Public confessions of despicable behavior are all the rage among the rich and famous. Tell the camera tales of drug abuse and alcoholism, preferably with tearful eyes, and all related behavior shall be forgiven.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong upped the ante this week when he confessed to Oprah Winfrey his life as a fraud, liar, cheat and bully who has ruined the lives of others around him.
Hey, Armstrong: Owning up to it — especially without a hint of remorse — doesn’t make it OK. You remain a fraudulent, cheating liar who bullied your friends.
Armstrong’s confession competed for attention last week with the bizarre saga of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o, who told the sad tale of losing his girlfriend to leukemia even though the girlfriend never lived.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods cheated on their wives. Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted numerous boys. Lindsay Lohan stole jewelry, fell out of her sundress on stage and drove drunk.
Google “celebrity scandals” and an endless array of stories appear. Famous people are human. Often, though not always, a fall from grace has the amazing ability to revive a stagnating career.
Poor behavior of the rich and famous, coupled with the NFL’s unmerciful rejection of Tim Tebow — a successful young quarterback with a talent for flaunting ostensibly good behavior — creates a dilemma for parents. Children are shown on a daily basis that drugs, alcohol and criminal behavior may come with rewards. They come with publicity, at the very least, and some believe bad attention beats no attention at all.
The time is long past that parents and the media stop viewing celebrities, initially famous for professional accomplishments, as icons worthy of emulation and praise. A succession of victories and a collection of trophies say little about the character of a woman or man.
If we conflate accomplishments with character, we must praise the CEO who generates enviable profits by exploiting employees or selling customers short for the sake of expedient gain.
We must praise the athlete who finds a way to cheat his way to success. We must praise the drunken actress for remaining in the spotlight for breaking the rules.
High achievers may have good character, but correlation is not cause. Men and women with poor character traits have as much ability to achieve, if not more, than individuals with great character.
Mothers and fathers, teach the difference between character and achievement before your children latch onto some celebrity who is likely to lie, steal, cheat or abuse those around him. Teach them to value acts of goodness, rather than conventional achievements.
Focus less on the victories of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and more on his decision to quietly provide spectacular Thanksgiving meals last fall to 500 disadvantaged families. Scores of professional athletes give millions to help the people who were not born with above-average strength and skills.
Emphasize to children the story of Basque athlete Iván Fernández Anaya. He ran a Dec. 2 cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre, and found himself in a distant second place behind race leader Abel Mutai, of Kenya. Mutai mistakenly thought he had won the race about 10 meters before the finish line. It was an unlikely break for Anaya, who could overtake Mutai for the win. He chose to do something far greater.
“Instead of exploiting Mutai’s mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first,” reports Kellimni.com, a website devoted to helping youth in Malta.
Society must rethink how it chooses heroes. Stop confusing trophies, medals, fortune and fame with character. A man of low character would have taken the win, exploiting another athlete’s innocent mistake. A man of high character did the right thing, treating another person with compassion and respect at the expense of a conventional reward.
Good character isn’t accomplishment. It’s the way we treat the people around us.