the world and to him.
I bring this up, though, because of the implications that reach even farther. Having just finished writing “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll and the Intelligent Teenager” I find myself constantly noting what I regard as important and unimportant influences from the media.
Playing Call of Duty is an unimportant influence. Having a major athlete and celebrity like Lance Armstrong not only cheat by taking performance enhancing drugs, but make a spectacle of lying about it for years can’t help but have an influence on youth and our culture in general. Lance Armstrong has become a testimonial for cheating and lying, shamelessly. He joins the ranks of college football coaches who bugger little boys and others who see it and cover it up. (And the same can be said for certain clergy.) He joins the ranks of Presidents who get blow jobs in the oval office. He joins the ranks of all the people that we’re told to respect and hold as role models, who betray the trust and integrity that are afforded them as celebrities and people with social responsibility.
And yet, the fault is not entirely theirs. There have undoubtedly always been celebrities and politicians who have dropped the integrity ball. Clinton was almost impeached when President, but we all know that Kennedy had his flings as well. Nowadays, though, it has become a media spectacle, subject to microscopic examination. Think of the list of scandals that have topped the news in the past year. Armstrong, Patraeus, Cain, Sandusky, Paterno. Or we can go back to Tiger Woods a few years ago. These stories and many more like them infiltrate and get the spotlight in the news even on days when there are many important things happening in the world. –And let’s face it, there are always more important things happening in the world. Stories about child slavery or global warming get put on the back burner so we can hear about Lindsey Lohan’s latest trip to court.
Much of the impact that a story like Lance Armstrong’s has on society is the weight that it’s given by the media. There have always been cheaters and liars, but to give this one so much attention compounds the influence it has on youth and society in general . In spite of the condemnation, it moves to legitimize lying, cheating and drug use among many, who’ll say, “If he can do it and get away with it, why not me.”