January 19, 2013

Our View: Athletes' confessions don't tell whole story

Our hunger for inspirational stories behind deeds on the field makes us vulnerable to lies.

Apparently it was the end of the lie week in sports as two prominent athletes told their stories.

Lance Armstrong
click image to enlarge

Lance Armstrong cheated to get to the top and stay there, and then lied about it until it was no longer in his interest to do so.

2013 file photo/The Associated Press

The first up was Lance Armstrong, the cyclist who cheated to get to the top and to stay there, and then lied about it until it was no longer in his interest to do so.

His confession was a disappointment not only to the relatively small number of bicycle racing fans, but also to the millions of cancer survivors, their families and friends who were inspired by the story of his indomitable competitive spirit that was forged as he fought for his life.

Then we got the bizarre tale of Manti Te'o, the Notre Dame linebacker who announced that the girlfriend whose tragic death from leukemia had inspired his season had never really existed after all.

Through his university's PR aparatus, Te'o said that he had been the victim of an elaborate, years-long hoax, in which he was convinced he had a deep online relationship with a girl he never met.

Te'o might be telling the whole truth now, but he hasn't always. He did not correct published reports describing how he and the fictitious woman met, and he continued to say that her "death" had been devastating to him, long after he knew she had never lived.

Because of where they are in their careers, this bout of truth telling finds these two men in very different places. Armstrong's lies not only helped him win bike races, they also made him fantastically wealthy as an endorser of products.

The story of Te'o, along with his performance on the field, made him a Heisman Trophy candidate, a rarity for a defensive player. He is probably headed for the NFL, where he will pull down a big paycheck, but after this incident, who would hire him as a pitchman? Could he endorse an Internet dating service? Caller ID?

Years ago, the Hollywood dream factory created movie stars out of the raw material of real people. No one dug too deep to find out if the starlet's hair had always been platinum blonde or if the leading man had been born with an ethnic surname. It was all make-believe.

Maybe we should stop expecting extraordinary performers to be better than ordinary people off the field. And maybe we should be a little more skeptical when we hear a celebrity's inspirational story.


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