Propped Up Beyond Their Means?

I remember once in the 11th grade, I wrote a paper explaining why he was the greatest quarterback in NFL history — in spite of all the less-than-sterling records he currently holds. He was the example I used when I saw other quarterbacks rise in the league like Drew Brees and Carson Palmer (back then). If these guys didn’t love the game or have as much fun playing it as Brett Favre, they couldn’t possibly fit the definition of cool in my book.

Of course, we all know what happened next. Favre retires, un-retires, gets traded to the Jets, retires, un-retires, and then gets signed by the Vikings. Oh, and somewhere in between playing for the Jets and retiring, he sends dong-shots (my patent is pending) to Jenn Sterger.

As if going to the Vikings was not enough, we find out that the guy was not at all what the media made him out to be — excuse me, I meant what he and all of us made him out to be. I mean, he was “America’s quarterback” and the “ol’ gunslinger.” No matter what he did, Favre would still command respect and admiration from anyone who crossed paths with him.

Despite my undying love for the Packers, I do not idolize Aaron Rodgers or consider him a hero. He’s one hell of a quarterback, and I’m glad that things unfolded the way they have. But I will never look up to the guy or make any character judgments based on how he plays or deals with the fans. What I will say is that he seems like a genuine guy.

But then again, you never know. I will never consider an athlete “clean” or “flawless” despite what the media says or what I judge from television or print.

Let’s take a look at some other sports figures that have gone through similar experiences. Mark McGwire was the home-run king and then it turns out that he used steroids. Tiger Woods was Mr. Clean before he ran, or rather smashed his Escalade, into trouble on Turkey Day. Ben Roethlisberger was the Golden Boy of Pittsburgh before rape accusations this summer.

There are no good guys in sports anymore. To be even clearer, there are no saints in sports at all.

I’m no saint, and I’m not declaring that I’m on a moral high ground. However, what I’m saying is that only exceptional people reach sainthood, be it in the real world or in sports. And currently, taking what we have seen in the past two years and with the way things are going now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Peyton Manning, the current Mr. Admirable Sports Guy, is running an international drug cartel from his house.

What about guys like Grant Hill, you ask? He’s a guy who cares for a wife with MS. I’m not saying Grant Hill is not a decent human guy, and an exceptional basketball player — what I’m saying is that I refuse to pigeon-hole him on a good versus bad board. I wouldn’t be surprised (with what I’ve seen) if he really is a nice guy. But then again, I would be very surprised if he didn’t have his flaws. Sports figures, it turns out, are human. The pressures of the game and temptations off the playing field can lead a “good” guy astray.

And so we come back to the dunk contest. You see, I believe that Blake Griffin shouldn’t have won on Saturday night. His dunks were admirable but mostly relied on presentation. In fact, even the most casual NBA fan — that is, a fan who hasn’t been consumed in the media frenzy sorrounding the NBA’s newest superstar — would share my viewpoint.

I felt that JaVale McGee’s and DeMar DeRozan’s dunks were much more difficult to pull off and more entertaining than jumping over a car, even with R. Kelly in the background. Replace the car with Dwight Howard and give green shoes to Blake Griffin and you have Nate Robinson’s winning dunk from ’09.

I don’t mean to get after the only Clipper who’s been relevant on the national stage in years, but the fact of the matter is that Blake Griffin winning is similar to what I’ve been saying about sports figures in general. When we look at an athlete, we look at how big or how entertaining his performance was.

As “Space Jam” so entertainingly taught us, we should look for the R.Kelly in the background. We strive to hear stories of the Old Man’s Last Hurrah. We live for those storylines, which are simply created out of the need for something more than athletic prowess. We wanted to see Dwight Howard as Superman or Nate Robinson as the Little Guy Who Could. And the NBA delivered.

In watching sports programming, we create a portmanteau of flashiness and performance virtues that are embodied in the athletes we look up to. I’m not surprised that Blake Griffin won; he (or whomever helped him choreograph his dunks) played into our sensibilities.

These storylines and flashiness are artificial, so when those veils are torn away, we are surprised to see the truth and reality of these athletes. We lull ourselves into believing that these guys are more than people, and we forget that they are in fact, 21-year-old Oklahomans living the life in LA (albeit as a Clipper).

Given that we are all fallible and that we have seen our sports idols burn up in flames despite picturing them as superhuman, maybe we should instead look to cartoons or comics of Superman, Captain America or Optimus Prime.

At least the writers that bring them to print wouldn’t ever dare to “betray” us with a scandal contrary to the superhero’s character. At least these guys are consistent when they save the world.