Last night as I sipped on my bedtime spearmint tea, I took some time to finish 'Wheelmen', a book about Lance Armstrong's against-all-odds rise (at least, that's what people thought initially) and ignominious fall. Contrary to the usual sense of satisfaction that I get after finishing a book, I felt a little distraught yesterday. It was only in the morning that Maria Sharapova shocked the world with her neat and well-rehearsed confession to doping. A whirlwind of poignant questions raced through my mind. What are the factors, I wondered, that drive sports stars, celebrities and others of their ilk over the edge of morality? Why do they go astray even when an army of fans puts them on a pedestal and treats them like demigods? Is it the frantic weight of expectations and an ever lurking fear of losing the top-dog status? Is it pure greed for money, power and fame? Or is it plain stupidity veiled in the garb of hubris? Frankly, I don't know, but the latter doesn't sound all that illogical.
Story of Lance Armstrong, who became a larger than life figure after his battle and subsequent victory over testicular cancer is both shocking and legendary in its own right. A walking embodiment of moral disengagement, Armstrong was a compulsive liar and a flouter of norms from the get-go. His phoenix-like comeback inspired millions and became a subject of folklore, temporarily. But experts and pros were beginning to see through his superhuman strength after he landed his third consecutive tour de France title. Everybody in the cycling world knew that Armstrong and his team were doping on banned drugs and were, later, engaged in blood-transfusion. Press were on to him, his old-friends-turned-foes were on to him. How long did he really think he could get away with it? Again, the heady concoction of hubris and plain stupidity tricked Armstrong into believing that he can keep hostilities at bay forever.
I am not sure if I got a right handle on this, but it seems to me that there comes a stage when discretionary wit and sharp sense of judgment suddenly evade the celebrities. A stage where they are inundated with sponsorship money, hefty endorsement deals and crazy fan adulation. Something definitely snaps at this point. Some combat the temptations to stay on the right side of the law, others give in and choose to jump over the fence. How else otherwise do you explain the motivation of an athlete with a $100 million contract in his back-pocket who winds up bankrolling a dogfighting ring? (that heady concoction at work again). Michael Vick - a one time NFL superstar did exactly that. Maria Sharapova's is the latest name to adorn the 'hall of shame', but trust me, hers won't be the last. So long as greed and power continue to run herd over common-sense and our sense of ethics, stories of fallen heroes will crop up every now and then. I am still looking for a definitive answer, but something's got to explain this 'heightened-blindness-to-obvious-consequences symptom? I mean, isn't doping the first thing the athletes are supposed to know the inside-out of? What was Sharapova thinking?