The ratio of prince to scoundrel in sports has always heavily favored the former. While in today’s media kaleidoscope the outlaws’ exploits get magnified so much that it distorts reality, the truth is that most inhabitants of the sports spotlight are good people.
Now here’s a big “but”: Corruption is trending. Integrity is showing up on “Overrated” lists more often. Honor is fraying at the edges.
Baseball players Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun look at the camera, insisting on their innocence. Well, it has come to light they are made from the same mold. Braun was suspended last month after a Major League Baseball investigation found he had ties to Florida anti-aging clinic Biogenesis. On Monday, MLB came down on the other players it found to have been involved with the clinic, suspending Rodriguez through the end of the 2014 season and banning 12 others for 50 games, including three All-Stars: Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers, Everth Cabrera of the San Diego Padres and Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement that Rodriguez’s punishment was not only based on his use of performance-enhancing substances but also “for attempting to cover-up his violations of the program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.”
And A-Rod says he won’t go down without a fight. Rodriguez’s lawyer, David Cornwall, said the player will appeal and he will “pursue all legal remedies available to Alex.” Rodriguez will be allowed to play until his appeal is heard.
So here we go again. Now we have A-Rod and Braun as the new faces of sports.
Actually, there are plenty of admirable faces out there. But the Alex Rodriguezes and Ryan Brauns of the world are mugging for the camera like obnoxious bystanders behind a local TV news reporter. They threaten to crowd out those deserving of attention.
And it isn’t just Rodriguez and Braun. It’s cyclist Lance Armstrong, who apparently was A-Rod’s and Braun’s role model when it came to image management—and being a complete liar. In the National Football League, Aaron Hernandez may just have the darkest soul of any player, past, present or future. His is certainly not the typical story of an entitled athlete who went too far—who knows what demons lurk inside him—but the adulation, the lavish salary and the insulated life in pro football likely contributed to a feeling of being above the law.
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is not a criminal. In fact, he’s probably a great kid. But he’s slipping down a perilous path. It’s way too early to predict ruin; somebody that he respects will probably get in his ear and have a “Scared Straight” effect on him. Yet right now he’s the face of college football, and he’s probably the youngest Heisman winner to ever develop a notorious reputation.
Want to find out the number of NFL players who have been arrested in recent years? It happens so often, the San Diego Union-Tribune keeps an online database of NFL arrests. Lately they include Tampa Bay cornerback Eric Wright’s DUI; Giants linebacker Dan Connor’s bust for carrying a switchblade in an airport; and Cincinnati cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones’ arrest after an incident with a woman in a nightclub.
And that’s just since June.
When Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was caught on tape lashing out at a security guard with racial slurs at a Kenny Chesney concert, he admitted he was wrong and apologized to the world. But if the tape hadn’t surfaced, would Cooper have pointed out his mistake?
Responsibility begins with the individual, and in sports these days, the individual just doesn’t seem to be getting it. Athletes let down their public so often that fans have become resigned, lowering their own bars for behavior instead of expecting their heroes to act with honor.
So, what’s the solution? Fans, for one, can take a more proactive role in seeking out people to admire. Instead of letting ugliness wash over them, they need to support and appreciate the real heroes and ignore the miscreants.
Cheating has been around since rules were first established. Expect more. As TV rights fees continue to climb, and salaries rise with them, the temptation to go from honorable to dishonorable will intensify.
It’s the fans’ responsibility to cheer the good guys—so maybe they’ll stay that way.