Friday, February 15, 2013

Crushed, Again

TigerBlog was never that big of a Lance Armstrong fan, probably because he never really has been a cycling fan.

The Tour de France? Okay, TB understands how hard it is to do. It just doesn't make for fascinating TV, and TB would speculate that in all the years that Armstrong competed, TB probably saw a total of 15 minutes or less.

So when it came out that Armstrong was a drug cheat and a terrible guy, TB's response was basically "oh well."

Or maybe it's because he's so tainted that he thought that way.

Ray Lewis used deer antler spray? That's laughably funny. Manti Te'o's girlfriend wasn't real? Weird, somewhat funny, a bit hard to believe - but ultimately not a big deal to TigerBlog.

Joe Paterno was the biggest fraud who ever lived - and despite what his family and Franco Harris are trying to pull, a truly evil man who put his own need to stay the Penn State football coach above the welfare of children who were being molested under Paterno's nose? TB felt all kinds of emotions about Paterno when it all came out, and none of them was disbelief that a man appeared to be above the mess really was Ground Zero of the cesspool.

A pro athlete gets arrested these days, and it hardly merits a headline.

Looking at the PED debate now that rages all around professional sports, TB smirks and gives a sardonic chuckle to the new argument, that maybe PED's should be perfectly acceptable and a matter of personal choice for the athletes themselves. Hey, TB even has seen asked in multiple places what the difference is between taking PEDs and having surgery to repair an injury.

It's like Pete Carril said: When you lower your standards, they turn around and attack you.

Once upon a time, there were standards. There were rights and wrongs. To be a professional or international athlete was a privilege, and by accepting that privilege, there was a tacit understanding that you were going to be idolized, admired, held up as a role model.

Maybe because the money wasn't as great, the divide between a professional superstar athlete and the general public wasn't as pronounced.

Today, a baseball player who hit .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs a year ago (sorry to pick on you Travis Hafner) is worth $13,000,000 for the 2013 season. Thirteen million dollars.

How is any professional athlete supposed to think that he has anything in common with the fans? Plus, in this culture of fame for fame's sake, professional athletes get lumped in with the endless parade of talentless people who have achieved their own grotesque wealth and have created a mindset that they are not accountable for anything they say or do.

Also, with all that money at stake, it's not hard to see why players would want to get any edge they could, even if it meant endangering their long-term life expectancy by taking whatever they could put into their bodies that they thought would give them an edge. And then they all say the same things when they get caught, including the most laughable of all, that they had no idea what it was they were taking. And none of them can answer why they go to these shady people instead of to, oh, a doctor.

TB can tell you exactly who the first athlete was to completely let him down, and it was Dwight Gooden. TB was sure that Gooden would win 300 games and lead the Mets to multiple World Series championships. Instead, he turned out to be a cocaine freak.

Today, to be a sports fan is to divorce yourself from the fact that a high percentage of the athletes you cheer for are terrible people. Or cheating. Or both.

TigerBlog thought he was beyond being able to feel an empty feeling by the news involving any athlete. Hey, his favorite current professional athlete (other than the ones who went to Princeton) is Eli Manning. If it came out that Eli Manning was arrested for driving drunk or something like that, TB would probably just roll his eyes.

But he was wrong when he said he though no news could make him flinch anymore.

The news about Oscar Pistorius was just crushing.

Pistorius is the South African runner who was born with no fibulas and had to have both legs amputated below the knee before he was one. Despite that, he became a great athlete, running not only in the Paralympics but also in the London Olympics last summer, running on prosthetic legs that earned him the nickname "the Blade Runner."

His story was amazing. To overcome what he did to compete in the Olympic games? To persevere like that? How many millions of people were touched by his story? How many were inspired to overcome their own obstacles?

And there he was today, crying in a courtroom in South Africa after being arrested for murdering his girlfriend, a stunningly beautiful model, by shooting her four times. He denies it was murder; either way, there seems to be little doubt that he was the shooter.

TB couldn't believe it when he saw the news. And he was mad at himself, mad for once again believing in an athlete, holding that athlete up to be more than he was, to be a great international citizen, when all he really is is a murderer who can run fast on fake legs.

Princeton University has 29 athletic contests this weekend, home and away. Some of them are huge ones.

The Ivy League basketball races will take a major turn in one direction of another by the time tomorrow night is over. The men's hockey team will have a better sense if it's headed to a first-round bye - or maybe even a first-round series on the road.

The national men's squash picture will still be muddied, but Princeton is playing Trinity in what is always an epic not to be missed. The women's squash team is playing for the national championship at Yale this weekend.

TigerBlog spends way more of his time watching Ivy League athletics than any other kind. Through the years, he's wondered what has always been the biggest lure of a league that doesn't just talk about "student-athletes" but also implements strict rules to make sure that the men and women who compete here are actually living up to that standard.

And that's why he has stayed here.

The athletic competition is genuine. It's real. It's not pre-professional, even if there are Ivy League athletes who clearly have professional aspirations.

TB is under no illusions that every Ivy League athlete is the greatest person, the best citizen. And he has no idea of how many Ivy athletes would, given the chance, put whatever they could in their bodies if the payoff was going to be countless millions of dollars.

Maybe he just doesn't want to know.

What he does know is that Ivy athletes, Princeton athletes, come here to compete and to get an education. They are approachable. They are great to the little kids who come and see them play. Maybe they just haven't had the chance to be tainted, but regardless, there is a purity to what they're doing.

That's the lure of being here, of watching these teams play week after week, year after year.

If the rest of the world was smart, it would be flocking to these people.

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