"I always turn to the sports section first. The sports pages records people's accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man's failures."
-- Earl Warren (1891-1974), Chief Justice of the United States (1953-69), governor of California (1943-53)
Boy, has that premise just about croaked by 2013. Break out the sepia and lacquer that thing. We wake up and smell the deer antler velvet spray.
From major Olympic medals to major international yellow jerseys to moving home run chases to entire careers, the sports page got dragged into the fraudulence with the rest of it. Plenty of what we have watched over the last 20 or 30 or 40 years turned out to be non-real and non-"accomplishment," so in the present we watch games and derive thrills while guessing they're probably artificial, and the future looks to become a whole bunch of android games.
For one thing, if someone can clone your dear cat, there's no telling . . .
So the inspiring comeback of the NFL season, that of Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, meets up with a cloud of deer antler velvet spray extracted by Sports Illustrated, and the towering baseball career of Alex Rodriguez may have traded in more fakery than just the three seasons (2001-03) with the 156 home runs and the 395 runs batted in, as detailed in the Miami New Times.
Bit by bit, case by case, there's a peeling-away of an American naivete that did have its charms and comforts. We get a Super Bowl week in which we learn of a major player possibly using a banned substance for a ballyhooed recovery from a torn triceps of mid-October, and it hardly counts as a jolt. That is, unless you count that the revelation of deer antler velvet spray -- and that you could have spent an entire Southern childhood in the company of deer antlers poking out of the backs of pickup trucks or mounted upon walls, and you never once could surmise that there would have been anything valuable in those deer antlers, let alone something that could change lives and maybe abet the recovery of linebackers.
It's Super Bowl week in 2013, so you're reading about how you spray the gunk under your tongue, and how those in the deer-antler know might harvest the deer out of New Zealand if that's true, and how you're supposed to shake the stuff for 20 seconds before using thrice sublingually.
What might Mr. Warren think at age almost-122? He might be mightily disappointed at turning to sports and finding just more subterfuge, even if he might wonder, as I do, why you have to shake the deer antler velvet spray for 20 seconds before usage, and what gross stuff might happen if you didn't -- might your jaw fall off? -- and what makes the New Zealand deer so antler-cool.
Why are our deer not as studly as New Zealand deer in the antler area? Is our grass not up to snuff in some way? Do our deer eat too many potato chips?
What's wrong with our deer?
By 2013, we've reached the futuristic era of passages such as "liquid wraps," "holographic stickers for the elbow," "sleeping in a beam-ray light," "drinking negatively charged water" and "a regimen of deer-antler pills." We're also firmly in an era when as Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh and Lewis and other Ravens use the defense of never-flunked-a-test, never-flunked-a-test, never-flunked-a-test, they sound outdated and antiquated and even loony. Lance Armstrong just got finished teaching us you can bark this for 10 years and it means less than zero. We all should know you have to be klutzy to flunk one of these tests.
The American credulity makes its slow fade. If the Miami New Times report proves to be true, no longer will we hear bizarre references such as "when A-Rod wasn't juicing," which is how people sometimes would refer to his years other than 2001-03. (The line always should have been, "when A-Rod claimed he stopped juicing," and the like.) Pretty soon, as we learn more, we might even disabuse ourselves of the preposterous assumption that the drugs of today somehow make a parallel to the piddling pick-me-ups of the 1950s and prior, as if those ever made a fastball improve from 87 to 96.
All the death of naivete shovels us to a strange paradigm. Some of us watch without caring what athletes use, even though these same some might start caring someday if their offspring had to use it to keep up competitive balance. Some just want to see the feats no matter how they're attained. Some might watch out of habit but with a vague suspicion of the unreality of the sight. And even a decade after that historic moment when a steroid investigation roped in a punter, some might hold on hard to the notion that the falsehood is rare.
Curiously, not many have stopped watching, if the stadiums and ratings indicate. Maybe that's a byproduct of ritual. Maybe those of us who have always done this with our spare time don't know what else we'd do with our spare time. Maybe we still seek the getaway even as Mr. Warren might note it's less of a getaway than ever