Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

There is always one event sports fans remember that got them hooked on the games they love.  Maybe it was their home team winning a championship, or even the first time they went to a game.  I saw both before I was really hooked.  What got me addicted to sports was watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battle to beat Roger Maris' single season home run record.  It was a magical season that had a certain aura about it.  I went out and purchased what had to be thirty Sosa and McGwire rookie cards.  People took sides, Team Mac and Team Sosa.  The country came together and everyone was rooting for the record to finally be broken.  1998 was a year I, and many other sports fans, will never forget.  That's the thing about sports, when something outstanding happens, we don't worry about what could happen next to ruin it all.  Then it happens.  You feel blindsided, cheated, like someone took you, the fan, for granted.  Why did you do this?  Why did you cheat?  Why was all this a lie?

The 2005 congressional hearing ruined a lot of childhoods.  Some of the best and most famous players in baseball looked at congress and talked of lies and cheating.  It was more of a circus than anything.  It was a disgrace to my intelligence.  I am not going to blab anymore in regards to the past, I want to talk about how players still haven't learned from the mistakes of past greats.  Melky Cabrera is coming under fire for his elaborate scheme to pass his drug test, or at least having an excuse once he got caught.  Cabrera is beloved everywhere he plays.  His smile is infectious.  People love watching his crazy handshakes he does after hitting a homerun.  He is just a joy to watch.  These portrayals will no longer be used when describing Cabrera.  Now you will hear things like cheater and liar.  Cabrera broke the sacred bond between fan and player.  He lied to us, all of us, when he was caught and had an associate buy a website to make it look like he was tricked into taking testosterone.  What happened to the game that I love?

Ryan Braun had a grueling fight with baseball in the offseason over a positive test that happened during the playoffs.  Braun had to fight tooth and nail to clean his name.  Unfortunately, even if he is telling the truth and his sample was tainted, we as a society will always remember that at one point he was poised as a steroid user.  It may not be fair, but that is how our society works.  We have too many things that take our interest that if you do something that makes us give up on you, it is hard to get our attention back.  The fact of the matter is he was linked and now it will always come up in a conversation regarding Braun's career.

If you look at the Hall of Fame ballot this year it is a myriad of people who were accused of steroid use.  Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro are said to have zero chance of getting voted in this year.  Arguably the best power hitter, the best pitcher, and the best player statistically ever have zero chance to get into the Hall of Fame.  Think about how much these lies affect how we think of these players.  Nobody is yelling and screaming to have McGwire voted into the Hall. McGwire saved baseball.  He broke the most sacred record in sports.  That race brought back all the fans that left after the 1994 strike.  A man who brought the game back from the grave is barely considered to be enshrined because he lied to us.

Baseball is surely not the only sport where illegal substances ruin the game.  Football still has players failing tests.  Shawn Merriman used to be Lights Out.  He took San Diego by storm in 2005 with his post-sack dance and his play making ability.  In 2006, Merriman failed a drug test that was called to be "definitely steroids" and he was never the same player popularity wise, even though he still put up big numbers the next two years.  Merriman couldn't stay healthy after 2007 and has been recently cut from the Buffalo Bills.  Brian Cushing won rookie of the year and was a fan favorite in Houston.  He tested positive for a banned substance and now he isn't even talked about even though his stats are the same.  Cushing could put up numbers along the best linebackers in the game, but he will always have the stigma of a man who cheated.

Lance Armstrong was probed earlier this year for his alleged steroid use.  This man was a hero to most Americans.  His Livestrong campaign became a fashion symbol.  Everyone at one time had a yellow bracelet.  People who were fighting cancer would look at Armstrong as a role model.  At one point he was bed ridden, now he is winning the biggest race in cycling seven times in a row.  Now all we can talk about with him is did he or didn't he?  Is he a cheater?  Cycling is a sport known for being full of dopers.  Armstrong is quite possibly the most successful cyclist of all time.  If the best of all time cheated, what is to stop everyone else?  These allegations and the fact that the Tour De France winners continue to test positive has killed the sport of cycling.  Ratings are down and fan interest is in the toilet.  Doping has turned an entire sport upside down.

There are countless other stories we can cover.  The fact of the matter is we now look at sports differently.  We do not just love unconditionally.  We are always skeptical.  Did Ken Griffey Jr and Derek Jeter use steroids?  What about Pujols?  There is no evidence for it but it is still being mentioned only because they were there at the same time as all the other users.  We look at athletes and exclaim that the things they accomplish are "impossible" without help from some kind of outside source.  We aren't marveling at greatness, only questioning it.  We talk ourselves into how they could avoid testing positive over telling ourselves it is all natural.  We have become cold as a fan base.  We wish it wasn't this way anymore, but as the Melky Cabrera scandal has shown us, it isn't going to change any time soon.

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