Even if you don’t follow professional sports closely, as I don’t, you’ve probably caught news of the spectacular downfall of professional cyclist Lance Armstrong. Over the past couple of weeks, due to compelling evidence that he engaged in the illicit use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout his cycling career, Armstrong has been stripped of his titles, his endorsements, and much (it should be all) of the respect that he had fraudulently earned as an individual who had beaten cancer and then supposedly reached peak physical health through determination and hard work.
Nevertheless, excuse-makers for Armstrong — including Fox News’ Dr. Keith Ablow, who’s more often a proponent of personal responsibility — are citing early-childhood events, like abandonment by his father at age two and his mother’s focus on a new husband beginning shortly thereafter, as precursors of adult antisocial behavior. If you’re a regular reader or viewer, you know that I hate deadbeat parents, and I also hate when single parents focus more on their own love lives than on their already-wounded kids, but to imply that those things predestined Armstrong to cheat is to insult anyone who had similarly-bad (or worse) childhood experiences yet conducts him/herself with integrity and character as an adult. Theirs are stories of determination, hard work, and deserved success in life.
Armstrong’s is a story of narcissism, which can be borne either of self-aggrandizement or or self-pity but which results in the same sense of self-entitlement either way. Maybe Armstrong’s mother was too preoccupied to tell him that “cheaters never prosper,” but once someone reaches adulthood with a reasonably-functional brain, he/she is both able and expected to figure that out for him/herself. I don’t feel sorry for Armstrong. I’m glad that he got caught cheating; I’m glad that he’s losing many (again, it should be all) of his ill-gotten gains as a result; and I’m glad it’s happening publicly, so that kids can be broadly aware of it. This is the lesson of Lance Armstrong — for adults, too, but especially for kids — fame, money, and respect acquired dishonestly are fleeting, empty, and subject to eventual, crushing collapse.