IBJOpinion

HETRICK: On Armstrong, Pistorius and the risk of celebrity heroes

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Bruce Hetrick

In 2006, I was invited to attend a news conference at the Indiana University School of Medicine. The news involved my late wife’s oncologist, Dr. Larry Einhorn.

I sat beside John Cleland, a high school biology teacher from Zionsville who, long ago, had the guts to take an experimental chemotherapy cocktail developed by Einhorn in hopes of treating advanced testicular cancer.

It worked.

Because Einhorn’s discovery saved Cleland and others, testicular cancer moved from deadly-disease status to a cure rate north of 95 percent.

John Cleland is one of my heroes. When the odds were stacked against him, he took a risk for himself and others, tried an experimental drug, and helped save many lives.

Larry Einhorn is one of my heroes. When the routine treatment wasn’t working, he didn’t say, “Tough luck, you’re a goner.” He said, “I’ve been tinkering with something; would you be willing to try it?”

But the news conference that day involved another of my heroes at the time—a fellow named Lance Armstrong who’d had his life saved by Einhorn’s cocktail, who’d benefited from Cleland’s bravery, and who’d gone on to bicycling fame and fortune.

Along the way, Armstrong had also remembered the good medicine that made it all possible. He’d launched a cancer-fighting foundation, written an inspirational book, and gone on the lecture circuit to help others with cancer.

So there I sat with John Cleland watching Larry Einhorn land a $1.5 million endowed chair from what was then called the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Three heroes in one day. I felt blessed.

Fast forward to the 2012 Summer Olympics.

As a person with disabilities, I fell hard for the Oscar Pistorius story.

The South African sprinter, born without fibulas, had amputations below the knees in both legs.

Thanks to innovative prostheses, Pistorius became a world-class Paralympics athlete.

Then, after a court battle over whether his artificial legs gave him an unfair advantage, he made it to the Olympics, where he competed in the men’s 400-meter race and on South Africa’s 4x400-meter relay team.

The Blade Runner was my hero, too.

The world loves overcoming-the-obstacles stories: Climbing out of poverty. Beating cancer. Running when you’ve been told you’ll never walk.

Climb the pedestal, we say. Film an up-close-and-personal video. Sign a few multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals. Score some six-figure appearance fees. Endorse some products. Champion your favorite causes. Run for office. Give some speeches. Grace the cover of our magazine. Launch your own foundation.

But sometimes, humanity mars the climb up the ladder to sainthood.

Armstrong, of course, has now been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and ousted from competitive sports for blood doping and the use of performance-enhancing drugs. After years of denials and even lawsuits against those who questioned him, he’s confessed these sins at the altar of Oprah Winfrey.

Le champion is now le liar and le cheater.

Then, by accident or design (yet to be determined), Pistorius last week shot his girlfriend to death as she apparently cowered in a locked bathroom in his home.

The Blade Runner, said the tabloids, is now the Blade Gunner.

Dramatic falls from grace are nothing new and they’re not going to stop. There aren’t a lot of Boy Scouts out there. (Heck, even the Boy Scouts are tainted by sex scandals and discrimination.)

So the question becomes whether marketers and not-for-profits want to tie their reputations and causes to the hero du jour, and whether the potential reward outweighs the possible risk.

While Armstrong’s sponsors pulled the plug on the once-renowned king of the yellow jersey, Einhorn says his cancer story outweighs the cycling scandal—among cancer patients, at least.

“We still have patients who, when starting chemotherapy for testicular cancer, come in carrying that [Armstrong autobiography] book,” Einhorn told USA Today. “It’s like someone religious carrying a Bible to help them through a very difficult period of time.”

Einhorn, who’s now Livestrong Foundation professor of oncology, said Armstrong’s story presents a dilemma.

“If he didn’t do doping, he would not have been competitive in his sport. There would have been no foundation,” Einhorn told USA Today. “There would have been no cancer survivorship talk if he had not entered the Tour de France or [if he had] finished 17th or 18th.”

But, said Einhorn, that “doesn’t mean that the ends justify the means.”

“There are many different ways that people are heroic,” Einhorn said. “Lance cheated in the sport, but because he cheated in the sport, he became a hero to countless thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people and made such a big difference in their lives, and also in their quantity of survival as well as their quality of survival. That will be his legacy.”

Maybe. But I’m skeptical. So for now, I’m skipping celebrities and sticking with real-world heroes such as Einhorn and Cleland.•

__________

Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
thisissue1-092914.jpg 092914

Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Cramer agrees...says don't buy it and sell it if you own it! Their "pay to play" cost is this issue. As long as they charge customers, they never will attain the critical mass needed to be a successful on company...Jim Cramer quote.

  2. My responses to some of the comments would include the following: 1. Our offer which included the forgiveness of debt (this is an immediate forgiveness and is not "spread over many years")represents debt that due to a reduction of interest rates in the economy arguably represents consideration together with the cash component of our offer that exceeds the $2.1 million apparently offered by another party. 2. The previous $2.1 million cash offer that was turned down by the CRC would have netted the CRC substantially less than $2.1 million. As a result even in hindsight the CRC was wise in turning down that offer. 3. With regard to "concerned Carmelite's" discussion of the previous financing Pedcor gave up $16.5 million in City debt in addition to the conveyance of the garage (appraised at $13 million)in exchange for the $22.5 million cash and debt obligations. The local media never discussed the $16.5 million in debt that we gave up which would show that we gave $29.5 million in value for the $23.5 million. 4.Pedcor would have been much happier if Brian was still operating his Deli and only made this offer as we believe that we can redevelop the building into something that will be better for the City and City Center where both Pedcor the citizens of Carmel have a large investment. Bruce Cordingley, President, Pedcor

  3. I've been looking for news on Corner Bakery, too, but there doesn't seem to be any info out there. I prefer them over Panera and Paradise so can't wait to see where they'll be!

  4. WGN actually is two channels: 1. WGN Chicago, seen only in Chicago (and parts of Canada) - this station is one of the flagship CW affiliates. 2. WGN America - a nationwide cable channel that doesn't carry any CW programming, and doesn't have local affiliates. (In addition, as WGN is owned by Tribune, just like WTTV, WTTK, and WXIN, I can't imagine they would do anything to help WISH.) In Indianapolis, CW programming is already seen on WTTV 4 and WTTK 29, and when CBS takes over those stations' main channels, the CW will move to a sub channel, such as 4.2 or 4.3 and 29.2 or 29.3. TBS is only a cable channel these days and does not affiliate with local stations. WISH could move the MyNetwork affiliation from WNDY 23 to WISH 8, but I am beginning to think they may prefer to put together their own lineup of syndicated programming instead. While much of it would be "reruns" from broadcast or cable, that's pretty much what the MyNetwork does these days anyway. So since WISH has the choice, they may want to customize their lineup by choosing programs that they feel will garner better ratings in this market.

  5. The Pedcor debt is from the CRC paying ~$23M for the Pedcor's parking garage at City Center that is apprased at $13M. Why did we pay over the top money for a private businesses parking? What did we get out of it? Pedcor got free parking for their apartment and business tenants. Pedcor now gets another building for free that taxpayers have ~$3M tied up in. This is NOT a win win for taxpayers. It is just a win for Pedcor who contributes heavily to the Friends of Jim Brainard. The campaign reports are on the Hamilton County website. http://www2.hamiltoncounty.in.gov/publicdocs/Campaign%20Finance%20Images/defaultfiles.asp?ARG1=Campaign Finance Images&ARG2=/Brainard, Jim

ADVERTISEMENT