This is what we have seen with the recent and ongoing stories of Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o, and Ray Lewis. These athletes offer an interesting case study on sports media coverage.
Armstrong’s fall is one of the biggest falls from grace that we have ever seen in American sports possibly even the biggest. He was on top of the world and could seemingly do no wrong. Going out on top of his cycling career and starting one of the most successful cancer research foundations may not even overtake the accomplishment of inspiring so many to continue on through the battle of their lives.
His story was one that nobody could ever pass up. Cancer survivor. Best cyclist on the planet for a sustained period of time. A clean cyclist in a dirty sport. Inspiration to many. Raising money to help those he has inspired. Basically, if you could make up one of the best sporting stories ever, you may not be able to top what Armstrong did.
Then it all came crashing down, as we know. The lying. The doping. The intimidation. The Oprah interview. Amazingly enough, this may not even rock bottom. There could be lawsuits and lots of money to be paid.
Armstrong’s fall from grace is so interesting (to me personally at least) because even with all of the lies and cheating that are now known to be true, some people do not care. Patients that were battling cancer during Armstrong’s inspiring run do not care. They know him for what he was to them at the time of the battle. He helped them and there is no taking it back.
What could have changed this situation? Hindsight is 20/20, but if you take the halo off of Armstrong during these times, then things begin to look a little different. Writers and reporters have been writing stories based on this since October when he gave up his fight with the investigation. Things seemed so perfect at the time because so much was ignored. Even though we cannot turn back time, we can do something to change the future. If something does not seem right, then maybe it is not.
As details about this incident continue to come out and even the details that are out are a bit fuzzy, I am baffled. I am baffled at the incident. Sure everybody was caught off-guard with the findings that Te’o’s “girlfriend” was never real. But was the media coverage of it not a bit excessive?
Opinion: I thought that the media coverage was excessive though you can argue either way. There was something so wrong about the message on 6pm Sportscenter reading “BREAKING: Manti Te’o’s girlfriend did not exist.” I don’t think it needed to be as big of a deal that it was. Honestly, I feel like it was more the media outlets feeling sorry for themselves for publishing so many pro-Te’o is a god among mere mortals stories.
Of course writers like SportsIllustrated’s Pete Thamel did not have the thought to check on this and rightfully so. Who would? There has to be some sort of trust between athletes, the media, and the public. If writers had to sit around and fact check whether or not girlfriends actually exist, then writers would be coming out with maybe two stories per year.
The Te’o story should not discourage writers from writing about human-interest, off-field stories. As dangerous as it may be, the public wants their athletes to be placed on the pedestal. They want to worship these guys. However, now we know what we get when we worship 21 year old athletes… Fake girlfriends and a good lesson on how to use apostrophes.
Lewis’s story is an interesting one because his falling out happened before his rise to greatness. This gives Lewis’s media praise a unique spin: do I feel right openly rooting for a man that may be connected to a murder?
I understand that some of the public disdain for Lewis and his antics may be racially charged. Regardless of race, I find it tough to read about the new and improved Ray Lewis now about a dozen years after the incident.
This whole deal makes me think of the issue with steroids in baseball. A guy like Alex Rodriguez cannot much without his past steroid use coming back to haunt him. Oh, A-Rod is having a great season, so he must be back on the juice. Oh, A-Rod is hurt again, so it must be those steroids finally catching up to him.
But do something outside of the sport like Lewis and his alleged involvement in a murder, and see how quickly many people forget. (I am generalizing here. I was about 10 years old when Ray Lewis had his incident and I still remember it, so I’m sure many others do as well.).
I liken it all to a relationship if the person you are/were with cheated on you. You trusted them throughout the relationship (in theory at least), then without your knowledge they did something to hurt you. Maybe they start to act differently, maybe the people around them start to act differently, but you don't notice because you blindly trust them. Then it all either hits you one day or they confess. You start to look back at it all and then in hindsight you realize all of the signs. That is what we are all doing now on these three stories.
These stories are stories that require a high duty of care and attention to detail. They are not easy stories to cover and report on. The best thing to do is to take the lessons learned from these stories and use them to make the future better. Just because a writer was lied to (read: cheated on), does not mean that the writer should never write highly about an athlete again (read: fall in love). But you can be damn sure that that writer will be extra cautious the next time. Great sports writing makes athletes seem like more than humans, but it is important to always remember that athletes are in fact humans.
Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.