Pondering the Legacies of Boston Sports

tom-brady-leaves-practice-with-a-possible-knee-injuryHaving spent most of my life in Massachusetts, I’ve always had a place in my heart for Boston, the honest-to-goodness hub of the Northeast. The Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins have won a combined eight championships over the last 15 years, boosting the hometown pride of the already hyper-loyal Boston populace. But the city’s recent sporting success has not come without its share of controversies, none more explosive than the one that’s unfolded over the last two weeks. I’ve spent long hours reflecting on the moral dilemmas of Boston sports (over my affordable yet delicious Dunkin Donuts combo meals, of course). It’s difficult to make sense of the realities that lie beneath the hometown mythos, and to distinguish between the fact and fiction of my childhood memories.

Take, for example, Byron Scott’s accusations of racism against Celtics fans during the genuinely exciting Celtics-Nets rivalry of the early ‘00s. As a young fan who often saw the grandfatherly Red Auerbach reclining courtside at the Fleet Center, and had the good fortune to meet Bill Russell in person (while totally unaware of Russell’s tempestuous relationship with Boston), I was shocked–shocked–to hear someone lob such an accusation at my welcoming, progressive home city. Of course, as years went by, my naivete wore away. Just last year, at Washington DC’s Newseum, I stumbled upon this photographic gem from the busing protests of the ‘70s:

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Now we have Ballghazi/Deflategate/Belicheat 2, and I’m trying to make a level-headed judgment. On one hand, we still haven’t had any official report from the league concerning its findings, and every day, more and more current and former NFL players are unearthing old stories about doctored footballs. Maybe the responses to Spygate back in 2007 apply here as well. My initial thoughts went something like this:

“Yeah, the Pats might be responsible here, but they just happen to be the team that got caught in the act. And they were only found out because every team wanted to see them bite the dust. It sounds like it’s a common practice, so…level playing field, right? And did you see how LeGarrette Blount was running last week? He surely would’ve won the game all by himself. “

But then, my Ned Stark- and Rorschach-loving self wants to see his beloved team not only play the right way, but also open up about any wrongdoing on its part (and there is definitely some evidence to suggest involvement). Even worse is the idea that I may have to put asterisks next to many cherished Sunday afternoons of my preteen and teenage years, when I was enthralled by the Brady comebacks, and the tricky maneuvers of Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel.

What makes this an even tougher pill to swallow is the possibility that certain Pats figures—namely, Tom Brady—might be completely innocent. Like Albert Pujols, a steroid-era player with an astonishing legacy, Brady might never be separated from the sea of suspicion and controversy that’s all around him. It’s enough that haters can bring up both Spygate and those inconsistent, helmet-catching, shoot-yourself-in-the-leg Giants when I invoke the near-perfect run of ’07-‘08. The idea of Deflategate being tossed in discussions of Brady’s legacy is incredibly frustrating.

At this point, I feel inclined to insert some sort of profound message about how these sports happenings are a great lesson in dealing with nostalgia, competition, and life itself. But it’s too soon to spell anything out that clearly, and it’s more than likely that a tidy resolution and a “moral of the story” will never come.

I still love my home state and its capital city. I’m grateful for its decade-plus status as Sportstown, USA. When Doug Mientkiewicz recorded that final out in the 2004 World Series, I jumped into my father’s arms and spun around with him, then blared the Fifth Dimension’s “Let the Sunshine In.” I take comfort in how much joy that moment still evokes, even after the full barrage of steroid-era accusations.

As for the Patriots, I would love for the league to proclaim their innocence. But we’re still in the lurch, and I just want honesty from all parties involved. All I know is that this has been an awkward week leading up to the Big Game, but at least it hasn’t been boring. My hope is that Boston fans can still appreciate the legacies of Brady, Belichick, and other local champions, while aspiring to more honorable triumphs in the future.

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