I have been a sports fan long enough to expect sucker punches. After my beloved Patriots lost their undefeated season to the upstart New York Giants back in 2007, I thought I had experienced it all: the sheer, devastating, unbelievable pain of loss that all sports fans go through on a masochistically regular basis; just ask Cleveland sports fans how they feel and why they keep coming back.
Shockingly, I was dead wrong. Over the last six years, I’ve realized that there is only one thing worse than having your teams lose: realizing that the game itself has been compromised.
What happens when you can no longer believe in anything? What are you supposed to do when everything that you hold to be true turns out to be unequivocally false? In essence, that is what has slowly happened to my faith in sports. The erosion has finally worn me down to nothing.
You’re all probably snorting with laughter at my naivete. Why bother to trust anything, you ask. Why even pretend to accept anything at face value, when all sports have done over the last few years is to push crap onto your plate?
Call me an idealist, a dreamer, a moron, whatever you like. I want to believe that what we see in sports is the purest form of competition. I want to believe that an athletic competition is a fair fight between two equally prepared parties, and the victory goes to whomsoever performs better. More than anything, I want to believe that these parties respect the integrity of the game and aren’t doing anything to harm that.
But the sad truth is that in today’s world, nothing is sacred. I guess the scandals began in baseball’s steroid era, when everyone and their cousin were juicing. In retrospect, seeing skinny players suddenly pack on enormous muscle and start cracking over 60 home runs on a regular basis was probably a dead giveaway. Just take a look at any statistic, any record, and chances are that it was set in the 1990s and early 2000s, probably by someone who has been at least peripherally implicated in some form of steroid abuse. At this point, I was devastated, but I thought other sports couldn’t be this morally bankrupt…
Then came the NBA’s referee betting scandal, led by the infamous Tim Donaghy and his notoriously quick whistle. For reasons that remain unexplained today, we never really learned how deep the rabbit hole really went. The NBA merely canned all the zebras who were implicated and pretended like the whole incident never happened. The only loose cannon that remains is Donaghy, who continues to preach that he single-handedly influenced the outcome of hundreds of games.
The NBA, meanwhile, preaches that Donaghy did nothing of the sort and is delusional. If this doesn’t make you suspicious, please go and watch the highlights of the 2006 NBA finals, where Dwayne Wade proceeds to take more free throws in one game than the entirety of the Dallas Mavericks organization. Heck, his total free throw count may have been more than Mark Cuban’s commissioner-levied fine count afterwards.
I remain convinced that David Stern’s hate for Mark Cuban was so great that he convinced the refs to gift wrap the series and hand it over on a silver pupu platter to the Miami Heat. And you know what? You can’t even logically disagree with me. One bad egg generally begets another, and we truly don’t know how many crooked referees remain employed by the NBA today.
I’m not even sure what to think of the NFL anymore, as the drug-testing policy seems to be stuck in reverse gear 99 percent of the time. The Players Association refuses to allow testing, claiming a violation of privacy. Little ol’ me wonders what they have to hide. The league’s drug policy has so many loopholes that the IRS looks at it and laughs. I cringe whenever I see the headline, “Player X’s suspension revoked.” And this doesn’t even mention the fact that the league fails to test for HGH and recently suffered a PR nightmare when “deer antler spray” made rounds through the Internet. By this point, my opinion of sports had sunk to new lows…
And then they went lower. I guess what put me over the top was last week’s news that international police were investigating over 600 (!) soccer matches all over Europe, including those in upper leagues and Champions League competitions, as part of an enormous match-fixing scandal. The implication is that mob bosses, having identified soccer as an especially simple game to mess with, are driving the results of the games far more than the players themselves. When the “beautiful game” loses its beauty and turns into a scripted money-making enterprise, that is when one gives up.
When you tell a little kid that (spoiler alert) Santa doesn’t exist, a part of that individual dies. You can see it in their eyes, a sudden spark of awareness that leaves behind a void, never to be filled again. Watching the games I love slowly degenerate into the abominations that are on display today is akin to learning Santa exists, believing in him and then watching him die a gruesome death many times over. Words cannot express how low my opinion of sports has plummeted.
Unfortunately, sports are too much a part of me to give up on them totally. I will continue to watch and relish and enjoy, but know this: Never again will I give up my trust to sports, leagues and players who are unworthy of that trust. Congratulations, sporting world: You’ve turned the most open-minded and optimistic fan into a full-blown cynic. For me, things won’t really ever be the same again.
Break the news about Santa to Viggy at firstname.lastname@example.org.