Americans And Their Fickle Sense Of Loyalty: You’re Everybody’s Hero Til You Eff Up One Good Time

October 18, 2012  |  

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s when American’s love you, you are literally on top of the world. But eff that up, and they will not just kick you when you’re down, they’ll stomp all over you and act as though they never knew your name.

Lance Armstrong is finding that out now as virtually everything that has come to define him in the last 16 years or so is being erased from his legacy following the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to ban him from cycling and strip him of his seven Tour de France titles. Since then, Lance has also been dropped from endorsement by Nike and he has stepped down from his position as chairman of the Livestrong cancer foundation “to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career.” Though those factors alone may make one conclude that the world as he knows it has crumbled before him, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. He still has one other entity to contend with: the American people.

Despite still being a cancer survivor and his contributions to the awareness of the disease as well as establishing a place online where those affected by cancer can find information, it seems the majority of people feel like Gawker writer Hamilton Nolan, “Take Off Your God Damn Livestrong Bracelets.” Through several expletives, Nolan advises Livestrong supporters to “cut that dirty mother**king bracelet off your wrist and throw it into the trash” now that Armstrong has been disgraced as a “lying cheater.” My question is what does one have to do with the other, while simultaneously thinking, my, how the mighty have fallen.

Armstrong’s situation is not unlike many other fallen American heroes like Tiger Woods, Mike Vick, and Jesse Jackson whom I immediately thought of watching the cyclist’s situation unravel. Because Woods could do no wrong on the green, it was assumed he also could do no wrong off of it, and so he was placed on this idyllic pedestal of perfection and once he made a misstep—albeit a pretty large one—his fame, fortune, and fanbase went the way of the typewriter; bye bye. And so it was with Michael Vick, who is now beginning to see a resurrection in his career, but back in 2007 his last name might as well have been Mike Jones because when someone said his name, Americans were like, “who?” Jesse Jackson suffered a similar fate. Once everyone knew he had a child with his staffer, it didn’t matter what civil rights work he did or what legislation he helped pass. Every career accomplishment was overshadowed by that one critical mistake.

Though I used black men for my examples, Armstrong (and many others who have befallen similar fates) prove this isn’t a racial thing. American’s are fickle in their devotion. I understand from an advertising point of view that endorsing a person whose behavior is not in line with your company values (term used loosely) is not good business, but what is frustrating is the way people turn their backs on these individuals as if they aren’t allowed mistakes. And how an error in one’s personal life comes to overshadow, and in some instances cancel out, their career accomplishments. If Armstrong did in fact use drugs then yes he should be stripped of his titles. But that has nothing to do with his work with cancer.  Michael Vick’s dog fighting had nothing to do with his ability on the football field. And yes, Tiger did his ex-wife terribly wrong by sleeping with women all over the country, but what does that have to do with his ability to get a hole in one? Not a darn thing.

The real problem here is the heroism and the god-like qualities we attribute to mere men simply because they can dribble, shoot, pass, putt, catch, or throw a ball (or ride a bike really freaking fast). We give these individuals so much power and put them on such a high pedestal that when they tangentially disappoint us, their place in society, and our minds, is reduced with equal speed and  agility and so they fall, almost instantaneously, to the very bottom. For some reason we like to make people perfect, only to tear them down when they prove what we, in some capacity knew all along, they are not. I get feeling cheated, I understand feeling lied to, but why does everyone forget they too are human when they point the finger at someone else’s mistakes. Why do fans and onlookers act as though these people asked to be praised and exalted and proclaimed role models simply because of athletic or political prowess and take these individual’s perfection in one arena as an indicator they are perfect overall.

Part of being a self-proclaimed admirer, fan, etc. of a person is accepting who they are totally. And if you’re only going to appreciate them for one aspect of their person then you shouldn’t shame them when they mess up in other areas. It’s easy to let the negative outweigh the positive in the moment of scandal but at the end of the day if we were all being judged with that same measure that we use on these public figures we’d be at the bottom of the totem pole too. They say you find out who your true friends are when you’re down and I’d extend that same thought to fans. If you completely turn your back on these individuals when they falter then you have no business being there when they rise again.

Brande Victorian is the news and operations editor for Follow her on twitter @Be_Vic.

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