Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What’s the Impact on Society When Role Models Turn Bad?

“Not content with winning by breaking the rules, he rewrote the record books for cycling’s blue ribbon event and constructed a detailed phoney biography with a kernel of truth in his battle with cancer and a tissue of lies about his triumph of mind over matter. He then used that biography to turn himself into a living icon and his name into a mighty fundraising brand.” (p.2). Lance Armstrong inspired people beyond sports, to include people in business, education and with their own personal battles with life’s harsh realities.
This man, who had inspired so many people, vehemently denied any involvement in cheating and using his band of ‘blindly loyal’ followers destroyed anyone who accused him of such low and disgraceful tactics. Only when there was no way out, did he have to look up the word ‘cheat’ in the dictionary and for the first time admit to cheating – not because he was sorry for the lives he’d destroyed, but because he realised he’d been caught and needed to get his public relations machine moving for his own narcissistic image – hoping he could still get people to feel sorry for him.
Yet as Simon Barnes of the Times wrote in an aptly article entitled ‘the winner who made us all losers’ - “the world has a need for heroes. In youth we love our heroes without reservations, in age we see them more plainly – but we still love to admire admirable people; to establish that meaningful, one-way relationship with a person that has done heroic things. Sport exists to fulfil that need, where last summer brought us heroes in the UK like Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah, Andy Murray, Ellie Simmonds and Bradley Wiggins, who won the Tour de France.”
And we mustn’t forget the ‘tag line’ for last year’s Olympic Games in London was “Inspire a Generation” something that is desperately needed and if we’re not careful this fantastic catalyst will be lost forever.
Through history we have had a steady stream of inspirational role models that made us want to be better – better people and better civilisations; yet in an era when inspirational and ethical leaders should be easier to find and easier to be promoted though all the media options available - they seem to be a bit thin on the ground.
Hugh McIlvanney went even further in the Sunday Times, writing “cheating might not be the most repugnant element of Armstrong’s legacy. Perhaps that is to be found in his unscrupulous readiness when he was a competitor to devastate the reputation of anyone who crossed him. With him, the term killer instinct went alarmingly close to being literal,” (p.18).
What are our youth meant to think – we want to find role models that will inspire the youth of today, many of whom struggle to find a light at the end of their tunnel to drive and motivate them to achieve their dreams. And here they see a man who has cheated and lied to the world, making millions of dollars through lying, still living a luxury lifestyle and being able to sit centre stage with Oprah Winfrey claiming he feels he’s been treated harshly – when not that long ago an honourable man would have fallen on his sword in disgrace and not long before that would have been banished from the kingdom to walk namelessly and alone for the rest of his life.
Will Pavia writing in the Times reminds us that this is the man who said (amongst other things) “for the people who don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the sceptics. I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry you can’t dream big” he had said in 2005 after his seventh and final parade to the winner’s podium as the man who recovered from cancer, mounted his bike and beat the world – also saying “I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles,” (p.16).
Yet the realities are best voiced by other sports personalities where “Novak Djokovic, the tennis champion, called him a disgrace saying ‘he cheated the sport. He cheated many people around the world with his career, with his life story….He should suffer for his lies’ and Nicole Cooke, the British cyclist, called him ‘a disgusting human being’. Where it is hard to argue with their assessments, for they know better than most that cheating is always cheating, as this man by doping was stealing from any rider who was brave, honest and strong enough to stay clean.” And where in France Rue89.com had already voted Armstrong ‘the Sports Bastard of the Year’.
As Simon Barnes writes “Armstrong cheated all his admires; cheated everybody who followed sport; cheated everybody who believes that when we see a person achieve something special, we should not withhold our admiration.”
With these kind of revelations maybe we shouldn’t be surprised with the constant stream of unethical stories from business, sport and politics hitting the headlines on a regular basis all driven by narcissism and greed – but what it should tell us is that it’s time for ‘us’ the public to start demanding and recognising those genuine, humble role models who are out there and who can inspire, motivate and guide this generation and generations to come to embrace and recognise the real benefits of ethical values and ethical leadership.
Barnes. S. The winner who made all of us into losers. The Times. 19.01.13. p.17
Leading articles. Broken Lance – If cycling’s worst cheat seeks atonement, he has some way to go. The Times. 19.01.13. p.2
McIlvanney, H. Confessions of a con man. The Sunday Times. 20.01.13. p.18
Pavia. W. I didn’t view it as cheating: it was just this perfect story. The Times. 19.01.13. p.16

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