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Reflecting on Lance Armstrong’s flaws

By Melo Magolego

I think Lance should hang up his racing shorts and head for the world of national politics. Truly this man’s other talents are lying in waste. Watching him in his interview with Oprah I thought him to be very intelligent: he gives measured responses, effortlessly tames negative questions and then masterfully spins them into positives. His evasiveness is second only to a primary school hide and seek champion. He calculates everything to portray him in the best light.

Surely Americans are not so dumb as to allow someone with such a dubious history to rise to the highest offices of the land? I invoke one of the greatest religious thoughts: that of man as a sinner, a being forever condemned in his futile attempts at perfection. All that Lance needs do is to seek religious redemption and become a poster boy for the “I once was blind but now I see” constituency. He needs to become a towering example of true grace even in the face of man’s insurmountable ineptitude. I think his PR advisor was thinking similarly with Lance’s “I am a flawed” man statement.

But watching that interview something he said took me back to my days in primary school. Do you remember those multiple choice questions where you had to say whether a whole paragraph was true or false, bad or good? What made me think of this was Lance saying how, if somebody says three things and two of those are correct, but one of them is incorrect, then the whole thing according to him is false. This one false thing would then serve as basis for attacking and vilifying such a person. So, by that same measure, the fact that he transgressed the doping regulations, lied about it, but also raised half a million dollars for cancer … does that make him good, or bad?

I think being the sinners that we are (to borrow phraseology), we are constantly seeking those who are pure embodiments of those virtues and talents which we believe lie deep within each of us, but are starved of airtime by the humdrum of everyday living. These are virtues which, like Oros juice concentrate, everyday living requires served in diluted proportions.

These heroes are stripped of all nuances in our minds lest they sully the image or dull the effect they would otherwise have, or blur the contrast between virtue and its antithesis. So it is not that we are incapable of holding a person in the excluded middle state of both good and bad, but rather that we do not do so precisely because they are our heroes. We are not upset that Lance lied, but rather we are upset that his innate talent was not enough.
I guess that is the paradox: had Lance transcended beyond human achievement with only that which is within him, then he would be a god. In being a god he must, though, have the common touch so that we can easily project our inner selves onto him. But for him to manifest that human quality without his ”transcendence” almost undermines the worth of our own Oros — it calls it into question.

Michelle Obama once said that being president doesn’t change who you are but instead reveals who you are. Perhaps Lance’s fall hurts us because he might have revealed to us who we may really be. With that belief destroyed, the balance of good and bad which he straddles becomes irrelevant.

Melo is also a Fulbright scholar and read for his master’s in electrical engineering at Caltech. Follow him on Twitter: @melomagolego