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Parasiliti: We build athletes up, then tear them down

January 20, 2013
  • Bob Parasiliti
Joe Crocetta

It used to be so easy.

Back when I was a kid, all you did was flick on the TV and sit and watch sports.

You were moved, inspired and driven to be just like those guys, those athletes who dazzled you with their brilliance.

They were role models — or so we thought — because all those athletes were great talents, engaging with their followers and giving an image of being the perfect person.

Back then.

This is probably the point where I sound like I’m slipping back to that forbidden land. I sound like I’m reenacting my grandfather’s “You kids have it so easy” speech before talking about how he walked 10 miles to school, uphill both ways.

But, that’s not it. Everything has changed dramatically.

When I was young, my idol was Rocky Colavito, the right fielder for the Cleveland Indians. That’s who I wanted to be.

I wanted to play right field, which was a blessing to my Little League coaches. With my limited athletic skill set, that’s exactly where they wanted me to play. I volunteered to basically stand out of the way.

As I grew up, I was a huge fan of other athletes. I had man-crushes (or at least boy-crushes) on the likes of George Brett, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Larry Bird and John Havelick along the way and admired guys like Cal Ripken Jr. as I reached adulthood.

Those were the days.

But the good ol’ days are gone for good, or so it seems.

Nowadays, when you flick on the TV, the chances of seeing a game — a really good game — are about 50-50. There are so many games being beamed, the quality either fails or you have to be very specialized in your tastes.

And then there’s the other part. You turn to watch sports and you get the athletic version of a car wreck. All that stuff you don’t want to see, but can’t help staring at.

This week, there were two of those incidents.

First, Lance Armstrong admits that he blood doped while competing as a cyclist.

As it turns out, he was a recyclist. He took out blood to be used later, to help him dominate his sport.

Now, after years of rejecting the injection question, Armstrong decided it was time to end his deflections.

The second was the saga of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame linebacker who was duped into believing a woman he conversed with on social media was his soulmate. A very convoluted story tells how he was a victim of a hoax in which he developed an emotional connection with a “girlfriend” he never met, who “died” before he laid eyes on her.

It was one of the most compelling stories of the college football season, as Te’o and his team seemed to rise from adversity to march to greatness. And now it’s like classic rock playlists — an Imaginary Lover, Invisible Touch and Hit Me With Your Best Shot triple play.

And we are still just on the top layers of a very twisted story, which was created for any number of reasons.

All this fell on a week when talk would normally have been centered around the NFL’s two biggest games before the Super Bowl, along with a number of highly ranked men’s basketball teams losing.

It’s hard to say what it all means, but it’s just proof that athletics aren’t as innocent as perceived.

Money and exposure has changed everything.

It’s not enough to just want to be the best. For some, it is a driving force to become the best by any means to get the fame, recognition and financial rewards no matter the cost.

We’ve experience incidents — like in Olympic figure skating — where one athlete tried to inflict physical harm on a competitor to make sure she had a clear shot at her fame.

We are finding out that some people will do anything to be famous.

But we are also finding out that there really is no such thing as a role model.

The best targets have become politicians, celebrities and athletes.

One group should be scrutinized, the second wants to be and the third is, just because we can.

Today’s athletes aren’t equipped to handle such a burden.

All athletes are just humans with their own list of everyday problems like the rest of us.

And thanks to our electronic world of today, the warts become evident a lot earlier.

Today’s society loves to find exceptional athletes and build them up, bigger than life, only for the enjoyment of tearing them down. Then we look for replacements — Tim Tebow, Bryce Harper, Jeremy Lin and Robert Griffin III, to name a few.

It took years before it became common knowledge that Babe Ruth drank too much and was a womanizer, and Ty Cobb sharpened his baseball spikes to intimidate. Back in the day, those facts never came to light.

Years later, we found out that Pete Rose and Jordan were gamblers, Tiger Woods fooled around, and baseball players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez took special vitamins to become bigger and stronger.

There are exceptions to the rule. There are some great people, who are great athletes, but it’s a distinction that is learned over time.

So, why do we care?

It could be we all have a little Te’o in us. We have been duped by the romance of athletics for so long that it hurts when we find out what they represent is all imaginary.

The bottom line is we live in a much crueler world now. Before, we aspired. Now, we are happy when we can bring someone down to our level.

Misery loves company.

And dreams, they are only reserved for sleeping.

The fun of being a fan was a whole lot easier in the old days.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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