Two “heroes.” Both named Armstrong. One named Neil. The other named Lance.
One a reluctant celebrity, who once he had done a tremendous service to his country, retired to private life like Cincinnatus returning to his farm after saving Rome.
The other, a seeker of fame and fortune, who repeatedly cheated and lied, desperately clinging to the glare of the spotlight.
One a symbol of the past and the future, who combined an old-world decency and modesty with the ability to inspire a generation to reach for the stars.
The other, a poster child for all that is false and degrading about our vainglorious present, who lent his name to slick marketing for personal gain and callously let down thousands of young people who looked up to him.
Neil Armstrong, who died at age 82 on Aug. 25, was the first human to walk on the moon. He will be a hero for at least as long as his footprints remain on the lunar surface, which will be thousands of years.
Asked how he felt about those footprints, he once replied, “I kind of hope that somebody goes up there one of these days and cleans them up.”
Lance Armstrong was the best ever at pedaling a bicycle, winning seven Tour de France titles. He overcame testicular cancer and created the Livestrong nonprofit, dedicated to cancer research.
On Wednesday, beginning his speech at a cancer conference in Montreal, he said, “My name is Lance Armstrong. I am a cancer survivor. I’m a father of five. And yes, I won the Tour de France seven times.”
What he didn’t say is he had to cheat to win all of those races, and all of those titles are being taken away for good reason.
Before he commanded the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in July 1969, Neil Armstrong was a Navy fighter pilot and a highly regarded test pilot who flew the experimental X-15 rocket 200,000 feet up at 4,000 mph. He was the command pilot on the Gemini 8 flight that included the first successful docking of a manned spacecraft with another space vehicle, and he kept his cool to land it safely after a system malfunction.
On Apollo 11, he forthrightly overrode the automatic pilot to maneuver the lunar module carrying him and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin away from a rocky crater so they could land safely.
And yet, while one of the most famous and heralded people in world history, this is how he described himself in an interview in 2000: “I am — and ever will be — a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer.”
What Lance Armstrong is, and ever will be, is a phony.
In June, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency charged Armstrong with using performance-enhancing drugs. The USADA had the goods on him — blood samples from 2009 and 2010 and damaging testimony from as many as 10 other cyclists.
On Aug. 23, Armstrong announced he would no longer fight the charges, and the USADA banned him for life, said he would be disqualified from any results back to Aug. 1, 1998, and that all his medals, titles and prizes would be regarded as forfeited.
“Show me a hero,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “and I’ll write you a tragedy.”
Part of Lance Armstrong’s tragedy is that he would not stand up like even a tarnished hero and admit he had done wrong. Instead he issued a whiny statement to the Associated Press.
“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now,” he said, calling the USADA investigation an “unconstitutional witch hunt.”
“I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999,” he said. “The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today — finished with this nonsense.”
Nonsense? Honor is nonsense? Truth is nonsense? Ethical conduct is nonsense?
We live in a world that seems to become more shallow and self-centered every day, where self-aggrandizement is encouraged, modesty and class are disregarded, and every touchdown is occasion for a grotesque dance in the end zone.
Neil Armstrong wasn’t perfect. When his boot hit the moon’s surface, he meant to say, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
He blew it, accidentally leaving out the “a” so the phrase the world remembers is, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
It was fitting somehow that the first words uttered by a person standing on the moon were the result of an innocent human error. It is even more fitting that Neil is the Armstrong whose name will always be synonymous with honor and achievement.
SAM POLLAK is the editor of The Daily Star in Oneonta, N.Y. Contact him at email@example.com.
Two “heroes.” Both named Armstrong. One named Neil. The other named Lance.
Don’t leave Oklahoma!
May is graduation season. As I have done every year as lieutenant governor, I have given multiple commencement speeches. Advice flows freely during this time and it usually runs the gamut. What to do, what not to do, how to do ‘x’, be sure not to do ‘y.’ Too often commencement speakers speak in big generalities. So general, the message is frequently lost or forgotten.
Last-minute funding proposals not in state’s best interest
All indications point to this being the last week of this year’s legislative session. The Legislature will go home a week early. This is good news for Oklahomans as not only will there be cost savings but all Oklahomans should breathe a sigh of relief when the Legislature stops making new laws a week ahead of schedule.
As usual, the Legislature will take a number of important votes during the last week. Some will be forced due to attempts to introduce and pass far-reaching, new policies that should have been introduced much earlier in the year.
BY THE NUMBERS: Oklahoma still needs to invest in its economy
After six months of stagnation, the Oklahoma economy finally appears to be expanding again albeit still weakly. Unfortunately, our leaders aren’t making the investments we need to give our economic prospects a boost.
Last week the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported that in April state General Revenue fund collections were 5.2 percent above the estimate and 14.7 percent higher than last year’s collections. Under normal circumstances, such a report would indicate that the Oklahoma economy was very strong. But this isn’t a normal circumstance, and April isn’t a normal month.
Americans deserve the truth on Benghazi
Lately, the media has been consumed by the controversies surrounding the White House. Among these controversies is the horrific terrorist attack on the United States’ diplomatic compound in Benghazi that took place Sept. 11, 2012. As more people come forward with additional information regarding the attack on the consulate, many Americans, including myself, are still asking for the truth.
The Obama Administration and the State Department have been less than forthcoming with key information on Benghazi and recent information points toward a major cover-up.
Seizure of AP phone records insult to independent press
Distrust of government secrecy has been elevated to an exceptional level with the disclosure the Justice Department covertly examined two months of Associated Press phone records to determine who leaked details to the AP about a foiled terrorist plot.
HEY HINK: Some people just are not cut out for command
Recent headlines cause me to remember an incident that occurred on an army base some years ago. Warning here: I’m taking some liberties with names and details, but the basic outline of events is accurate.
A certain company commander, let’s call him Captain Duntz, had command of a motor pool on a large army base in the continental U.S.
We’ve become our own worst enemies
The past couple months have been marked by a seeming unprecedented number of man-made tragedies, as distinct from those caused by violent outbursts of the natural world, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.
You don’t want to dwell too long on the negative, but we do have to take notice of horrific human events and we owe it to ourselves to respond to them in some way. We don’t always agree on those responses, however, and that usually exacerbates the problem.
Let’s reimburse higher ed for remediation costs
The good news: Oklahoma schools are teaching phonics. The bad news: It’s in college.
Students at Tulsa Community College, for example, can take a college English course called “Spelling and Phonics,” which “helps students master basic spelling literacy, principles of phonics and decoding skills.”
This sort of higher education brings to mind former Boston University president John Silber’s quip: “Higher than what?”
AGAINST THE GRAIN: Department of Commerce highlights Main Street successes
The 24th annual Oklahoma Main Street Awards Banquet was at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum last week. Oklahoma Department of Commerce Secretary Dave Lopez addressed the gathering, and spoke of how the Commerce Department works with Main Street organizations throughout the state that are working to improve their downtown areas. Lopez pointed out that the partnership between his department and those local organizations has brought new life to those communities and that the attendees would see some of that revitalization in a video presentation. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin also addressed the gathering, and said the Main Street program has resulted in more than $1 billion in investments in the state and more than 1 million volunteer hours in its 24 years of operation.
OUR VIEW: Be Edmond needs your help
BMX star and local legend Mat Hoffman knows what’s it like to fall from great heights and find yourself at one of the worst low points in life. He also knows how to climb back up and tackle life’s problems head on.
- More Opinion Headlines
- Don’t leave Oklahoma!