Duped by dopers and dopes, again
There’s been no shortage of riveting sports stories this week, with Lance Armstrong coming un-clean and Manti Te’o admitting to a fake girlfriend and her fake death undoubtedly leading the pack. Though very different, the one thing these stories have in common is that they surprised, and even shocked us, even though we should know better by now. And by we, I mean, the media.
As sports fans, our memories are short and our capacity for idolatry is long. We revere just about anyone, so long as they wear the right kit, put on the right cap or helmet and struggle on our behalf, or, in truth, on behalf of a for-profit franchise that we adopt as our own based solely on geography, nationality or some other equally arbitrary standard. That’s fine. Nobody is depending on fans for much, except their attention and dollars. If billionaire owners and millionaire athletes don’t get enough of our money, well, nobody should lose any sleep over it.
But the media should be different. And it’s not. Our memories, apparently, are just as short as even the least astute fans. But not only do we engage in hero worship, we actively propagate it. Such was the case with Te’o and Armstrong. Unfortunately, it turns out, fans depend on the media for the truth, and, as these cases show, the media often leads them astray.
Both Armstrong and Te’o are superior athletes. That should have been enough. But the media had to make them into something more. With Armstrong, despite the spectreof steroids dominating baseball and cycling over the last decade, Armstrong was given a virtual pass. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that he was also a cancer survivor and did good in other ways, still, the slack given was complicit in his fraud going on for so long.
Even when the steady stream of evidence kept coming in against him, much of the media stopped short of their job to bring him down. It wasn’t until the dam broke that we turned on him. I can’t help feeling that much of the vitriol directed at Armstrong now comes from media members upset that they bought the fairy tale for so long.
Te’o’s case involved a much shorter time frame but just as much myth-making and perhaps even shoddier journalistic work. The scandal is still fresh enough where we are trying to figure out who did the lying and who is responsible for the morbid tale. But the real culprit is the media who took everything this kid said to be the truth. So far, those who wrote the stories and furthered the myth of the fake dead girlfriend have not given a mea culpa. Hopefully, that will change.
The media likes to repeat the adage that “the cover up is worse than the crime itself.” But somehow, we fail to apply it to ourselves consistently. We blew it with these two stories. While cynicism is not a particularly attractive trait for your average Anne or Joe, it is part and parcel of a journalist’s creed. And we came up short here.
Let’s not cover up our shortcomings in this case by blaming everyone else. Let’s learn from them. It doesn’t have to mean we can’t have heroes or idols in the sports world. Just that we revere them for what they do on the field, court or track, and not some storybook tale.