What you see isn’t always what you get
A few years ago, SportsTime Ohio replayed the 1981 All-Star Game.
Held in the cavernous Cleveland Stadium, that year’s game was the sport’s return after a strike that all-but wiped out play in the summer.
Though there were more than 70,000 fans in attendance, many simultaneously blew a whistle when the players took the field, as if to tell Baseball it had gone too far.
Little good that protest did.
The first batter of the All-Star Game was Pete Rose, then of the Philadelphia Phillies. The announcers, Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek, used this opportunity to be positive.
The two talked about Rose, and if baseball was on trial, could there be a better character witness?
The announcers had no way of knowing that eight years later Rose would be banned from the game, and eventually would spend time in prison for tax evasion.
The announcers of that game, and so many others, made an all-too-common mistake.
They saw what an athlete did on the field and projected it to that person’s life off the field.
Rose was a brilliant player, someone who always hustled, never took a play off, never gave the fans any less than what they paid for.
But that didn’t mean he was or is a great person. It took me a long time – as a huge fan of Rose’s primary team, the Reds – to accept that.
The reality is that a great athlete is a great athlete. Too many times, athletic success is presented as character triumph.
Two recent cases have made this apparent.
* Ray Lewis is one of the best linebackers who has ever lived. He is admired for his toughness, his work ethic and his leadership as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
And in 2000, he and two others were charged with two murders.
Lewis’ charge against was eventually lowered to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice, and Lewis pleaded guilty to that got probation. The two other men charged in the murders were aquitted, and they remain unsolved.
Since only a few know what happened that night, one can’t assume Lewis got away with something.
But the way Lewis has been celebrated since he announced his retirement is cringe-worthy.
Some say what happened 13 years ago should be left in the past. After all, it was a misdemeanor that he was guilty of, right?
Maybe it’s just me, but obstruction of justice in a murder case seems worse than say, a parking ticket.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if Lewis had lost his athletic prowess after what happened in 2000.
Would he still be remembered for turning his life around? Would he be praised for the man he’s become?
Would NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell be hugging him?
Or is it just that because he’s a great player, everything else can be excused?
* Lance Armstrong made a heroic recovery from cancer, which he parlayed into becoming a hero himself. He won the Tour de France seven times, and started a foundation, Livestrong, which was meant to support those affected by cancer and their families.
It wasn’t too long ago that you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone wearing a yellow Livestrong bracelet. It became a symbol or strength and solidarity against a horrific disease.
Armstrong gave hope to millions. But he is also a fraud and a liar. And possibly worse than that.
There always were rumors about Armstrong’s doping. But few in this country seemed to notice as Armstrong bicycled with presidents, hosted Saturday Night Live and took part in practically defiant Nike commercials that celebrated him.
Armstrong not only repeatedly insisted he had never taken performance enhancers, but tried to slime his accusers.
As it turned out, his accusers were right. Armstrong was lying.
He admitted as much to Oprah Winfrey, because apparently he lives in a time warp and still believes she has a national show instead of a fledgling network no one can locate.
The allegations that Armstrong bullied his teammates to get on drugs to help him win is the most heinous charge, one that Armstrong denied.
But how can anyone believe him?
So now, here we are.
This isn’t just a sports issue. I have a friend who is fond of saying “love the art, not the artist.”
It’s good advice, if almost impossible to follow.
We always want more. The great guitar player must have a charity. He must like kids and dogs. The great actress must be as kind and lovable as she is on the big screen.
Ray Lewis is a great linebacker so he must be in commercials with little kids and be lauded at every opportunity. Lance Armstrong’s ability to beat disease and then win makes him a hero.
Great artists, great athletes can be great people.
But one doesn’t equal the other.