But of all the players who have emerged from the so-called steroids era with their reputations tarnished, I don’t think you can beat Alex Rodriguez for sheer career immolation.
The most recent spate of news reports about A-Rod having been injected with performance-enhancing drugs in Miami only adds to the general cloud of suspicion and disillusionment that is a constant presence over him.
A-Rod does not appear to be an evil guy. He’s just another professional athlete enslaved by his own ego. And that’s the saddest part of all these legacies.
Take a look back at the very early days of Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, et al. Each was a wunderkind. Each had “Hall of Famer” written across his forehead in high school and/or college. Each was such a natural that failure wasn’t even a possibility.
But as we all know, that wasn’t enough. They became consumed with glory and craved money, so they took short cuts, even if it was considered cheating.
Yet A-Rod is on another level in the sense that he was more disliked by the public than any of the others. Even Bonds, as unpleasant an individual off the field as ever existed in modern sports, wasn’t reviled by fans like A-Rod. He suffered from a perception of phoniness mixed with the feeling that he was wildly overpaid.
Too bad it’s not possible to go back in time to his high school days in Miami. Now that was a player who could really have had an admirable career.
Is football OK for the kids?
Would you let your son play football? It depends on when you’re asking.
If the question was posed five years ago, maybe the answer from most parents would be “Definitely not” or “I’m not sure” rather than “Absolutely.” But now?
President Obama recently said in an interview with The New Republic that, if he had a son, he would have to “think long and hard” before letting him play football. Not long after, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he “absolutely” would let his son play football.
Of course, Goodell presides over a multi-billion-dollar business. What would you expect him to say, “I don’t know. This football stuff. Scary.”?
Yet a lot of these statements are being made at the moment with the past as a guide. The future of football will look much different.
Ask the same questions five years from now and I bet you get much different answers. Hits to the head will be abolished. Hits to a defenseless ball carrier will be a memory (mostly). Helmets and equipment will be safer (giant Nerf helmets perhaps?). A football revolution is taking place. The game will look essentially the same, but at its essence it will be a less dangerous place to be.
So “Would you let your son play football?” will attract a higher percentage of “Yes” votes in the years to come than it does now.
No. Flacco wasn't 'elite' before
It’s interesting how, in retrospect, fans like to ask “Did we miss something?” rather than “He has arrived.”
I’m speaking of course about Joe Flacco. Now that he’s a Super Bowl champion – as well as a Super Bowl MVP – he’s being hailed as an elite NFL quarterback. And maybe he is.
But achieving that status is a relatively recent development, like on Sunday, to be specific. It isn’t a case of fans and media having misjudged him all along, or being unfair to him.
Flacco was outstanding down the stretch of the season, and he played his best football in the postseason. Because of that, he’s now on top of the NFL heap. He deserves all the praise he gets. He deserves all the money he gets.
(Memo to Ravens: Pay Joe the dough. Quarterbacks who can get it done are not easy to find.)
Yet this notion that the public should have been on the Flacco bandwagon all along is ludicrous. Everybody has a different learning curve. With Flacco, it took five NFL seasons to reach this level. Others, like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick, may get there much sooner. A guy like Tony Romo hasn’t reached the peak after eight NFL seasons, and there’s no guarantee he ever will.
It may sound harsh, but in professional sports a player is a choker until he’s not. He’s a loser until he wins. Fortunately for Joe Flacco, he doesn’t have to worry about that issue anymore.
Is soccer the next sport to come crashing down?
We have steroids. They have gambling.
I’m sure we have gambling in U.S. sports, too. In this case, I’m not talking about placing a legal wager at a Las Vegas sports book, or even an illegal bet through Tony, the guy who works at your father’s plant. I refer to the kind of gambling in which individuals in sharkskin suits and wraparound sunglasses bribe athletes to throw games so they can win bets.
International soccer is dealing with a mega-scandal involving alleged fixing of games. Europol, the European Union’s joint police body, reports that an investigation revealed 680 suspicious matches – including World Cup and European Championship qualifiers – and that a Singapore-based crime syndicate may be behind it all.
Soccer hasn’t caught on in the U.S. as it was predicted to do in the late 1970s. But it has made inroads. Situations like David Beckham’s stint with the Los Angeles Galaxy has helped to raise the sport’s profile in the States. The World Cup gets bigger and bigger here every four years. Premier League games on ESPN fare well in the ratings, relatively speaking.
Now juxtapose soccer’s rise against the dire (and somewhat skewed) perception that American football may be declining because of fears of brain injuries and there is a small window for soccer to make an even larger push in North America.
But just like PEDs have stained baseball, gambling can ruin soccer. And like baseball, somebody fell asleep at the switch. Baseball officials let steroids run rampant until it was too late. Clearly it appears the powers-that-be in soccer failed to protect the integrity of their game, and the consequences could prove near fatal.
Didn’t they learn anything from us?
A game of pepper:
Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelVentre44