Dr Rajan Philips -
Mega sports spectacles like the Olympic Games and World Cup Soccer produce supreme athletes whose incredible feats win international acclaim and adulation. However, occasionally, some of them shock us through misdemeanours on and off the field that ruin their career and let down their admirers.
A recent instance is the dismaying fall from grace of Lance Armstrong, the great cycling hero whose birthday falls today. We are left perplexed by the frailties of such celebrities and factors that contribute to such indiscretions.
Armstrong captured our hearts and minds by his incredible exploits in winning seven ‘Tour de France’ titles, after the surviving the trauma of cancer. He also set up the Lance Armstrong Foundation. He became a living symbol of courage and perseverance. But today his iconic status stands obliterated.
Often, the media mould the sports stars into bigger-than-life idols, feeding on the human craving for heroes and role models: to enhance our self-image through a virtual association with them. Such a celebrity culture brings monetary and other benefits for many, besides the athletes themselves: sports bodies, administrators, and sponsors. So they turn a blind eye to minor lapses.
Consequently, the stars may experience an illusory notion of omnipotence and invincibility that prompt deeds that lead to their precipitous fall. The very intense media attention they basked in all along becomes their biggest enemy.
In his well-researched book , ‘Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols’, Stanley Teitelbaum shows how and why stars at the pinnacle of their career resort to undesirable practices like use of performance enhancing drugs, gambling, match fixing and sexual assault.
Lance Armstrong is just one among numerous such fallen sports icons.
Tiger Woods attained iconic status in golf with a stream of stupendous success. He won 14 major professional championships and 71 PGA Tour events, and was the youngest player to achieve the career Grand Slam. But when reports of marital infidelity were splashed in the media his career was jeopardized. His ‘sexploits’ devastated his family as well as his admirers.
Even a brief impulsive act can mar a great player’s reputation. The prime example is of Zinedine Zidane, the outstanding French footballer and three-time FIFA Player of the Year. His being sent off during the 2006 World Cup Final against Italy for head butting a rival player was a shocking episode.
When Marion Jones, one of the finest American female sprinters, was caught for using performance enhancing drugs, her image was permanently tarnished.
Still on the athletic track, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson’s fall from glory was most dramatic. After his creditable show at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics, the moment of crowning glory came at the 1988 Seoul Olympics when he won the 100m race in majestic style in a blistering world record time of 9.79 seconds. But 3 days later he tested positive for drugs and was sadly stripped of the title.
The fall of the young and outstanding heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson was equally ignominious. The powerful and quick footed Tyson scored several knock-out victories. But his promising career was rudely cut short when he was convicted for sexual assault and imprisoned. He added a sordid footnote to the tale by biting off a piece of his opponent’s ear in a bout with Evander Holyfield.
The tale of extraordinary exploits and accomplishments of titanic sports heroes is sadly punctuated by embarrassing episodes. Such athletes failed to exercise the self-restraint, perseverance and discipline that took them to such dizzy heights. There in lies a lesson for all — super stars or lesser mortals – never to adopt unfair means to attain success or let hard-earned success go to our head.
l Excellence is not an act but a habit. — Aristotle