When baseball’s most recent PED scandal broke, home runs records were being crushed, big names were being accused of cheating and players of all leagues were speaking before Congress and defending their reputation. Time after time, we, as fans have been lied to but after so many lies, it’s sad to say that we (at least I am) are numb to all the lies and the shock value has gone down significantly.
From “I am not a crook” to “read my lips, no new taxes” to “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” are just a few examples of non-sport lies. Some of those lies were big, think of the seven tobacco company executives saying “nicotine is not addictive” while testifying before Congress; the same setting in which baseball players denied steroid use before that very body. Other lies were small, inconsequential, see-through such as the 1985 print campaign for New Coke, “The Best Just Got Better!,” can be excused as advertising; although, nobody is expected to believe it.
Over time, this public current of lies, both big and small, of great and minor consequence, wears on us, until we no longer notice the never ending stream of hogwash passing over us at every waking moment. Those of us who follow sports are not lied to more often than those in other endeavors, but the lies we’re told are more prominent, and they somehow seem more permanent. We’re not likely to forget Pete Rose announcing, on the day he was banned from the game he dominated, “despite what the commissioner said today, I didn’t bet on baseball;” which he later admitted, he did. On an entirely different scale, O.J. Simpson declaring after his double-murder acquittal in 1995, “when things have settled down a bit I will pursue as my primary goal in life the killer or killers who slaughtered Nicole and Mr. Goldman, he didn’t.”
We all remember the year before the Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell said “I’m not about to rape this city as others in this league and others have done…You’ll never hear me say, ‘If I don’t get this I’m moving. You can go to press on that one. I couldn’t live with myself if I did that,” he later moved the Browns to Baltimore. It goes on and on, especially in the 90’s, which paved the way to the Olympic steroid denials of the Noughties. Sprinter Marion Jones was asked in 2003 if she had used performance-enhancing drugs, she stated before a judge, “I had not.” Four years later, she admitted “this was a lie.” That was 2007, the year Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban said, “I am not going to be the Alabama coach,” two weeks before he became the Alabama coach.
Most significantly and recent, Lance Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey this year that his “mythic, perfect story,” much of his adult life, in other words, was “one big lie,” I was protected by a thick armadillo’s armor of skepticism.
Yet there remain some sports lies that are embraced, not least all those little deceptions that make the games possible in the first place, for what is an onside kick, or a fake punt, or a pickoff attempt if not an effort to pull the wool over someone’s eyes?
Then there are all those lies so familiar they’ve become clichés, punch lines that nobody believes anymore, including the speaker, ready-made phrases like “It’s not about the money” and “I want to spend more time with my family” and “You guys are the best fans in the world.” These are the sports equivalents of “Your call is important to us,” a little insincerity to pass the time. Whenever I hear an athlete say, as so many have done during the NBA, NFL and NHL postseasons, “We have nothing but respect for those guys,” I think it’s nice of them to lie like that. Do they really mean it? They might. It truly is sad that no matter the shock value of a sports figures lie, we as society today, are not shocked no matter how severe the lie.