Lance Armstrong: A Role Model?


“I’m not a role model…Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”  -Charles Barkley

Charles Barkley, former NBA basketball player and member of the Hall of Fame, courted controversy numerous times throughout his career.  In retrospect, he was not a bad individual, just very opinionated, and his constant proliferation of his views was not always receptive to others.  His quote about not being a role model was met with some degree of disapproval from countless people, but it is true.  Should someone be a role model simply because they are a celebrity or good at what they do?

Cycling is an obscure sport in the United States.  Sure when the Tour de France starts up each year, there is minimal coverage and maybe a clip on ESPN.  Every so often, someone comes along and transcends their profession to become a mythical figure.  Lance Armstrong was one of these figures.  Most people are familiar with this story.  A professional athlete stricken with cancer, fought for his life, regained his health, and went on to rewrite record books.  He transcended the sport of cycling to become as popular as any other living athlete.  There were those who would argue that what he did was simply not possible – that no rider could dominate the sport like that without artificial enhancement.  Lance always would argue that he broke no rules and failed no drug tests.  His work with cancer research was quite impressive, and he was an example for all who were cancer survivors, those suffering from this debilitating disease, and their families.  His legacy for this work will always be appreciated and should be admired.

In light of recent events, Armstrong has admitted to cheating in order to gain competitive advantage.  He was also revealed to be a bully and sullied reputations of those who knew of his transgressions and through their own guilt and sense of what is right, when they decided to come clean with the truth.  Armstrong simply used his legacy and his army of supporters to beat down those who would claim he cheated by using performance enhancing drugs.  Though in the end, he finally admitted he lied and cheated.

Admiring those who succeed and emit excellence in what they do should be admired.  Society is littered with people who are good at what they do.  Steve Jobs was notorious for being cruel and petty with subordinates, but achieved success in business.  Tiger Woods was a womanizer and at time could be vindictive and petty, but he became a legendary golfer before he was thirty.  A line needs to be drawn between admiration and being a role model.  This is where parents come into the picture.

Many children look up to celebrities and sports figures and want to be them.  Nike had a famous line of advertisements where people wanted to “be like Mike”, in reference to Michael Jordan.  It is never a good idea to use someone you do not know as a role model.  Admiring professional skill and expertise is one thing, but using someone like these individuals as a role model is often times a mistake.  Everyone knows of someone who was quite adept at concealing their true personality.  They may have been a good friend at one point, but over time, they may let slip quick glimpses into their true identity.  Lance may have been an immensely skilled cyclist, and a shrewd promoter of himself to the general public.  However, this was a façade, and was not something he was able to maintain.

Parents, let your children have people they admire, whether it be a professional baseball player or athlete, but be sure they know the difference between admiration and truly wanting to be like that person.  It is quite often that someone who is a celebrity has developed promotional skills over time, or has a dedicated team of professionals promoting their image.  These individuals can showcase the image in which they want the public to see, but they may not be a quality person.  Success does not always equal being a good role model.  Having high levels of skills is not a representation of their identity, heart, or soul.

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