So that Lance guy has fessed up to cheating. I got wind of it yesterday on Facebook.
My first reaction was a giant yawn — which perhaps could have been bigger and louder with steroids.
It didn’t even occur to me that Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah had anything to do with the work that I do. Then my friend Chuck told me that Commute by Bike readers would be let down if I didn’t weigh in with some wisdom and/or snark.
I said something like, I have as much to do with Lance Armstrong as a fry cook has to do with a sword fighter. They both use knives. The similarity ends there.
This morning, still in nothing but my boxers, I opened the shirt drawer of my dresser, and there on top of the pile was my LIVEWRONG t-shirt. I took it as a sign. I need to speak my mind.
Some of you are not going to like it. Here it is:
I still don’t care.
I’ve never been very good at hero worship, whether it be athletes, entertainers, or any of the standard variety of famous people who are compensated for holding our eyeballs.
I bought the shirt years ago, before there was any whiff of scandal around Armstrong. I bought one for each of my Lance-worshipping friends — to annoy them. The shirts were being liquidated for $5 each at AZ Bikes, who apparently had to cease and desist selling these shirts and bracelets after being a bit too successful at it. (The once thriving livewrong.net is now a sad link farm waiting for someone to bid high on the domain.)
Sometimes my herolessness feels like a social liability; sometimes it feels like a valuable immunity.
There is something hard-wired in our primate brains that leads us to equate high visibility with high significance. It probably was a positive correlation in our hunter-gatherer societies. But now it does a disservice to us. If we see someone on television often enough, our brains tell us the person is deserving of our attention. We end up filling our heads with names and details of people who are less worthy of our attention than some of the people living down the street whose names we do not know.
The so called “value” of celebrity, and the notion that celebrities can use their fame for good is based on exploiting this primitive characteristic that no longer serves us well. For every Angelina Jolie legitimately bringing attention to the plight of refugees, there is a Jenny McCarthy regurgitating pseudoscience against vaccinations.
Another friend of mine, Mike, does research at the University of Arizona Cancer Center. A few years ago he was driving his car, and got stuck behind a group of cyclists taking up two lanes.
When they all had to stop for a red light, Mike was able to pull up next to the group and ask, “Hey, Do you need to take up both lanes?”
He looked more closely and realized he was talking to Lance Armstrong, who replied, “Cut us some slack, bro, we’re trying something new.”
Mike got a little “brush with greatness” fever, and spent weeks trying to get through to Armstrong to perhaps get him come and visit the Cancer Center.
“He’ll remember me. He called me bro. Certainly he’ll want to know about the research we do.”
His efforts went nowhere. Armstrong was either too busy, or not as heroically anti-cancer as his public mythology would suggest.
Heroes will let you down. Not always, but often enough that you should at least brace yourself for it — or better: divest yourself of heroes entirely.
Lance Armstrong’s value to cycling was to sell cycling to people who view bikes as sports equipment, not as a practical way of getting around.
If you are commuting by bike, you are doing something that most people believe they can’t do — especially people who don’t see themselves as athletic. And the easier you make it look, the more heroic you are.
This Lance business has nothing to do with you.