Last Wednesday, the Baseball Writers of America gave the proverbial middle finger to the steroid era. Despite Hall of Fame numbers, the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens had the doors to Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame slammed shut on them. As egregious as their ties to performing enhancing drugs were, it didn’t hold a candle to Lance Armstrong who after years of shameful denials, came clean on Oprah yesterday to cheating his way through 7 Tour De France championships. The bizarre seven day stretch was highlighted by Notre Dame’s star linebacker Manti Te’o‘s imaginary dead girlfriend.
In the 1993, Charles Barkley created a stir when he famously declared he wasn’t a role model. What makes Armstrong so despicable, that despite his cheating that will rock his sport of cycling for decades to come, is that he became a household name trying to become a role model. Now his legions of fans have been duped and the wristbands that once stood for cancer awareness stand more for believing in a fraudulent spokesperson for such a tragic disease. As for Te’o, he probably should have used his vivid imagination on the campus of Notre Dame in a creative writing class instead of misleading the nation with such a strange tale which made him become a national punch line as a compulsive liar.
America’s first superstar was loved warts and all. Babe Ruth probably wouldn’t make it in today’s world of TMZ. The hard drinking, tobacco spitting, home run hitting, womanizing baseball king would be tabloid fodder and Deadspin would make a cottage industry writing about his exploits. While Ruth played his final game nearly 80 years ago, he still is loved in the sporting world not just because of his enormous exploits on the field of play. The Ruth legacy stands the test of time because he never cheated and never shied away from being larger than life off the field. Instead of blood transfusions and syringes, Ruth ate hot dogs and drank beer in excess. Instead of imaginary girlfriends, Ruth would smoke a cigar for each girl he bedded the previous night before in numbers that don’t seem humanly possible.
We now live in the steroid, SportsCenter and Nike Era. Sports stars and their handlers craft their all-American images to the masses and then cash in on lucrative deals after winning over legions of fans. It seldom ends well. The Mitchell report rocked the baseball world while the world of cycling made Major League Baseball look mundane in comparison. Tiger Woods went from loved to vilified. LeBron James went from hometown hero to Buckeye State Bum. Notre Dame has gone from win one for the Gipper to win one for the Imaginary Dead Girlfriend.
Barkley took a lot of heat 20 years ago for his stance that athletes shouldn't be regarded as role models. It’s a shame more people didn’t listen to him. If society had, a lot less sports fans wouldn’t have had their hearts broken.