Becoming a sports fan of a particular individual seems to be getting more complicated by the day.
Back when I still had the cliched childlike innocence, which I think lasted into my 30's, having a favorite player was pretty easy. Pick someone good, and root, root, root for him -- maybe even go see him or her perform, or put a picture of the athlete up on the wall.
Times have changed, as they always do. A career in sports journalism has made me much less star-struck around the best athletes, so I don't root nearly as much, But a lot of people still do, of course, and they must be in a bit of a quandary.
Examples? Got a few of them.
An obvious starting point is Tiger Woods. Here's a guy with absolute blinding talent. I'm not quite ready to proclaim him the best golfer in history, yet, but he's already in the argument and he's still building his resume. Woods was at one time so good that the reporter in me wanted someone else to win, just to have a different story for discussion.
You know what happened next. Woods' wife took a golf club to his car one Thanksgiving night, story after story came out about his infidelities, and he hasn't won a major tournament since. But his game is coming back. He's won a couple of times, and you'd still want him on your Ryder Cup team or President's Cup team or your side in a dollar Nassau at the local course. But do you root for him, now, after public apologies?
I'd love to see a poll on that question. And the most interesting result would be split up by sex. I've run into a lot of women who would prefer that Tiger spend most of his time on the golf course looking for lost golfs balls in areas loudly marked "out of bounds."
Then there's Kobe Bryant, a even more complicated case. He was accused of rape in Colorado in 2003. The case was settled out of court with both sides agreeing to keep quiet over the matter. We probably will never know what happened there.
There is much to admire in Bryant's game. He is an amazing player in many ways, more determined than just about anyone in the sports business. Mix that with athletic gifts, and you have a special player. Who else would you want to take the last shot of a game? Heck, he even tries -- hard -- on defense. Bryant has worked hard on his public image, playing for the Olympic team, etc.since that incident.
So ... in 2012, would you want your son to have a Kobe Bryant poster in his room? The answer might reveal more about you than him.
If you like your heroes in the past tense, Roger Clemens certainly qualifies. In his early days with the Red Sox, he commanded attention whenever he took the mound. He was always capable of doing something spectacular, and seemed on his way to becoming ranked as the best ever by some standards.
Then came along the story that he was given steroids by his trainer, Brian McNamee. Clemens denied it in front of Congress, and was the subject of a perjury trial for his efforts. Reviewing, Clemens' wife received illegal shots, and his best friend, Andy Pettitte, received illegal shots, and McNamee had Clemens' DNA on needles that he reportedly saved for years. Those are interesting facts but circumstantial evidence. Most would agree that people who deal in such substances aren't exactly first-rank citizens, and it sounds from a distance that it came down to Clemens' word against McNamee. Clemens was found not guilty of lying to Congress, which is not the same as not doing it. It's easy to wonder what Clemens thinks about when he goes to sleep these days.
We can't exactly root for or against Clemens these days in the traditional sense, since he's been retired for quite a while. But we can watch with interest when his name appears on a Hall of Fame ballot and react accordingly to the results. The voters haven't been kind to the steroid generation so far, and Clemens has been lumped in with names like Bonds, Sosa and McGwire. Yet Clemens has that jury verdict to wave at the voters. Will that work? I would guess not enough to elect him right away.
The villains in real life almost always come not in black and white, but shades of gray -- I guess with the exception of Jerry Sandusky, who ought to get a circle of hell built just for him in the coming days. You're on your own determining which side of the line they fall.
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