They say to “hate the game, not the player,” but sometimes the players bring it on themselves. Carter Gaddis shares his views on athletes, integrity, and the lessons we are teaching.
The only difference between you and me and sports celebrities who get caught lying is that their lies were told or perpetrated in order for them to be paid millions of dollars, or to protect their ability to continue to earn that kind of money.
I am a father. And I was a sportswriter. The former means I have children to guide through this world until they are ready to make their own decisions about life. The latter means I was around a lot of professional athletes, many of whom were liars. Not all, but many.
When you’re in the weeds, it’s not easy to tell the difference between the truthful and the deceitful, the admirable and the deplorable. I have no doubt that I was lied to—often—right to my face in clubhouses and locker rooms around the world. I have no doubt that I asked direct questions about steroid use and was lied to directly. Do I know who told those lies? Nope. Does it matter? Nope.
So, what’s the point here?
Why do we care that Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles were accomplished under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs, or that for many years afterward he vehemently denied using those PEDs and even attempted to clear his name at the expense of many others?
Why do we care that Manti Te’o either was duped into believing he had an online girlfriend who died or that he made up a relationship with a dead woman in order to… what? To engender sympathy? To playfully pull one over on sports journalists everywhere? To lay the groundwork for the script of a Lifetime TV movie?
Why do we care?
Why do we care that Pete Rose gambled on baseball? That Marion Jones and Ben Johnson took PEDs to win Olympic gold medals? That Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were on PEDs during their monumental 1998 home run chase? That Rafael Palmeiro, a 500-home run and 3,000-hit man, lied to Congress about using steroids? That Tim Johnson (a former major-league manager) didn’t actually serve in Vietnam? That Al Martin (a former major-league outfielder) didn’t play football for Southern Cal, even though it was in his official bio year after year?
The only real issue in the Te’o scandal is the ridiculous lapse in reporting by so many media outlets, including Sports Illustrated. It is understandable, I suppose. Yet inexcusable, all the same. And even that is a minor, minor thing in the grand scheme of things.
Why do we care?
I think it’s for the same reason websites like TMZ and DeadSpin thrive. The same reason we watch movies and TV shows. We want diversion. We want to be entertained. We want to be transported out of ourselves, out of our humdrum lives, and experience life vicariously through these famous people. And when they mess up, we get to feel a little better about ourselves. Their shortcomings make ours seem small. Or, even if they don’t, at least there’s this—at least our shortcomings didn’t lead SportsCenter.
So, why am I writing about this? Because I was a sportswriter. Because I have sons. Because I believe that integrity matters. I want my sons to believe that, too. I want them to think twice before weaving a fictional tale about how a certain toy train engine got lodged in the clogged toilet, or about who thought it was a good idea to take the electric clippers to the cat.
I also want them to keep things in perspective. I want them to understand that the consequences of our mistakes are not insurmountable. If they ever ask me about Lance Armstrong, I’ll tell them he was a liar. But I’ll also tell them he survived testicular cancer, and started a foundation that helps give hope to thousands of cancer patients.
I doubt they’ll ever ask me about Te’o. But if they ever do, I’ll tell them he made a mistake, that we all make mistakes, and we have to live with the consequences of those mistakes, but there’s no reason he can’t lead a fulfilling, lucrative existence tearing the heads off NFL running backs for the next decade.
People lie. They have their reasons. Let’s not confuse the issue here, though. It doesn’t matter why they lie. What matters is why we care.
Image: Flickr/ joshme17