What happens when great American sports heroes fall from glory? In the past two weeks two of this generation's most dominant athletes have gained the spotlight (or regained the spotlight) for all the wrong reasons. One has pursued a course of dignity and the other quite the opposite.
Lance Armstrong was a seven-time Tour de France champion, the most in history. But he was more than that. Armstrong is a cancer survivor once given less than a 50 percent chance to live by doctors prior to winning any of his seven yellow jerseys. He became an icon of perseverance and strength, an inspiration for untold numbers of people of all ages. But I say Armstrong "was" a champion because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has long sought to bring him down on charges of using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), and on Aug. 23 Armstrong made a statement that he would no longer fight their efforts.
This was no admission of guilt. He insists he never cheated, and a lack of failed drug tests seem to support Armstrong's claim. But the USADA has been compiling evidence of various kinds to the contrary, and with Armstrong's willingness to give up the fight he will be stripped of his titles. Is this a witch hunt or a cheater being given his just deserts? It's unclear. But what is clear is that the legacy of a transcendent athlete is now thoroughly tarnished.
Meanwhile, in Texas, another former dominant athlete is doing just the opposite of Armstrong's quiet laying down of arms. In fact, the arm is just what Roger Clemens has begun to utilize again. Albeit not quite as well as when he was rocketing himself to 354 wins and more than 4,600 strikeouts in the major leagues. On August 25, the 50-year-old Clemens made a minor league start for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in Texas. While Clemens looked pretty decent for a man 20 years past prime pitching age, his motives seem a bit less decent.
Clemens was implicated numerous times for using steroids and other PEDs during a period of rampant cheating in baseball during the 1990s and early 2000s. In the years since his 2007 retirement it has become clear that the National Baseball Hall of Fame is not ready to vote in those suspected of using PEDs. Clemens has been retired for five years, and this would have been his first year of eligibility to be voted upon, so, rather than face the indignity of being rejected, he has seemingly resorted to the desperate measures of trying to get back to the majors so that he can add five more years for Hall of Fame voters to forget his cheating ways.
We are left with a feeling of disappointment and sadness at the fall of such men. We admired them. But they are mere men, and men will fail whether at their own hand or the hand of another. So when heroes fall, it must serve to remind us of Who will not fail.