If you think athletes deserve hero worship, or even if you think they should be good role models, this hasn’t been a very good week for you. Two stories – one bizarre, one merely sordid – showed us star performers as mere mortals, as full of flaws as the rest of us.
It’s hard to know quite what to make of the Manti Te’o saga. The Notre Dame football star told a touching story about girlfriend Lennay Kekua succumbing to leukemia the same day as his grandmother died. But it was just discovered that not only did Kekua not die, she didn’t even exist. Te’o said he had fallen in love with someone he had interacted with only online, and it turns out somebody was just playing a cruel joke on him. But The Associated Press turned up a couple of interviews in which Te’o spoke about his girlfriend after he supposedly discovered the whole thing was a hoax.
So was he the victim of an elaborate prank? That would make him one of the most naive people on the planet? Or did he participate in the hoax, perhaps as a way to make himself a sympathetic figure in advance of the voting for the Heisman trophy? That would make him devious and cunning, almost diabolical. Notre Dame has put its prestige on the line by supporting Te’o’s innocence, so officials there are certainly hoping for “naive.”
There is no such confusion in the story of Lance Armstrong, who this week admitted to being exactly the liar and cheat so many people said he was. Yes, he told Oprah Winfrey in an interview, he doped and used illegal performance-enhancing substances for every single one of the seven-in-a-row Tour de France races he won. At the time, he didn’t even think what he was doing constituted cheating – that’s how focused on winning he was.
But now he’s sorry and will have to rebuild his image for the rest of his life. He did not apologize, however, for allegedly bullying others into going along with doping and with ruining lives by suing people who dared to challenge him. Guess there’s some levels of shame even Oprah can’t get to. Let’s see how he stands up when all those lawsuits start hitting the courts.