On Ryan Braun, and Questioning the Meaning of Sports

This is something that I wrote three Decembers ago. It harkens from a simpler time, when saps like me were still dispirited by failed drug tests and the like. The current, 2014 version of me will occasionally make comments, which will be marked by [brackets]. Enjoy!

It recently surfaced that Ryan Braun, the all-powerful right-fielder for the Brewers, tested positive for steroids (or some derivative thereof. All we know is that he has testosterone enough to power about five normal human males).

[Note: This was the first time Braun failed a test. Next came the appeal and the pee incident, where Braun made an innocent man lose his job. And THEN he tested positive again, and missed 65 games as a result.]

If you follow the sport, you know that Ryan Braun won the National League MVP this past season. You also know that he is a surefire franchise player, to the point where the Brewers don’t seem to mind much that Prince Fielder, who’s also pretty good, is going to make a fortune playing in another city for the rest of his career. He’s one of the few great Jewish athletes, if that means anything. Plus, the guy has a winning smile.

I don’t want to get all melodramatic on you, but this is the last straw. Professional sports are, at this point, not worth it. If you latch onto a superstar, he will disappoint you.

Look: Roger Clemens was one of the most revered athletes in both Boston and New York. And Toronto, if they gave a unit of feces about baseball. Clemens went from being revered, almost a pre-first ballot Hall of Famer. Then, a couple failed drug tests, a handful of fake retirements, and just a general bout of prickery later, he stands today ostracized from the world of baseball. When I was smaller than I am now, I looked up to the guy. I tried to get my tiny fingers around the ball, to replicate his classic split fastball. Then, when it dropped a foot down, I pretended I was Roger Clemens, refusing to accept that I had just thrown the ball twenty miles per hour.

And I’ll tell you, not a single wiffle ball game went by where I didn’t throw the yellow bat at the runner, claiming that I thought it was the ball. Not a single game. Clemens was great, not because he was anything resembling a role model, but because he was a legitimately crazy person, balancing his crazy and talent perfectly (something John Rocker could have studied).

Anyway, Roger Clemens is a joke now. Whatever. You know that. He knows that. He crossed the line from crazy and talented to crazy and artificially strong to crazy and a liar. Let’s move on.

Following the legends-turned-psychos route, we get Brett Favre, who went from folk hero to national hero to retired to Sportsman of the Year to retired to mediocre quarterback to retired to sexual deviant to retired to the greatest punch line in the few years leading up to Jerry Sandusky.

Or Alex Rodriguez, he of supremely preternatural talent, who turned out to be crazier than most. He also failed a drug test, said idiotic things to the media, and cheated on his loverperson with himself. [Little did we know at the time the depths to which he would fall! At this point he makes Pete Rose look like a stand-up guy.]

Or there’s Gilbert Arenas. You know, the great former shooter for the Wizards, who, ironically enough, brought a gun into the locker room to settle a poker quarrel.

Or there’s Michael Vick, who played like an animal for years before he got into trouble for killing a bunch of them. Or Barry Bonds, the all-time home run king*. Or Sammy Sosa. Or Joe Paterno. Or Pete Rose. O.J. Simpson. Ben Johnson. Lance Armstrong. Tiger Woods. [Aaron Hernandez, Oscar Pistorius, Jameis Winston, etc.]

The problem is, every superstar in sports will disappoint you, eventually. We revere people who are… well, people, which should be a red flag from the start. We need to just accept the fact that people are awful. That’s right, Barack Obama isn’t perfect. The Pope isn’t perfect, even though we all really want him to be. Your parents, your heroes, they’re all people.

Here is a simple formula that tells you when it is acceptable to revere somebody:

X = the person you want to revere. Say, for the sake of conversation, it’s Albert Pujols.

Y = the human race.

Z = is terribly flawed, in ways you cannot even imagine. Can you see where this is going?

Ok, so here’s the formula:

Y —> Z [If you are a human, then you are terribly flawed. I was in a Logic class when I wrote this.]

X = Y? [Is the person you revere a human?]

If so, then X —> Z, by the rules of logic. [The person you revere is terribly flawed, and everything is terrible sometimes]. And if that is always true (which it is), then you shouldn’t idolize anyone, because to idolize is to idealize and ideals are imaginary. I hope you’re following.

Which brings me (perhaps) to my point: are sports even worth it? Is that one satisfying moment worth years of toil, anguish, wearing the same underwear for a month straight? I mean, baseball has thirty teams that all theoretically want to win all the time. So, on your typical day during the baseball season, fifteen major cities are terribly disappointed. Sure, the misery after a baseball loss is not exactly as painful as it is after a football loss, but still. It’s enough to induce weeping.

I went to a Redskins game recently. It was against the visiting Jets. The fans were rowdy from the kickoff, cheering over every play, dancing during the timeouts. It was a close game, even into the fourth quarter. But, as you know, the Redskins are not good. They haven’t been good for several years, and the fans are painfully aware of this. So, when they started to blow the game by giving up three unanswered touchdowns, the fans lamented everything from Rex Grossman’s ineptitude to the fate of the farm that Rex Ryan was going to eat that night. The fans almost seemed relieved when the ‘Skins gave the game away, like they were expecting it all along. Their team, which had previously been playing pretty well, turned listless. So they lost. Then two of their players, including their MVP this year, Fred Davis, got suspended for a failed drug test.

If you were in a relationship, and you were miserable more often than not while being in that relationship, wouldn’t it make sense to end it? I get all the sentimental “but my dad liked this team so we bonded over it into my adulthood” crap, but it doesn’t really make too much sense. So, what is my point? Am I advocating fans deserting their childhood dreams in favor for the latest bandwagon? One, of course I’m not. I know how that one eventual great season makes up for the years of heartbreaks. And two, I could if I wanted to, because I could say whatever I want to. Copper jambalaya. Brass pancakes. Iron waffles. I’m impressed you’re still reading, though I couldn’t blame you if you stopped now. The internet is a wonderful network of 5% productivity and 95% diversion, and I’m not quite sure what this is. Anyway, to my loyal followers, I’ll mention Tim Tebow now.

Two years, ago, Ryan Braun and Albert Pujols were baseball icons. Now, the former is a roider and the latter is a money-grubbing diva. And what do the diehard, painfully loyal fans get for supporting their guy?

I have no idea.

And in two years, who knows which athlete’s reputation will go south? Derek Jeter’s my favorite athlete of all time, but how do I know he won’t turn into some puppy-slapping psychopath? [Still in the clear on that one.] How do I know Tim Tebow won’t transform into a sex-crazed maniac? Who knows what will happen in two years, or five or ten years?

The world of sports is constantly losing more and more privacy. The more we fans know, the more we take issue with. And the more we take issue with, the more intolerable these superstar sports figures become.

Maybe we should replace athletes with robots. Because we know that GLO43KSL39 would never cheat. We can’t be so sure about Ryan Braun, or anybody else.