Could we get some better headlines?
A day in the sports department starts with The Associated Press’ sports digest, a summary of the national news that will be coming over the wire, er, computer. (We’re dating ourselves here.)
Thursday’s sampling wasn’t pretty:
” Team says Landis tested positive during Tour de France
” Bonds’ personal trainer appears before grand jury
” Bengals prove that dicey draft picks carry a price
Charming. This is not why I got into sports writing. I want to write about the stuff between the lines ” the wins and losses, the thrills and spills, the emotional highs and lows.
That’s why we like sports. It’s the Red Sox and White Sox finally winning the World Series. It’s the hope that some day the Cubs (AND Giants) may actually do so.
Wanting to believe
Floyd Landis is one of those stories sports fans should love. First of all, I say is, not was, because due process is not finished here, and what’s more, I really don’t want to believe that he was using banned substances.
American interest in the Tour de Lance was meant to plummet after France Armstrong retired. (Just making sure you were paying attention). Then came the boot of some of the top riders for performance-enhancing drugs on the eve of the race.
Landis to the rescue. Raised as a Mennonite, coming out from under the shadows of Lance with an arthritic hip, what was not to like? Then he falls apart in the mountains, trailing by 8-plus minutes, only to rebound the next day to get back in the thick of things before ripping it up in the time trial Saturday to claim the yellow jersey.
We want to believe in stories like these. We want to believe that Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and company performed their magic naturally. We want to believe that a player with a checkered past can clean up his act and help his team win a title.
But athletes, no matter how much we glorify them, are human. We don’t have full information about Landis yet. The more and more we hear about Bonds the worse that looks, though the odds of getting anything to stick on him before he’s done playing diminish.
And draft picks? Ryan Leaf, Len Bias, Tony Mandarich, Chris Washburn and Sam Bowie. OK, Bowie doesn’t belong with these others, but when Hakeem Olajuwan and some guy named Jordan go after you, well, that doesn’t look good.
More harmful is the impact on our ability to believe. Armstrong has been repeatedly dogged by doping questions, although there has been no proof suggesting his run of seven Tour titles was powered by anything other than courage.
But can we believe that an athlete can overcome life-threatening illnesses or an arthritic hip to do the seemingly impossible? What happens when someone challenges Roger Maris’ 61 home runs ” not to mention McGwire’s 70 or Bonds’ 73? I guarantee you if someone like Albert Pujols makes a run at those magic numbers, the steroid question will come into play, even though the Cardinals slugger doesn’t appear to be carrying any sort of that baggage.
Leap of faith
Believe, nonetheless. Faith is a leap, and you’ll get burned once in a while. But look around.
The Detroit Tigers have the best record in baseball. Alonzo Mourning had a kidney transplant and returned to win an NBA title. On the same day Landis won the Tour, Tiger Woods was back at it, winning the British Open months after his father died. Jason McElwain, an autistic basketball team manager, dropped 20 points in fewer than four minutes as a token sub last winter.
Locally, Toby Dawson finds life with a new family in Vail and goes onto Olympic glory. Local endurance athletes, be they in Race Across American or Primal Quest Utah, continue to amaze. Heck, Battle Mountain boys’ basketball won a league title. (Yes, that was five months ago, but I’m still in shock.)
That’s why we watch and wait for better headlines in the days ahead.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or email@example.com.