Disgraced sports stars about to get a pass in the Who Cares era
From Bonds to Clemens to Armstrong, NHL hard heads to NFL head cases, moral standards eclipsed
VANCOUVER — Call them self-important schmoes if you will, those hardy souls of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who decided that no one from this year’s class of eligibles deserved their vote for the Hall of Fame.
Call them pompous, sanctimonious — and don’t forget hypocritical, given how relatively few among them did more than wink knowingly while Barry Bonds was belting home runs and Roger Clemens was racking up Ks, but now have wagged their mighty finger of fate at the most undeniably successful practitioners of baseball’s Steroid Era, temporarily delaying their entree to immortality.
So call them all those things, if you must, but I call them the last vestige of defence, sport’s own Maginot Line, well-intentioned if guaranteed to be outflanked by the invaders.
The writers’ act of defiance in making their little statement, however futile — applying even the most basic of moral standards to the election criteria, voting no one into the Hall from the players’ category — may well be the last peep of protest you ever hear before the world of sports sinks irrevocably into the Who Cares era.
It’s nearly there, already.
Next week, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong will be on with Oprah to endure her no-doubt tough line of questioning, offer a limited mea culpa — nothing that would land him in court for all the whoppers he has told under oath about use of performance-enhancing drugs, but something, a crumb — in an attempt to recover his lost halo.
And it will probably be successful. America will shed a tear, and the revisionist history will commence.
And a couple of days after L.A. Confessional, NHL hockey will be back, and if the early reports from the ticket offices are to be believed, hardly a subscriber will have cancelled a season’s package to watch teams owned and manned by the same people who just spent four months showing that they not only couldn’t give a damn about your problems, but knew you’d be back the minute they flung the arena doors open again. Because you’re just that predictable.
And on the football fields, another few head of cattle will be concussed, probably not examined on the sidelines before being thrown back into the pit, and another bunch of sides of beef will be carted off — and another coach will pretend not to know that his star’s leg is no longer attached at the knee because, he will later explain: “He told me he was fine. And that’s good enough for me.”
And hockey, after limping sluggishly out of the gate, will revert to its standard rate of cranial carnage, but maybe with a little added edge now, because it’s not 82 games this time, it’s only 48 and each of them has proportionately more importance.
And a couple more professional athletes will commit suicide, the residue of chronic brain trauma and depression, or kill someone with a handgun in a moment of rage. And the leagues will murmur contritely and point out their absolute commitment to player safety and mental health, and throw some money at research — enough to keep their noses clean, legally.
And a year from now, Bonds and Clemens will get in, because no one will care any more how they did what they did. And all the collateral damage from the stand the baseball writers took this week — players that probably deserved to get in the Hall, the babies thrown out with the bath water — will likely get in, too, and the Class of 2014 will be enormous. Because how do you know who did, and who didn’t? How do you know Babe Ruth didn’t? How do you know?
And Cooperstown will be happy, because what’s a Hall of Fame ceremony without Hall of Famers? And the greater sports public will pray for the elimination of the character clause from the Hall’s criteria for enshrinement — indeed, for the abandonment of all critical faculties in examining their heroes — and hope that the writers have now got it out of their system, and life can return to normal.
And then everything will be jake. Save that “purity of competition” stuff for the Olympics. Professional athletes are big boys and girls. They know the risks, and get well paid to take them.
Once it’s back to normal, Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, can be enshrined, because betting on baseball is just a different kind of cheating. Same with Shoeless Joe Jackson, who probably ought to be in, at that.
Once sports is free of that pesky moral compass that those self-important moralists keep harping on, we can get back to watching Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan inventing conversations with the most famous orthopedic surgeon in the world to justify sending the best thing that’s happened to the team in 20 years, rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, back on the field with torn knee ligaments, perhaps to ruin himself.
Minus the preachy sermons, any further attempts by a do-gooder commissioner like the NFL’s Roger Goodell to punish coaches and players for bounty programs aimed at putting opponents in the hospital will be laughed off or forgotten altogether. Silly man. The New Orleans Saints have been exonerated upon appeal, so what was that all about, anyway? Clearly, it never happened.
And if it did, so what?
Fans have made their bargain with their consciences, and have concluded that none of it really matters. Has anyone stopped going to NFL games because of the violence committed by their bloated heroes? Are you kidding? Does anyone turn away in disgust when the gloves come off in hockey? Did the steroid-inflated home run derbies of the 1990s and early part of the new millennium turn a single fan against baseball, or did the game become more popular than ever before?
Did the lies the ballplayers told to Congress, back when U.S. lawmakers still thought there was hope, harm anything but the stars’ ability to pass the writers’ sniff test?
How long does the outrage last now when the truly horrible event happens, the truly disgusting revelation? An hour or two? A full day is an eternity, time for one fire to blaze and die and another couple to break out, on Twitter. And who’s got a longer attention span than that?
Look, a shiny object! Quiet please, the game’s on.
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