The Lying Games: Why Sports Stars Aren’t Heroes
In my utopian little mind, I really thought I might not have a whole lot to write about this week. And to my most unpleasant surprise, I am wrong.
I will refrain from hopping up on my soap box as much as possible, but in a week that has shown us a hoax of a dead girlfriend and consistent, borderline-pathological lying when it comes to doping, it is hard not to be a little cynical and in turn, a little judgmental.
As I was filling out an internship application this past week the question, “what is the greatest problem facing college sports?” was posed to me. I was lost at where to even begin.
I was writing this the day after Manti Te’o’s girlfriend was exposed to be nonexistent. This, of course, is no on-the-field problem but it is something that Notre Dame’s athletic department and possibly even the NCAA will be dealing with for months, if not years.
I presume it is possible that athletes, coaches and athletic directors make the same mistakes that we all do and are just held to a higher standard than the rest of us because they are in the public eye. And because of that logic, I don’t throw a fit when athletes get things like DUI’s and MIP’s because, I mean, they’re human.
But things like allowing child rape to occur in your facilities, things like participating in a hoax about the death of a young woman for publicity (which is the only conclusion I can logically draw, regardless of what the athletic department at Notre Dame has to say), things like doping through seven Tour de France titles and lying all the way, things like hiring your mistress then lying about her involvement in a motorcycle accident — these are the things that are inexcusable.
They are also all bizarre misuses of power and media influence that scare me. I feel okay about judging people like Manti Te’o and Lance Armstrong for the same reason I don’t feel okay about judging athletes who make more common mistakes: they are people.
They are people like your parents and your friends and your siblings. Think about the standards you hold those people to; surely they are high.
Yes, occasionally people in national spotlight are judged more severely, but sometimes we unnecessarily let them off the hook as well. The people I’m talking about are pathological liars, people who use their power and popularity to do things that are, in my opinion, actually evil.
So, the greatest problem in sports is that it is just too easy for one person to become bigger than the program, bigger than reality. People like Joe Paterno, Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o literally become mythical and untouchable.
Te’o did so in such a short time, but he did so nonetheless. Armstrong even confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he loved the story of himself — his cancer, his family, his success — and he didn’t want to ruin the myth. I imagine Te’o felt the same way.
This is hard because we want to have heroes, and as humans we want to believe in what we thought was the spirit of people like Armstrong and Te’o. The idea that every story like this is probably just too good to be true is a hard idea to accept. And I really don’t think it’s accurate.
I think there are heroes out there somewhere, but the people we give endless media influence and power to are probably not going to be the heroes we’re looking for.
Liz Beadle is a writer for the Arkansas Traveler. Her column appears every other Wednesday. Follow the sports section on Twitter @UATravSports.