This article was originally posted on August 4, 2011. Due to its popularity with our readers we have resubmitted it.
We were robbed. As sport’s fans, something special has been taken away from us; and it has disappeared from right in front of our eyes. I remember the wonderment and awe that my grandfather spoke with when he talked about the baseball players of his era. He spoke of them like gods, saying that their hands were as big as catcher’s mitts, and if they held them up, they would block out the sun. And, my grandfather’s hands enveloped most men’s hands. He talked about how big the Babe was when he saw him in his youth, and my grandpa had the same gleam in his eyes that I imagined he had back then. Just hearing him faun over the athletes of his day was magical to me. My father had stories that rang similar to those of my grandfather. He often retold stories of how utterly unstoppable Kareem Abdul Jabbar was on the basketball court. He regularly divulged that “Sweet Lew” (Kareem’s name was Lew Alcindor before he converted to Islam) won championships at every level from middle school through his professional career. Every team that he played for won a title. Then he told me how the NCAA changed its rules by banning dunking the basketball to try to stop him, and it only made him better by forcing him to develop his hook shot. And, when my father talked about Muhammad Ali, there was a slight reverence in his tone. I learned that Muhammad Ali changed the style and scope of the sweet science. Before him, two gladiators stood in front of each other toe to toe, slugging it out until one of them fell or the bell rang. After him there was defense and strategy. He talked about how Ali let big George Foreman punch himself out for 10 rounds before Ali knocked him out because he knew that Foreman was too powerful to face with all his strength. He told me about how Ali normally did not punish fighters, but he brutalized another boxer until he conceded and called Ali by his Muslim name (the boxer refused to call him anything other than Cassius Clay, Ali’s name before converting to Islam, before the fight). My dad told me tales of Ali taunting boxers with his arms down by his sides, dodging punches instead of blocking them, and about him boasting about being the best boxer in the world and delivering every time. He spoke of how Ali defied the government, was imprisoned and ridiculed for refusing to serve in the military, and upon release, won back the title that he technically had never lost. My father and grandfather had real sports heroes.
The world of sports today is not void of spectacular feats. Great things happen every day in almost every sport, however it difficult to admire anyone. With the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs, both inept and corrupt referees, and numerous other cheating scandals, every amazing athletic record that is broken is met with reticence and cynicism.
We have guys like Albert Pujols that have never failed a drug test, who still perform super-humanly on the baseball diamond, garnering batting titles, Golden Gloves, and MVP’s, but their accomplishments are minimized and scrutinized because of the era in which we live. Roger Clemens, one of the best pitchers that has ever taken the mound was found to be taking performance enhancing drugs during his some of his best seasons. Mark McGuire, one of the best hitters of our era and the first guy to reset Roger Maris’ home run record, admitted to taking human growth hormone to bolster his hitting the year that he broke the record. Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, who could be the best baseball players ever to play the game by the end of their careers have both failed drug tests. How could any rational person believe that any baseball player is not cheating?
The National Basketball Association was devoid of any note-worthy infractions regarding the authenticity of the game until the Tim Donaghy refereeing scandal broke. The NBA found that he was helping to influence the scores of some basketball games through cheap fouls and various other methods to pay off his gambling debts. Once the NBA persecuted him to the fullest extent of the law, he began to talk about other referees and the commissioner’s influence on games and the length of different series. And, if the league has a leader that may be willing to change the outcome of games, then no other parts of the game are safe.
We have guys like Usain Bolt who have broken perceptions about sprinters and changed concepts about how fast humans can run, but his records are clouded by the misdeeds of his fellow countrymen and by all the track athletes that have been proven to be dirty. Asafa Powell the man with whom he trains, and the man who held some of the world and Olympic records that Bolt has broken, failed a drug test by allegedly using performance enhancing drugs. Marion Jones, one of the best women’s track athlete’s ever, who set numerous world and Olympic records, failed drug tests and admitted that she had cheated.
Almost every sport in today’s athletics is tainted with athletes that thought that they could beat the system, therefore we can not trust the miraculous events that we see in sports today. If we had the same wonder and awe now that our parents experienced while watching sports in their youth, that would just be naivety. The truth is athletes no longer do great things without the help of great drugs. And, as sports fans, we have been robbed of the memories that our parents enjoyed.