Two things happened recently that say a lot about media.
One of course was one of the biggest media events of the new year. Lance Armstrong went on Oprah, twice, and bit his lip, quivered his chin and confessed how hard it was to tell his 13-year-old son that those things everybody is saying about Daddy are true.
Armstrong is former professional bicycle racer who won the Tour de France seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005. He was disqualified and all honors stripped from him in 2012 for using performance-enhancing drugs.
”I said, `Don’t defend me anymore. Don’t.’” Armstrong said.
Armstrong doubled down on how awful he was after criticism that he wasn’t contrite enough in the first interview.
Coincidentally I came across an Internet meme recently, one of those aphorisms that make you stop and think. “You never make the same mistake twice. The first time it’s a mistake, the second time it’s a choice.”
Armstrong didn’t make a mistake, he engaged in a highly organized criminal enterprise over a period of years. He doped himself, coerced his team mates into doping, bribed, threatened and slandered people who attempted to expose him, and had the chutzpah to have a book written about his noble self and his struggle with cancer – which was very possibly self-inflicted by his doping.
At least he didn’t try to claim credit for writing the book, it’s one of those “with” or “as told to” books, though perhaps by now the author wishes he would.
I, like a great many other people whose own sins weigh heavily upon us, would very much like to believe in redemption. In this case though it’s going to take a little more than quivering his chin on Oprah.
On this bright side, I came across this gem of a story quite by accident.
On Dec. 2, cross-country runner Ivan Fernandez Anaya was in a race in Burlada, Navarre, in Spain. (Anaya is from the Basque minority in Spain.)
Anaya was trailing Kenyan runner, Olympic bronze medalist Abel Mutai, when Mutai stopped ten meters before the finish line, evidently under the impression he’d crossed it already.
Anaya could of course have raced past Mutai for a win, and it most likely would have been confirmed. Hey, you snooze you lose. Fans were shouting at Mutai and telling him to keep going, but he doesn’t speak Spanish.
Instead Anaya dropped back and guided Mutai to the finish line first.
“I didn’t deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him,” Anaya said.
When I came across this news item the first thing I thought was, “I have to show this to my son.”
I’ve thought of a few other things since then.
Remember that 1981 film “Chariots of Fire”? Scottish runner Eric Liddell, played by Ian Charleson, refuses to run a race in the 1924 Olympics because it will be run on the Sabbath and he takes his religion very seriously. He stands firm, in spite of intense pressure from the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and the British Olympic Committee.
When all is resolved and his racing is re-scheduled in a way he can live with, Liddell lines up on the starting line. An American runner, Jackson Scholz, comes up to him and hands him a note, “He who honors Me, him will I honor. 1 Samuel 2:30.”
Inspired, Liddell went on to run the legs off all of them.
Another story. Back in 2001 I covered the opening of the European Little League center in Kutno, Poland. I got to meet the late Stan “The Man” Musial and top officials of Little League baseball. I was delighted to find that these guys really, really, believe in all that corny stuff about sportsmanship and character building being more important than winning a damn game.
One American national official (my apologies for not remembering his name) told me how proud he was of his son’s behavior, and what a gentleman he was in how he behaved towards an opposing team member he’d accidentally hit with a ball.
What am I getting at?
We like these stories! Didn’t you?
Yes it’s possible to find them. I found Anaya’s story, after I saw it on Facebook and googled his name.
But he didn’t get on Oprah. Who knows, maybe he wouldn’t have gone? He seems to think of what he did as just doing the right thing, without any fuss.
But then again, nobody asked him.