I can still remember the streets of Paris teeming with people dressed in lurid yellow jerseys.
Cyclists, wannabe cyclists and tourists all packed the streets to witness Lance Armstrong’s final Tour de France.
Back in 2009, I was one of those people.
My family stood with our backs to the Seine, cheering on the riders as they performed lap after lap.
There were dedicated areas across the city decorated with “Livestrong” and “Let’s Beat Cancer” signs.
We were all encouraged to write our own inspirational message about beating cancer in yellow chalk beneath them.
One that will stick with me and highly poignant considering the recent debacle surrounding Armstrong was “Lance Armstrong is my hero.”
But I disagree. Athletes shouldn’t be heroes.
Many are highly paid and usually skilled at one thing, be it basketball, golf, cycling or any other sport.
Given Armstrong’s none-too-stunning admission that he used performance enhancing drugs for his seven Tour de France wins, it’s easy to dismiss his legacy.
In the end, I will dismiss his legacy as nothing more than steroids boosting an average man’s career – with him ruthlessly denying it all the while.
By many accounts, Armstrong isn’t a nice man. He’s sued reporters for alleging any wrongdoing on his part and he’s insulted other cyclists and people involved with the sport for doing the same.
This is where the “hero” tag we give athletes becomes frustrating.
Charles Barkley, in an ad for Nike back in 1993, put it best.
“I’m not paid to be a role model. Your parents are role models.”
Barkley played for 16 years in the NBA and admits he gambles too much and his lifestyle shouldn’t be copied.
He vehemently argued throughout his career that just because he could dunk a basketball didn’t make him a role model.
Why should we place athletes on a pedestal and declare them to be ideal role models and then become frustrated when they don’t live up to that tag?
As Barkley said, what about the regular people in our lives? Doctors, police officers and firefighters all deserve praise.
There are hundreds of thousands of people across the world who have survived cancer and deserve recognition.
Admittedly, Armstrong has raised millions of dollars for cancer research, but there are other philanthropists throughout the world.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which funds charities around the world, has an endowment of $36.2 billion.
Yet, how many people say Bill Gates is their hero?
While Armstrong is the most recent to fall from grace, you can cast your gaze back and add Tiger Woods (and various others, from Ben Johnson to Ray Lewis) to that list as well.
Woods, a billionaire golfer, was caught having affairs with a string of women and went from golden boy to front-page disaster.
Whatever fuels our desire to idolize these men and women, who are skilled at a sport, is wrong.
We have idolized athletes far too much for being able to play a sport. It is only a game after all.
However, that’s not to say we can’t respect them or compliment them.
I respect the athletes that have sacrificed years to become the best in their particular sport.
But I don’t hold them up as inspirational people on whom I should base my life. They’re just people.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong admitted: “My ruthless desire to win at all costs served me well on the bike.”
That is true.
But it hasn’t served him well in the real world and shouldn’t lead us to idolize him.