Editor's Note: Zach Rosenberg is co-founder of 8BitDad.com, a site that offers a daily shot of fatherhood news, interviews, dadvertising, and fatherly opinions on parenthood topics. You can find him on Twitter @zjrosenberg. He lives in Southern California with his wife and 3-year-old son.
Lance Armstrong, the most decorated rider in Tour de France history, has fallen from grace. And regardless of his soft (and late) confession to Oprah, the public is conflicted: If Lance Armstrong is no longer a hero, does that make him a villain?
Parents are especially conflicted. As a father, it’s a rough time to be talking sports with your child. Just last week, the Baseball Writer’s Association of America snubbed a whole class of once-potential Hall of Fame candidates, spoiled by the likes of suspected performance-enhanced drug users like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. The stirring story of Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o's deceased girlfriend was exposed as a spectacular hoax.
What do I tell my child about sports heroes? He’s four. He’s just now getting to the idea of having favorite players. He knows some players’ names and cheers for them when he hears them on television. How do I relay the excitement of sports and having favorite players when I don’t know what revelations will be realized tomorrow?
I want to sit Lance Armstrong down myself. I want to take him by the shoulders and shake him. I want him to look at every little kid who washed cars and saved up their pennies to buy a Livestrong bracelet. I want him to ride his bike to every town, gather those kids up around him and look them in their eyes. He doesn’t even need to say a word. Just look at them. Those are our kids. Those are our future. Look at them.
But I’m conflicted. Lance Armstrong doesn’t need to say anything to those kids. He needs to say something to me, but I’m not sure what. I personally raised money for his foundation via Movember. I want to thank him for the work he has done. In his wake, millions of dollars has been raised for cancer and a whole lot of people have been (and continue to be) helped. It puts him, at least, head and shoulders above Barry Bonds.
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Or does it? When dirty money is put toward a good cause, what does that make it? Even?
When you hear guys like Alex Rodriguez, Armstrong, their teammates and colleagues, they all say that they “had to” do these drugs to stay competitive with everyone. When you’re just talking about cranking out home runs, then the bar is low.
I want to tell Lance that he set the bar high. He became an American dream. He made it easy for us to tell our kids that a guy coming back from cancer could rule the world. He gave people hope.
Now, the hope is gone. Most of Armstrong’s fans have packed up and left. Even Armstrong himself knew the weight of the situation and stepped down and removed himself from his own foundation.
He told Oprah that “I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people.” But I don’t know if I want an apology. Apologies are scripted. They always boil down to “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” My 4-year-old son tells me he’s sorry for being naughty, and then repeats his behavior the next day. He’s not sorry, he’s just sorry that he got caught.
I want to remind Lance that he is a self-admitted “bully.” That he cheated, then lied, then sued and threatened anyone that got close to the truth. He attacked anyone who dared to believe in justice.
I don’t know what to do. I want to see Lance processed. I want to see him go through court battles. I want to see him lose some of that money that he earned.
But Lance, like me, is a father. I can only speculate as to the kinds of conversations that go on within the walls of a fallen hero’s house. What must his five children think and may be afraid to say to him? What are his children experiencing at school? What whispers follow them in the halls? What insults must be flung from across the schoolyard?
If Lance Armstrong is no longer a hero, is he a villain? He has to be, but it’s more complex than that. We objectified Armstrong when we believed him to be a mythic (his word) hero. Now, we get to use him in other ways. Oprah used him for ratings. Parents can use him as a lesson. The USADA can use him as justification to investigate others. The Internet will use him for a punchline or a meme.
Life will go on. Our children will forget about Lance Armstrong, and the dog-eared pages in history, the footnotes, the asterisks. But we’ve been hurt. Misled. Betrayed. We’ll certainly think twice about our heroes from now on and, hopefully, encourage our children to do the same.