I understand the betrayal behind the hoopla about Lance Armstrong’s reluctant admission that he was doping. For so many years, thorough so many triumphs, we thought his wins were because he was like Batman: He dedicated himself so completely to his sport that he:

  • didn’t have a normal life (as Batman did with protecting Gotham City),
  • trained his body to perfection, despite the pain and injury (just like Batman),
  • focused almost exclusively on his goal (like Batman’s single-minded devotion to his goal), and
  • seemed more than human. Certainly his feats seemed heroic in the way that sports performances sometimes are.

We admired his dedication and performance. And even though his accomplishments were beyond almost all of us (just like Batman’s, even if we had his millions of dollars), we admired him and were inspired by him. Just as some of us are with Batman.

Now we find out that he wasn’t like Batman. He procured superpowers. So he was really like Spider-Man or the Flash, except they developed their superpowers by chance. Armstrong went looking for them. And once he had them, he still passed himself off as a fully human superhero like Batman.  Perhaps we might even consider him a superpowered villain, since his gains were ill-gotten.

Of course we feel betrayed. After all, what makes Batman so amazing is that he’s human. It’s the idea that if we too had that much dedication and focus (and time and money), we too could do what he does.  It’s that he’d been an example of is possible for humans. Regular humans. Not enhanced humans.

He’s been unmasked, and we’re left disillusioned and cynical. Lance Armstrong, the man we thought of as a human superhero was cheating for personal gain. He broke a superhero rule and he’s fallen from grace.

Copyright Robin S. Rosenberg, 2013

Robin S. Rosenberg, Ph.D., ABPP is a clinical psychologist in private practice in San Francisco and Menlo Park, Calif. Rosenberg specializes in treating people with eating disorders, depression and anxiety. She often writes about the psychology of superheroes and has co-authored several psychology textbooks, including Abnormal Psychology and Introducing Psychology: Brain, Person, Group. Her latest book is Superhero Origins: What Makes Superheroes Tick and Why We Care

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