The New Year kicked off with a bang of epic proportions in the sporting world, beginning with a100 percent shut-out of any eligible candidate elected into the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame. This marks only the second time in 42 years that baseball writers failed to elect anyone to the prestigious Baseball Hall of Fame. To gain entry into the Hall of Fame, members need a 75 percent vote from the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America). This year’s results were widely viewed as a reflection of the lingering controversy with players who were active during “the steroids era” in baseball. All candidates appeared to have suffered in the voting regardless of whether their use has actually been proven.
This year’s ballot featured 37 candidates, including 24 first-timers. Among those making their ballot debuts were several candidates whose ties to performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s) likely doomed their Cooperstown chances. That group includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, none of whom were able to shake off the stink from their connection to PED’s and the suspicion that numbers they put up were artificially obtained.
Bonds (baseball’s home run leader) received just 36.2 percent of the vote and Clemens (seven-time Cy Young winner and baseball’s most dominant pitcher) received 37.6 percent, both well short of the 75 percent needed for election. Sosa, eighth on the career home run list, garnished a mere 12.5 percent.
Bonds has denied using performance-enhancing drugs and was convicted of one count of obstruction of justice for giving an evasive answer in 2003 to a grand jury investigating performance enhancement drugs. Clemens was acquitted of perjury charges stemming from congressional testimony during which he denied using performance enhancement drugs. Lastly, Sosa actually tested positive in 2003 anonymous as was reported by The New York Times in 2009. He told a congressional committee in 2005 that he never took illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Just when the dust settled from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s phenomenal shutout, Lance Armstrong rattled the news world with the announcement of an interview with America’s favorite confessional matriarch, Oprah Winfrey. No one in America provides absolution like Oprah. The title in the opening credits of their interview should read, The Opera of Lance and Oprah. With this announcement, analysis and theories hit the web like a Leonid meteor shower. At the very least, Lance provided a distraction from the lagging economy.
Why is Lance confessing now? One might rightly suspect a mash-up of ego, image and an addiction to competing but the reality is it does not matter because the interview will likely be “confession light”. Juliet Macur of The New York Times theorized that Lance had special reasons. He has expressed no remorse for breaking the law, for using drugs, or for deceiving millions of children (and a bunch of childlike adults) into believing that he was an ideal role model. It wasn’t even because he has jeopardized the future of Livestrong—the cancer foundation he began with money he earned through lies.
Lance is a mythical figure – a myth that we Americans embraced with vigor. Lance projected himself as a larger-than-life athlete winning a remarkable seven times in one of the world’s most grueling sports – The Tour de France. Lance beat cancer and we all want to believe that cancer can be beaten and then, to complete the trifecta he created a lucrative foundation that blasted the country with really cool, kitschy yellow bracelets. He was machine, man and savior. In France, where they have vocally and outspokenly doubted his abilities for years they will likely create a holiday complete with a parade to celebrate his fall from grace.
But, it was all a lie.
Jorg Jaksche, German road cycle racer, said it best, “Each new doping scandal follows the same pattern,” Jaksche suggested. “When someone is caught, the system acts shocked and upset, declares its absolute rejection of doping and depicts the athlete as a black sheep that deserves to be slaughtered. After that, everything continues like before. But the fact is that they slaughter a scapegoat, not a black sheep, and nobody ever looks at the shepherd’s responsibility. I’m talking about those in the higher levels, those who govern the sports and, most importantly, those who provide the money that fuels everything.
“For the sponsors, this system has no downside. If nobody is caught doping, they gain all the commercial benefits of the visibility generated by great performances. If somebody is caught, they have a swift exit strategy — they declare their disappointment and receive the extra benefit of the good publicity gained for being righteous. It’s the win-win situation. That’s why nothing ever changed.”
Lance, Bonds, Sosa, and Clemens greatest sin might be misrepresenting their capacities, which is far worse than not having them in the first place. Perhaps we are ushering in a new era where the fans, players, owners and sponsors understand that we are all complicit.