Sunday, February 17, 2008


"It's hard to believe you, sir," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told Clemens. "I hate to say that. You're one of my heroes. But it's hard to believe."

People all over the place engage in hero worship of professional sports stars.

This is beyond me.

I enjoy sports. I have a great deal of respect for the accomplishments of these people. Hell, I even respect, to an extent, the innate abilities of those like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Marion Jones. What they did requires a certain amount of physical talent that existed before the cheating, or alleged cheating (steroids/HGH and working out alone are not enough to make a world-class athlete - you have to be close already). However that does not absolve them, and you cannot argue that Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame due to the fact that he had hall worthy numbers before the cheating took place (not alleged, he admitted to taking the drugs). A voter is supposed to look at the body of work, and the body of his work includes a significant time period during which he cheated the game.

People seem surprised with every new cheating scandal and want to strip teams of titles, ban them from the respective sports - and will even engage in vehement defenses of teams or players they are fans of. To listen to the Clemens and Bonds apologists, these players practically walk on water.

There are levels of vitriol and misunderstanding involved in these things that go far beyond the pale.

People sound off about the Patriots like the team is the only one in the NFL that has engaged in sideline espionage, in spite of the fact that the likes of Jimmy Johnson and Steelers owner Dan Rooney have acknowledged that, not only was what the team did commonplace, but it has no significant impact on the games. Those statements came from football lifers, people who know the game better than any fan possibly could.

Before anyone jumps on my back about this, I am not defending the Patriots. They cheated, they got caught, and they were punished under the rules of the NFL. (Although, I do have issue with the fact that the Jets admitted filming from a place wherein the rules do not provide for in Gillette, and the NFL absolved them of any wrong-doing - I have an issue with the double-standard). If you're going to call for the heads of one, call for them all.

You want the Patriots to give up their championships for filming, fine. Then call for the same for the Broncos who violated the salary cap in order to put together back-to-back championships, or the Yankees for buying up every steroid-laden pin-cushion in MLB in order to put together an impressive run in the late 1990's. As for me - keep the rings, keep the records.


Cheating is common-place in professional sports - from Rosie Ruiz in the Boston Marathon (I know, technically amateur there), to everything from the performance enhancers used by the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Rodney Harrison, Marion Jones, Uta Pippig and any number of other professional athletes to salary cap violations, video taping, signal stealing, scuffing baseballs - that it amazes me when people are surprised or disappointed. Name a sport, name a team - there's an infraction to be found.

If you want to look up to athletes, to put someone on a pedestal and use him or her as an example for your kids - look to something, someone a little more obscure.

Look to the Ironman Triathlon Championships. Not to the top finishers.

Look to sister Madonna Buder, an amateur athlete who finished the event for thirteen consecutive years (missing last year's cut off by mere minutes at the end of the cycling stage), breaking her own record each of those years as being the oldest woman to complete the event. Or take John Blais, a man with ALS who completed the Ironman in 2005 in order to raise awareness for the disease. He was in a wheelchair by the 2006 event and didn't live to see the 2007 Ironman. Then there was a competitor in this year's event by the name of Scott Rigsby, a double-amputee who lost both of his legs below the knees. How about Charles Plaskon, a blind 64-year old finisher? Or the story of Dick Hoyt, which you really have to see to believe? Really. I can't do him justice.

There are plenty of athletes out there deserving of that pedestal, for any number of reasons. Just try not to forget that the pros are human too, and generally willing to do whatever it takes to stay at the top of their game. The people I mention above are human as well, with human failings like the rest of us. However, unlike the Clemenses of the world, they're not doing what they do for money...or even personal glory. They see the mountain in front of them and see something to accomplish.

For disease awareness.

To show that you're never too old.

For a son.

To show that there is no such thing as handicapped.

To show the depths and strength of the human spirit - sans cheating, short-cuts, or performance enhancing drugs.

And that is worth our respect and admiration.


Chris Stone said...

great write up! In 2006 when Merriman was nailed for drug use, a lot of Pats fans dumped on him. I didn't. Because I don't think any NFL team can claim to be drug free. There is just too many guys, a lot of money and competition, and a lot of opportunity. Then Harrison got caught.

I think the Pats video tapping scandal was so mismanaged from the start its amazing. A big reason the Pats have been so successful is their organization... and to see them fail so badly on PR/scandal management was stunning. I still don't understand it. I'm not sure many do. I think that is one of the things that continues to fuel the BS and exhaust fans like me that just want to enjoy the game. It must exhaust the players too.

As I understand it, the NFL invested a whole (!) $500,000 to creating a reliable HGH test last year. Scientists have come up with a reliable blood test. (so i've heard.) but the players unions for NFL and baseball have said only a urine test will be acceptable. Perhaps a urine test is much further off!

sugarshane024 said...

I'm with you. We should look away from "cheaters" as heroes and look to guys like, say...Ken Griffey Jr., for example.

Kevin Smith said...

Chris - Actually, the NFL player's union has agreed to blood testing for HGH and EPO -

Nice that they're still ahead of the curve.

As for pro athletes,Shane, I'm pretty much going to stay away from hero worship of them as a whole. I like Griffey, as I do Garciaparra, but I would be careful about throwing any pro athlete's name around as though they were clean. Keep in mind that both Griffey and Garciaparra have a history of injuries to connective tissues - tendon strains, tears, and the like - typical of steroid use. I'm not saying for sure that either used (although I believe it to be likely at least with Garciaparra, but I have also never heard of a player who needed his hamstring reattached, just like I have never heard of a player other than Garciaparra have frayed tendons), but I am saying that you shouldn't be surprised if it hits the news that he has used.

Chris Stone said...

Thanks for the correction, and I'm glad to hear that.

Kevin Smith said...

No problem, and, honestly, I was glad to hear it myself. I'm anxious for it to be implemented.

Chris Stone said...

Ah. This was what I was referring to!

sugarshane024 said...


I understand your reasoning, but don't you think it's a bit unfair to "clean" athletes to engage in this type all-or-nothing classification?

Kevin Smith said...

I'm not looking at it as an all-or-nothing situation. What I am doing, however, is looking at the whole situation with a jaundiced eye.

If you figure that it's like finding a flea on a pet, or a cockroach in your kitchen - how many are you not seeing?

Remember, Mitchell dealt with two dealers based in NYC. Who's out there supplying in Cincy? Philly? Boston? LA? Houston? Seattle?

The report named over 80 players based on those two guys alone. Three teams worth. Without a snitch outside of NYC. What happens if and when other suppliers are found? Do the users outnumber the clean players?

It already looks that way in track & field, and bicycling. What's the likelihood that baseball and football are really any different?

Suldog said...

Seeing Dick Hoyt and Rick Hoyt go by you on the Marathon course sends an absolute shiver up your spine. Nothing - I mean NOTHING - in professional sports matches their accomplishments.

Kevin Smith said...

I am not an overly emotional guy. When the Sox won their first (in my lifetime), and when the Pats won theirs in 2001, I just sat and thought for a long time about what I witnessed.

I didn't scream or yell. I watched what was going on, and acknowledged it with a "wow" and a smile. In the heat of the game I'll yell at the screen. I might mope a bit after a loss, but I'm not the jump up and down go crazy sort of fan.

When I first saw the story of the Hoyts, it practically brought tears to my eyes, and that's saying a lot. It's really an amazing story.