Fred Abraham is an economics professor at UNI.
The adulation bordering on worship Americans feel toward professional athletes is interesting. I’m not quite sure why it occurs although part of it makes sense especially for those who compete in sports themselves. I watch in amazement as Tiger Woods regularly sinks 40-foot putts or as Albert Pujols hits a 96 mph fastball out of the park.
I played both golf and baseball and I could never do either of those things no matter how hard I worked. Idolization does go beyond athletics though. All of us are impressed when we see somebody doing something really well that we also do, whether its dancing, singing or solving economic problems.
Nonetheless, athletes seem to be near the top of the hero worship ladder, rivaling movie stars for our attention. Their accomplishments are a combination of blessings of Mother Nature and long hours of practice and hard work. We actually pay money to watch them perform, in part, because it’s entertaining but also because it’s astonishing. We appreciate exceptional people and their accomplishments and this is why we are so angry at Lance Armstrong. He deceived us and we don’t like anyone doing that, whether it’s an athlete who dopes or a singer who lip-syncs.
When any performer does something spectacular either due to natural ability or hard work, we admire it. Even more when it’s something we aspire to. But when we learn they do it through subterfuge or rule-breaking, our respect for the accomplishment is enormously diminished. Further, we feel foolish because we trusted them to be honest, not only with us but to their sport. Armstrong was neither. He repeatedly denied using banned substances, even to the point of filing lawsuits against those who accused him of it. On TV, he steadfastly and earnestly asserted his innocence, taking advantage of the confidence we had in him. And now he tells us he lied.
Which brings me to Roger Clemens. As you probably know, Clemens was an outstanding baseball pitcher. He had a remarkable career, winning honors and recognition for his accomplishments. He was truly an exceptional athlete admired by other players and most fans. In time, his ability flagged as it does eventually with all athletes. But miraculously, he had a resurgence. Practically overnight he was performing better and looking stronger than players many years younger. Thought to be finished, he had many more successful seasons.
This all occurred during the height of what is now being referred to as baseball’s steroid era, a time when many players were covertly using performance enhancing drugs. There were whispers not only about Clemens but many other players, like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. Can you imagine how the honest players felt when competing against those who might be breaking the rules?
Anyway, a former trainer of Clemens’ publicly admitted injecting him with the banned drugs. Clemens was incensed. He proclaimed his innocence loudly and vehemently, most notably in a "60 Minutes" interview. In all likelihood, we’ll never know the truth, but I was skeptical then and after Armstrong’s admission. I doubt Clemens’ veracity even more. If Armstrong lied, couldn’t Clemens?
Players are elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame by balloting conducted by sportswriters. This was the first year Clemens and Bonds were eligible. A 75 percent majority is needed to gain entry and they received about half of that. Given their on-field accomplishments exceeded those of many existing members, it’s clear many sportswriters have significant doubts about their drug use.
That’s as it should be. They want our respect because of their accomplishments but they excelled not only because of their natural ability and hard work but probably because they broke the rules. They should be kept out of the Hall not just because they are trying to fool us but also because their accomplishments are hollow. They do not deserve our admiration and they certainly should not be given baseball’s highest honor. I hope baseball’s sportswriters and commissioner agree.