What an interesting and telling day. Nike severs ties with (read that as stops paying) Lance Armstrong; Lance steps down from LiveStrong; National League Championship Series comes to St. Louis for a three game stretch. There in lies the irony: sitting on the Cardinals bench as their hitting coach – Mark McQwire.
I so love irony. It just flat-out makes my day. With the game on in the background, I could not help but smile again about Big Mac being with the Cardinals, not to mention back in baseball. I remember well a few years ago when he joined the team as the hitting coach (clearly he is good at hitting – look at his career and the teams production since 2010 – impressive numbers both). It was a painful press conference as he admitted to using steroids during his career. Yet, after a few weeks the story of his return to baseball faded and is now not even noticed.
There are things I will remember well, as in “I was there when” or “you should have seen it” national or world event sort of things. Moments that live in our collective memory. And two of them are certainly the 1998 home run race and the 1999-2005 Tours. Yep, what Mark McQwire and Sammy Sosa did for baseball, Lance did for cycling. It was an absolute blast to watch it happen. I was entertained and enjoyed every moment of those events. It was fun and I would not trade any of it; they were moments in time that were just amazing to experience.
Both guys, by the every definition of the word, cheated. They lied, were evasive, took advantage of banned substances, and generally did things that were against the rules. They were also insanely gifted, focused, talented and above all students of their craft. They practiced and trained. They literally dedicated themselves to being the best at what they did, and it showed. Lastly, but above all else, they were athletes and entertainers.
If one expects iron-clad perfection and ethical purity from entertainers, politicians, athletes or pitchmen, then they are living in a fantasy world. There is no such thing as a perfect person, and certainly not when it comes to public figures. Those guys were fun to watch do what they do. I am grateful to them. I paid to watch, and they delivered.
There was a saying we had back in my Navy days: “choose your rate, choose your fate”. I often think of that as it applies to life in general, and to careers specifically: “choose your profession, choose your concession”. Mark McQwire said “I wish I had never played in the steroid era“. I do not know Lance, but I can see him sharing a similar thought when reflecting on his career…someday. Maybe.
You see, they both made for themselves, their families, their sponsors, their teams, their peers, their industries and even their foundations, a ton of money. They were literally responsible for the economic well-being of hundreds, if not thousands of others. The culture of steroids in baseball and dope in cycling was real, known and ignored. No one said a word, yet we expect something special from an athlete?
Speeding, office supplies, “helping” with your kids homework, chatting at the water cooler; white lies, victimless crimes, corner-cutting. It literally happens everywhere, all the time. There is no perfection. Humans are naturally imperfect. Embrace what is real, realize the faults in all, and accept that nothing is as it appears in public. Family and friends are one thing, but realize no one every really sees behind the curtain, and frankly most never really want to anyway. Athletes are entertainers, not role models.
Doing what everybody else is doing does not make something right, but when it is all around, especially in your professional world; in the place that generates your income, well it has to be hard to take the absolutely pure high road. All I do know is that I am enjoying the Cardinals playing in another post season series, that I rode my bike earlier today, and that I will watch cycling again in the spring. It is all just entertainment.