“We do go into denial when it’s our guy — that’s that inner need for a hero,” said Ronald Kamm, a sports psychiatrist and the director of Sport Psychiatry Associates in Oakhurst, N.J. “Subconsciously we’re all looking for that superhero in sports because so few people live up to those expectations.
“Even when the story of Lance’s admission dies down, if someone has a great season or career year — especially if it’s for our team — then the process of believing all the good starts over again. When what we should be doing is continuing to tell our kids that some of them are not people whose actions off the field they should be emulating.”
It’s about time we accept that character in sports is often driven by winning, that we ascribe virtues to some of our athletic heroes that they really don’t have, that many may never acquire. It’s no more sensible to expect our athletic champions to also be good-natured than it is to expect the helpful neighbor to also run a 4.4. That’s not to say neither can happen, but don’t be shocked when it doesn’t.
The good thing about this past week is that some of us former believers get to stop walking hand-in-hand with our mythic sports heroes and accept them for who they are. Let us watch sports to witness feats of physical greatness, but let’s seek virtue where it’s most present: in the selfless lives of social workers, teachers and counselors.
And, in turn, our sports stars hopefully will learn there is more power and strength in surrendering to the truth than trying so hard to live that Chip Hilton narrative that never fit in the first place, the one we wrongly gave them simply because they won.
If public disgrace does anything, here’s hoping it helps Armstrong and others meet their more authentic self. He needs to know that authentic narratives are written through actions, not outside of them. He needs to know what one man said to another man who had hit bottom long ago:
“You don’t have to believe in religion, church — you don’t even have to believe in God. You just have to understand you’re not Him.”
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.