The Arts

Lance Armstrong and Our Hero-Worship Culture

Trillia Newbell

By Trillia Newbell, Main Contributor

So Lance Armstrong lied. He not only lied, but he lied vehemently for several years. And who backed him? His fans, his loyal organization, even a faithful ESPN writer, backed Armstrong until the very last minute.

CNN reported, “Armstrong reminisced on his storied past of being a hero who overcame cancer winning the Tour repeatedly, having a happy marriage, children. ‘It’s just this mythic, perfect story, and it isn’t true,’ he said.”

It’s a mythic story that I believe we wanted to be true. There’s something great about a hero, isn’t there. In Armstrong’s case, he defeated cancer against what seemed like all odds. Then a cancer survivor defeated a slew of professional athletes to win the toughest and most prestigious road race of all time. We wanted to believe that it was all true. So what happens? He gets incredible endorsement deals, gains followers (nearly 3,900,000 as of today on twitter), divorces his wife and dated singer/song writer, Sheryl Crow which doesn’t last, and continues to win the Tour de France. We laud and applaud.

I don’t believe this is about believing the best in a human being. I think the problem is that we– the viewers, the fans–tend to pump the illegal drug into the veins. We are like the drug pushers, “Come on, just a little won’t hurt,” we say as we cry when they reach the finish line. We are enablers. We make these athletes out to be heroes. We make it hard for them to say no. We worship the creature rather than the creator.

Listen, I’m guilty. I ran track and field. When it came out that Marion Jones, gold winning Olympic sprinter, had doped and would be stripped of her medals, I was devastated. I was shocked and appalled and so very sad. I was sad for her and I was sad, ironically for me. My track and field heroin had just lied and I hated it. Now Jones can be seen doing an anti-doping ad for the USA Track & Field. Not where she thought she’d be in 2013 and neither did I.

Rejoicing in the Creator

Unfortunately, our rejoicing can be in the created rather than the Creator. We idolize our favorite athlete and we worship actors. We get a little star struck when we see a musician. Sadly we can do the same with pastors, speakers, and authors. We can esteem them highly, which is good (1 Thes 5:13, Rom 13:7), yet we can esteem them too highly and begin to worship them and depend on them rather than God. It’s no wonder that when our favorite pastor or Christian song writer falls into sin you hear of people struggling in their faith. No human-being can be our God. They will fail every time.

But Christians, we don’t have to be hero worshippers. What if we, instead, recognized that these stars are created in his image and that every gift, every “talent” represents the amazing creativity and design of God (1 Cor 12, Rom 12, Eph 4, 1 Pet 4). What if we remembered our true need? Paul reminds us in Romans, no one is righteous, no one understands and no one seeks God (3:10-11). Sounds like we are all, hero or not, desperate for God.

Maybe it’s instilling in our own children, who may grow up to be world-class athletes, that their identities aren’t in the sport they play. Perhaps we should safe guard them from the hero worship culture and remind them that their skills will one day fade, the crowds will go away and all will be left is their faith. What will they put their faith in? Will it be what is lasting and eternal or in the here and now.

Or maybe it’s simply reminding ourselves that the athlete is a human being. How we respond to their winning or losing could impact their soul. Maybe our hero worship is like the profuse kisses of an enemy; let’s rather be a friend (Proverbs 27:6).

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