January 24, 2013

Editorial: The damage is done

It’s sad for sports fans to see four superhuman athletes found to be exactly that: too super to be human.

The Baseball Writers Association of America made that declaration apparent earlier this month when it declined to grant admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame for Barry Bonds, Rogers Clemens and Sammy Sosa, among others, for taking illicit substances to enhance their performances.

Now, cycling icon Lance Armstrong has written a similar epitaph for himself, admitting to television’s Oprah Winfrey that he took banned substances while compiling an unfathomable record of success in his sport.

We would certainly like to think all people would be brave and honorable enough to reject these substances, but the temptation is there because of the difficulty in detecting some of the drugs and the performance gaps that these athletes fear between them and competitors.

For these four athletes, the jig is up. Bonds, Clemens and Sosa — unlike Armstrong — have admitted nothing. Nonetheless, the evidence appears irrefutable. Too many witnesses, too much obvious change in outward appearance.

So what have we learned from these kinds of falls from grace?

The most outstanding lesson is to spurn that which is illegal or unethical. No matter how much success we can ever have, the descent only gets steeper upon discovery. And, in this time in history, when scrutiny is so focused, discovery will happen.

A second lesson is this: No matter how beloved you’ve become, forgiveness does not necessarily await even those who are contrite.

Armstrong was a hero among heroes. He overcame cancer to become the preeminent practitioner of his sport. He practically created the sport, as far as average fans are concerned. He established a foundation in 1997 dedicated to helping others also conquer cancer, and it has helped bring about wondrous outcomes for many people.

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