I don’t want to “get off” on Lance Armstrong’s fall. I no longer admire, but I don’t revile him. He confessed.
Look, the last American philosopher who had a public following, Josiah Royce, back in the days when we yet sought substantial lectures and papers, had a “proof of God” figured to the feeling he knew of being in error or ignorant or just falling short of full knowing, as if there were an echo in that conscious experience Who was whispering something about Real Truth, Wisdom. Armstrong confessed. He knew, even as he intensified the steroid culture out of control, that what he was doing was wrong, knew that how he was living was off base.
Eichmann did not confess. His testimony argued against God and Life by Royce’s calculation. It’s hard to imagine Hitler knowing he was evil as he waged his war. And there are others of their ilk who cause deep concern, who repel.
But Lance? He knew, he confessed. He’s not “other” than us. The range of our love can yet include him if not the range concerning who we select to honor. I can wish him well; I can feel sorry for him.
And perhaps his exposure should make me wonder if there is something I ought confess. His thirst to win, after all, is surely a quality our culture curries. I remember for years rising for the morning paper hoping to see him still winning. In my support was an accommodation of what was hardly hidden—an intensity and drive that nearly screamed the word “ruthless.” I fell to thinking what a model of determination that man is.
Being hardnosed and merciless are not qualities to be lauded, even if you raise a rare, convoluted circumstance which you say calls for them… which is not the Tour de France or any sporting contest. And if we are considering intensity and drive, well, let’s put these where they belong, in the context of taking ourselves seriously and assuming the intensity and drive as a nation and world community to spread brotherhood and sisterhood. In this context, there is a call to consider the very serious and powerful function sports could have. Nowhere is the possibility for a significant leap towards the sense of comradery greater than in the modern world’s zeal for spectator sports such as soccer and football and basketball and baseball etc.
Sadly, we need to see the damage done in our moment—at least equal to the violence of computer games and film—to so many of our youth and adults through emulating and incorporating many professional athletes’ display of attitude towards self and other. Egoism has become more than acceptable, it is a style of self-expression that is celebrated. Fights with the opponents assure an increase in attendance, the more violent the higher the seat prizes. Disliking, even hating the opponent is considered necessary for optimum performance.
If we take ourselves seriously, no stride would be greater than making professional athletes aware of the leadership role they could assume for the sake of this precious Hope of widespread, dynamic caring amongst us. Maximum effort on the court or in the ring or on the field or bike does not require making the other in the contest a detested enemy. The practice of sportsmanship, the mutual celebration of skill, the comradery of fellow professionals, seen again and again by the millions of us who watch, why what a powerful influence for good these athletes could proffer. Our thirst for the ruthless and merciless will subside, and though such a scene could require as much teaching of skills, hard training and long practice for the athlete as the track star or professional hockey player puts in directly on his sport, the trophy we aspire to here is far greater than all the Celtics’ NBA Title Pennants hanging from the Garden rafters put together.