Ohio State, USC, Miami, Oregon, Boise State…it’s a list of college football’s most lauded—and now most wanted—of the past decade. Today, it’s not just the U or those involved that will be suffering (though they surely will). It’s fans that want something in which to believe who are the real losers.
When we were kids, we believed in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. We looked forward to Christmas morning like no other and forced those loose teeth out in hopes of some fairy mysteriously putting money on our pillow. I mean, these otherworldly figures who could not be seen at risk of their elimination were showering us with gifts and money—who wouldn’t want to believe in them?
It’s a willing suspension of disbelief. Seeing it happen and not really looking beneath the surface—enjoying it for what it is. No introspection or investigation into what really makes the wheels turn.
That’s what sports used to be. We grow up as kids watching athletes who we think are superheroes, marvels who perform incredible feats with what seems like great ease. We watch heart-stopping games between teams playing their hearts out, become invested in results that we have no control over, besides of course what color jersey or pair of underwear we don on a given game day. But we don’t really think about it.
We believe in our teams and players and coaches, take great pleasure in their triumph and disappointment in their defeat. Thousands of us gather in arenas and stadiums like they’re cathedrals for catharsis earned by yelling the loudest, rooting the most passionately. “It can’t be my team that’s breaking the rules.”
But no major sport entity is remotely clean. NBA conference finals games being fixed, Super Bowl champions cheating, record-breaking sluggers juicing and college programs breaking the rules—where does it stop?
What’s real in sports anymore? Or was it ever real to begin with?
Cheating has been prevalent in sports for ages. There have been the 1919 Black Sox, doctored balls, corked bats and point shaving. Maybe it was never real to begin with and we just didn’t know any better, like with Santa and the tooth fairy.
Unlike wins or records, however, the memories legends create when we don’t know the truth can’t be taken away. There’s no erasing the roller coaster of emotions felt through the Ohio St./Miami Fiesta Bowl title game. You can’t strip me of the joy and pure, unadulterated excitement that flowed through my 10-year-old veins watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa bash balls further than should be humanly possible in the summer of ’98.
But you can make it difficult to ever have those feelings again, at least as intensely. It’s hard not to get hooked in again by sports. It’s like an ex you know is an idiot, who screwed you over but you still love.
We won’t stop watching. We won’t stop caring. But at some point, we might stop caring quite as much. And if that means less money in the pockets of owners and stakeholders then there may finally be some cause for concern.
Trust me, I’m not jumping off the bandwagon. I’m already in too deep. But do others have this same tolerance level? Will the future generation of sports fans ever truly believe what they’re seeing on the field or court is authentic?
I really do wonder.
And it’s sad really. For many, sports represent an escape from the stresses and hardships of everyday life. Yet really, time and time again, they reflect the most negative aspects of society—lying, cheating, greed—to a T. What at face value takes us away from our problems has an underbelly seedier than the whole Boardwalk Empire.
Pushing the boundaries to get ahead has always been part of competitive games. It just seems like it has spread further, with higher stakes lately.
Will it change?
Probably not anytime soon. But then again, Santa’s not coming down the chimney nor is the tooth fairy fluttering into my bedroom anytime soon either.