These days across the “Bottom Line” of ESPN, the thoughts of those in the media, online and amongst everyday fans, there’s one thing that is certain.
Sports are definitely not what it used to be.
Throughout the annals of American history, sports has not only served as entertainment for the masses, but also has helped to bridge gaps, races, and serves at time as a parable for life.
In 2007, fans are getting to see another side of sports that they didn’t want to see – the proliferation of athletes using performance enhancing drugs and steroids.
Today, I’m going to use baseball as an example as to what is going today.
While America was busy ripping Barry Bonds, pretty much an assumed cheater and jerk, the country found a new hero to root for.
This is the same man whose career started ever so brilliantly as a left handed hurler for the Cardinals; however, the dream went totally wrong as it flat-lined several years ago due to his inability to throw a strike across the plate.
Seemingly done as a pitcher, he rescued his career as hitter, but toiled in the minors for several seasons and battled injuries. Alas, with his God-given skills and ability to hit a baseball a long way, he made the long, sometimes perilous road back to the majors.
The failed pitcher is now a heroic slugger, worthy of praise and admiration.
He’s the made-for-Hollywood story we all long for and desire out of our athletes. His homers and exploits have helped a St. Louis Cardinals team that was reeling due to unspeakable tragedy and injuries back into the National League pennant chase.
There’s only one problem with the dream, and it’s a big bump in the road.
Ankiel ordered HGH (Human Growth Hormone) from Signature Pharmacy, the same drug outlet that has ensnared so many athletes and wrestlers today.
Barry Bonds and Rick Ankiel – two names connected together in sports infamy.
How we have responded to these two men says a lot about us as sports fans, our morality and as a culture.
Why do we hate Barry Bonds, but some people seemingly have let Rick Ankiel off the hook?
Well, the answer is simple.
Barry Bonds is a man that was blessed with great athletic ability and destined for Cooperstown, with or without drugs. Supremely talented, while at times, surly and difficult with fans and disliked by the media, Bonds did not endear himself to anyone perhaps outside of San Francisco due to the BALCO investigation.
Meanwhile, Rick Ankiel came from a turbulent, impoverished background, for the most part, kept his noise clean and worked at the seemingly impossible task of going from a pitcher to a slugger in the highest levels of professional baseball.
He purports that he was using HGH with a prescription to heal from injuries, which he may very well be telling the truth.
We want our heroes to be pure, humble, and relatable to the human condition, as well as a mirror image of what most would want to be as individuals.
Why do we jump on Bonds, while giving Ankiel as pass?
Simply one guy approached and subsequently broke one of the most hallowed records in sports, while the other was on the comeback trail.
As much as we hate to admit, we can’t resist a good story and one ideal for a big budget movie.
What does it say about us?
We’re hypocritical, but we love to feel good about ourselves. Ankiel brought joy; Bonds anger and regret.
Our athletes today are gladiators, and we live and die vicariously through their exploits. Fans travel the world; spend their hard earned money to get face time and an autograph with their hero or heroine.
In the end, do we care whether or not our athletes are clean?
The stats say no. We all may complain and whine, but sports take up a particular vacuum in our society. Most people complain about the sanctity and purity of sports disappearing; however, do we stop talking about an event or events that for the most part are meaningless in the grand scheme of life?
Yes, we go on and on about the validity of the performances you see on the field and on the court; however, I take the approach of sports as I do of pro wrestling.
What you see in front of you isn’t necessarily reality.
The world has changed along with sports, technology and the media in general.
Steroids and performance enhancing drugs for many athletes in sports have served as a means to an end. No matter how much we have evolved as a society, cheating exists in all forms and sports are no exception.
We want our athletes to be role models, but can it ever be?
Let’s accept the modern day athlete for what he or she is – an entertainer and nothing more.
Professional sports, as much as I would love it to be, should not be a forum for social, or moral stands, except in the rarest of cases, like Jackie Robinson playing his first game in the majors. Sports should be celebrated for what they are – a diversion from the stresses, hardships and the ups and downs of life.
Bottom line, athletes are no different than all of us morally – they fall into temptation too, sadly.