John E. Hoover: Fun is missing from sports these days
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, January 19, 2013
1/19/13 at 6:54 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.Original Print Headline: Fun missing from sports
ANYBODY REMEMBER when sports used to be fun?
Seems like it's been awhile.
How many baseball legends deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame? Zero.
How much contrition did Lance Armstrong show in his interview with Oprah? Zero.
How much do we really know about the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax? Zero.
This isn't what we signed up for as sports fans.
Let's be clear: All the recent headlines don't add up to one O.J. Simpson or Rae Carruth or Jerry Sandusky.
But surfing the web, scrolling through Twitter and watching the crawl on Friday created an overwhelming sense of dread: What's next?
Where will the next great sports scandal come from? Will fans get at least a few months' relief? Or should they expect something outlandish to happen over the weekend?
Can't we just kick back and relax and take in the last three NFL playoff games? Can we enjoy the second half of the NBA and college basketball seasons? The golfers are back. The Australian Open is going strong. Hey, even the hockey season - wait, another labor dispute, the third in two years, irreparably damaged another pro sport?
After the last two weeks, maybe it's too much to ask to just be able to enjoy the games and the personalities who play them.
Last week, the Baseball Writers Association of America had a significant pool of big names from which to choose its 2013 enshrinees. The hall of fame selection is a celebration of the sport's greatest players, a festive and respectful admiration of its history. But not one of those names was picked on 75 percent of the ballots, so Cooperstown falls silent for a year.
Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and others - guys who were considered the greatest players/sluggers/pitchers in the history of the game when they played - waited silently as retrospect ruined their legacy.
Rather, the black cloud of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, and the baseball culture's willingness to look the other way for the sake of artificially swollen numbers and fattened ticket sales ruined their legacy.
What a powerful commentary on the rancidity of the sport.
Many Americans hollowed out by baseball's tainted icons couldn't care less about international cycling.
But in Europe and nations around the world - and yes, even in pockets of the United States - millions of cycling fans feel the same way about the Lance Armstrong debacle.
Armstrong sat in that hotel room this week, in front of Oprah and everybody, sounding quite un-sorry and un-contrite for cheating his sport and his fans, for bullying his critics and his detractors.
Anyone who expected Armstrong to fall to his knees sobbing is missing the point. He did tear up when Oprah asked him what he told his kids. And he did say he is "deeply sorry" for bullying people and for misleading his faithful. But no sobbing. Armstrong is the ultimate control freak, so he was never going to lose control in this interview.
Instead, he clinically and concisely confessed to some things, and denied and rebuffed others, including the accusation that he doped again during his comeback in 2009 and 2010. In his mind, that's exactly what he set out to do.
Some think Armstrong wants forgiveness. But what he really wants is to compete again, to repair the damage he did to the Livestrong Foundation and to get his sponsors back.
This unconquerable cancer survivor who dominated his sport, made millions of dollars and became an international icon showed on Thursday and Friday that he will never fall to his knees, will never sob, no matter how badly America wants him to.
At least Armstrong's lies are real. The same can't be said about Te'o.
Not yet, anyway.
Te'o, the Notre Dame linebacker who almost won the Heisman Trophy and led his team to the national championship game, never had a girlfriend who died, although he and others now say he was the victim of a cruel hoax. Who do we believe?
The fake story was compelling enough: Te'o's girlfriend died just hours after his grandmother passed, and, inspired by their memory, he played better than ever.
But it turns out the real story - Te'o never actually met his girlfriend, but fell in love via the Internet and over the telephone, then he sat with her night after night as she lay in a coma from a car crash, recovered, then died of leukemia, only to find out it was all a hoax - is way better.
Or is that the real story?
The original Deadspin report implicated Te'o in the hoax, suggesting his complicity generated national sympathy and maybe even gained some Heisman votes.
We don't know the truth, and maybe we never will. Te'o's friends, family members and others have implicated Ronaiah Tuiasosopo as the mastermind, and even if Tuiasosopo emerges from the shadows and admits he orchestrated the whole thing, how do we know he's not just falling on the sword for Te'o in exchange for a lifetime seat at the NFL entourage table?
At worst, Te'o is a liar and a low-life huckster, an emotional mercenary who preyed on his teammates and loyal fan base.
At best - given the timeline of when he says he learned of the hoax and the sentiments he continued to portray about his "girlfriend" afterwards, even a month later on the national stage - he's a lovelorn sap who was too embarrassed to come clean when the truth fell on him and so continued to perpetuate falsehoods.
And such is the state of sports. Which lies do we believe? Which lies do we choose to ignore? And which lies will never be brought to light?
The games used to be what mattered. Maybe they still are.
Lance Armstrong considers a question from a reporter after a mountain bicycle race last year. DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/Associated Press file