By Dan Proft
I was fascinated by the push back we received last week from so many listeners to our radio show about the Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o stories suggesting these stories did not deserve the painstaking attention we devoted to them—it’s only a cyclist; it’s only a football player. While I concede the point that there are more important stories (e.g. American hostages in Algeria), it does not make these stories unimportant.
Who enjoys more power and influence in American culture, Lance Armstrong or the Chairman of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (can you name that Senator?)? How many kids want to grow up to be Manti T’eo versus growing up to be, say, Milton Friedman?
If you believe culture matters then you cannot dismiss stories about those who wield enormous cultural power as irrelevant.
Should they have such power? That is a very different question. They do have such power and thus the more immediate question is what level of scrutiny should be applied to them. That question in turn prompts many others including questions as to the Fourth Estate’s standards (or those of a university) of due diligence and general professional accountability.
The values a society extols are the values it begets. The same can be said of the type of people a society promotes. Therefore, if our society rationalizes away cheaters and cheating (in spite of all of the short-term benefits Armstrong gained for cheating) then we water down social mores about integrity to the point where more and more people find grade-school excuses like “everybody was doing it” to be a sufficient if not compelling explanation.
This is not a comment on contrition or reconciliation, both of which are available to all of us (and thank God for that), but rather a comment on the importance of these discussions. They are important. These stories have sweeping implications beyond individual athletes and their particular sports.
One thing I have learned from politics is that if otherwise thoughtful people are unwilling to have difficult conversations about the law, culture, and civil society, then those who would debase our culture out of ignorance or malice will invariably fill the void.