Though I am well aware that not everyone cares for professional cycling as I do, nor is everyone as much of a sports fan in general as I am, I would still be surprised if you haven't heard in the past week that Lance Armstrong has decided to stop fighting accusations leveled against him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). This is big news, mostly because everyone seems to assume that Lance's decision amounts to an admission of guilt. Here's a funny story: a commentator on ESPN, when asked what he would do in Lance's position if he were innocent, said that he too would give up because fighting accusations constantly must be a weight on a person's soul; but then, two seconds later, he said that he thinks Lance is admitting guilt. What? How does that make sense?
My problem with the whole situation is how insistent people seem to be, Americans especially, to bring down greatness. The international cycling organization has long since dropped their charges against Lance, have supported him when he sued USADA earlier, and question USADA's claim that Lance's "giving in" means that he should be stripped of his Tour de France titles. Plus, USADA clearly does not have jurisdiction. All of the evidence against him comes from witnesses and not physical evidence; most of these witnesses themselves have been caught cheating. How do you redeem a broken career? Bring down someone else's; be jealous; proclaim that everyone was cheating so you aren't such a bad guy after all. Never mind any of this. These people are still trustworthy enough to taint Lance's career. Besides, no one can believe that Lance could have dominated the sport when so many other cyclists were doping.
Why can't we believe that? Why has USADA worked so hard to destroy Lance's reputation despite years of accusations by many organizations and never any proof against him? Why are people so insistent to believe that Lance's giving up fighting means that he's guilty? Can't a guy just not want to fight anymore such a silly accusation that he knows isn't true that only burdens him spiritually by fighting? For goodness sakes.
I believe in Lance Armstrong. That's not the point for this blog. Here I simply want to question our attitude toward greatness as a society. I often hear that people hate the Patriots, my beloved team, precisely because they are and have been so good (despite being in the most equal professional league out there); people hated Tiger Woods even before the infamous incident and news because he dominated everything; the Yankees are a famous example of receiving hatred for being great. Granted, the Yankees are slightly different because until recently they have obliterated all other teams with high salaries. Still, these are just a few examples, and believe me this trend is not only limited to sports, of how we intensely dislike/hate anyone and anything that might come close to being defined as pure greatness. Perhaps I could go so far as to say that we dislike anyone and anything that is better than we are. This really bothers the crap out of me.
I hate the Yankees as much as the next person, but I'm a Red Sox fan so I have good reason. Outside of the Yankees, I try very hard to fight my inclination to wish bad things to the favorite, to the always winner. Greatness is worth sitting in awe of. Greatness is worth enjoying for exemplifying the potential of the human body or human mind. Greatness is worth loving for showing us what we can do when we commit ourselves. Not all of us are endowed with the same potential, but we are all human and therefore should share in the joy of one another's greatness rather than seeking to destroy it.
For me, examples of greatness drive me. I want to join the company of other greats. I am wowed by greatness and can only hope that by working hard I will not disappoint. Anyone who wants to succeed, I think, should share this sentiment. Or, you can just remain average, settle into mediocrity and hate greatness because you are a boring pessimist, a loser by nature, and prefer the comfort of destroying rather than the responsibility of creating. If many of us took the approach of mediocrity then our society, as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard both feared, will essentially grow into a pile of manure.
In the words of Project 86, "I'd rather die than follow mediocrity."