For Te’o, Armstrong, Deceit Trumps Crime
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 25, 2013 00:01
My father still finds the time to remind me of life lessons. Eat your vegetables. Get your exercise. Do well in school. His favorite saying, though, is a little more profound: “The cover-up is always worse than the crime.”
We see this in sports a lot. Just look at Michael Vick’s troubles with “Bad Newz Kennels” and Pete Rose’s gambling on baseball. But have we ever seen a run of cover-ups and crimes play out like the ones of these past two weeks?
First, not a single eligible player on this year’s ballot was granted entry into baseball’s hall of fame, with PED-era stars like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire forced to wait until 2014 (and beyond) to know their fate in Cooperstown.
Next, Manti Te’o acknowledged being far too generous with his descriptions of his “girlfriend,” manipulating the bizarre tale of Lenny Kekua to bolster his national championship and Heisman Trophy PR campaign — and even continuing with the ruse after he knew the whole romance was one giant hoax.
Lastly, Lance Armstrong re-entered the spotlight in his interview with Oprah Winfrey, finally admitting to his systematic use of performance-enhancing drugs during his celebrated cycling career and only coming clean after years of vehement denial.
These are big-time stories, no doubt, but it’s not just because of the crime. It’s the work done to cover up the crime that really hits home. It’s because we want to believe our heroes when they say it wasn’t them. We want to believe our idols stayed clean, stayed true, stayed loyal. We want to believe that Bonds and McGwire, two of the best sluggers to ever play the game, never juiced. We want to believe that Armstrong built his Tour de France dynasty on blood, sweat and tears, not chemicals. We want to believe that Te’o pushed on towards to the national championship in the face of truly unthinkable loss.
The cover-ups, though, are making believing impossible.
The crime is enough — bad but not impossible to tolerate. Manti didn’t really have a girlfriend. Lance and his team doped. Barry and Mark and countless others were on PEDs. Fine. As a sports fan — and as a human being — I know people make mistakes, try to gain an edge and generally do whatever it takes as they pursue an end. I can forgive them of these blemishes. Old news. Let’s move on.
At least, I wish we could. The part that I can’t live with is knowing I was duped by my hero.
I believed Te’o was rightfully inspired by the loss of his girlfriend. I believed Armstrong became the most famous cyclist of all time on the back of good, clean, hard work. I believed Bonds and McGwire put the hours in at the batting cage, not the laboratory, to become the dominant players of their generation.
People looked up to these guys. They were who you wanted to be. Now they are just horror stories. Armstrong tricked us. Te’o tricked us. Bonds and McGwire — and more players than we probably will ever know — tricked us.
Quite simply, I can’t forgive the cover-ups. The crimes were self-serving, done to better the individual. The cover ups, though, are all about us: the fans.
The cheating, the crime and the trespass are all well-known and well-digested at this point. The long refusal to come clean, though, and the struggle to admit their mistakes and the willingness to make suckers of us fans will be the things that leave plenty of upset stomachs.
It’s no longer Lance, Barry, Mark and Manti. It’s Armstrong, Bonds, McGwire and Te’o. It’s as if we don’t even know them anymore. And why should we? They fooled us.
That hero we knew? He’s nothing more than a shadow now. We invested ourselves into Bonds’ and McGwire’s home runs, Te’o’s tackles and Armstrong’s races. Then we realized the truth — and worse yet, we realized that our heroes tried to make us never realize. They alienated us. Now it’s time to return the favor.
Peter Barston is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. RAISING THE BAR appears every Friday.