The moment I learned that Major League Baseball was plagued by illegal steroid use was a dark day. Watching Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire battle for not only the 1998 record, but also the all-time, single-season home run crown was the riveting stuff of legend for a 12 year-old boy from the Midwest. Some years later, when it became apparent that they had cheated, it felt as if someone had taken Santa Claus away from me for a second time; my real life heroes were reduced to weak, crooked men.
By the time Lance Armstrong admitted to doping during his unbelievable stretch of seven consecutive Tour De France victories, I had already become so jaded and callused to the notion of premier athletes cheating for checks and pride that I met the news with little more than a shrug.
Now, the NFL’s golden boy, Tom Brady, is mired in a cheating scandal and even though the media’s attention to the story is monumental — due largely to Tom Terrific’s celebrity status — it barely registers as background noise to me. Some of that has to do with the convoluted nature of “Deflategate,” and the fact that a few PSIs of air-pressure here and there doesn’t seem like a transgression quite the same caliber as the year-in-year-out juicers. But my flippant attitude towards cheating in the world of professional sports has been cultivated over time by being constantly let down and disappointed.
When I was a wide-eyed child I would marvel at feats of strength and endurance, and be inspired by stories of tremendous obstacles overcome on the way to achieving greatness. But from pine tar and corked bats to the bribery of Olympic judges, a perpetual sense of doubt formed somewhere in my brain. The pang in my heart grew over time, so much so that eventually I would question the legitimacy of all great accomplishments.
I chalked it all up to growing up, becoming an adult, being hip and wise to the ways of the world — I hated it. I missed the feeling of being riddled with shivers and goose bumps whenever an historic moment was unfolding. I felt like a great gift had been taken away from me.
I’m saddened by the fact that there are truly tremendous, honest athletes doing remarkable things in their sports and in their lives. Until a rumor, allegation or investigation takes place, there’s no way of differentiating the cheats from the straight shooters.
Herein lies the problem and the question. Do you allow yourself to become caught up in the miraculous and inspirational moments in sports, then deal with the possible fallout from discovering that it could’ve all been a sham? Or do you assume that all professional athletes are money-grubbing, fame-hawking liars so that it won’t sting so much when things turn out that way?
I’ve identified with the latter for some time now, but being a fan of something you no longer believe in is a fruitless endeavor. Living in doubt is exhausting and breeds gloom — If I could go back and erase the moment that I learned that Santa Claus wasn’t real, I would. Even if that means that I’d be prancing around like a nut, doing good deeds in hopes for a new set of Hot-Wheels, I wouldn’t care. I miss the magic of it.
In that same spirit, when it comes to professional sports, I’d like to start choosing hope. Even if it’s false.
Nic R. Krause was born a cranky, curmudgeon of a child in a Minnesota suburb. He was plucked from the muggy tundra and relocated to Colorado Springs 22 years ago. From intramural jai-alai, to his complicated relationship with the Minnesota Vikings, Nic, plainly stated, is bonkers for sports. Follow him on Twitter @NicRKrause.