Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 20, 2013

Don't give your heart to athletes

BLUEFIELD — I finally shoved my Lance Armstrong T-shirt to the back of the closet. The black and yellow shirt is no longer in my wardrobe rotation. Thousands of fans have already done the same, choosing to hide, shove or throw away their bracelets, T-shirts and other Livestrong merchandise.

Armstrong knows this, not directly, but he must feel the burn of distrust across the world. How does he try to solve the problem? He talked to Oprah Winfrey and confessed how he lied, doped and yet won millions of fans with his sports achievements.

Critics believe Armstrong’s latest move is a high-wire act. He is already banned for life from sports events, stripped of his medals and has been dropped from many endorsements. He still faces $110 million dollars in legal actions. And Oprah Winfrey will be his saving grace? Not in my opinion.

Trust is broken. Armstrong has spent more than a decade denying the truth. One interview is not going to fix his problem. Or make folks feel comfortable wearing black and yellow, unless they are Steeler fans.

I don’t feel sorry for Armstrong’s predicament. He had a good story before he started using performance enhancing drugs. For example, by simply finishing — without the drugs — a endurance event like the Tour de France, he gave hope to millions of cancer patients. I would have liked the athlete — even if he had finished in last place.

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 The first time I ever felt truly disappointed in an athlete was in 2007. Former track and field star Marion Jones admitted to using performance enhancing drugs in the 2000 Summer Olympics and lied about it to a grand jury. She had to forfeit all her medal and prizes from 2000-2007.

I remember Jones when she was only 19. She was a freshman on the University of North Carolina basketball team. I sat down in the living room and watched her lead the team to a national championship. I went outside and shot basketball for hours after that game. I was at the age — 14 and still impressionable — where athletes looked invincible and where all dreams —  including a future as a professional athlete — seemed possible. By the time Jones made her appearance at the Sydney Olympics, I was 20 years old and was enjoying being a college student on summer break. I had no more dreams about being a professional athlete. I realized I had hobbies and a little bit of talent, but nothing more. I watched Jones sprint her way to three gold medals and two bronze. I was in awe all over again. But this time, I didn’t go outside and sprint down the road. Nevertheless, Jones remained one of my favorite all-time female athletes, until 2007. Like other fans, I felt deceived by the scandal.

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 I find the coincidence between the two — Armstrong and Jones — oddly interesting. Another correlation? Jones talked to Oprah Winfrey as well. She  told Oprah, in 2008, she would have won the gold medals at the Olympics without the drugs. But who is know? The only difference between the two fallen athletes is Jones spent six months in prison for lying to a grand jury. Armstrong’s future is undecided. Several law suites are pending; prosecutors could pursue more charges. Speculation of prison time is also a possibility. But will he receive the same punishment as Jones or is Armstrong untouchable? That remains to be seen.

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Scandals, breaking news stories and incidents involving athletes have become the new normal. Beside late game scores and feature stories in the paper are stories about the latest athlete committing something other than a win, or last-second shot. Maybe it is time we stopped putting our trust in athletes; they do not belong on any pedestal, which is where many reside in the eyes of children and young adults. Of course, not every athlete is headed down a road like Armstrong or Jones. There are kind, law-abiding, respectful athletes in every sport. Be a fan, give them your time on the weekends and support their teams. Just don’t give them your heart.

Jamie Parsell is the lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at jparsell@bdtonline.com or follow on Twitter at BDTParsell.

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