Looking back over 2008, some stories and trends reflect more about life than merely the box scores, the wins and losses, the temporary pride of victory. I’ve gathered some of those stories and general storylines here, for your reminiscing and your reflection.
5. Steroids Make You Stupid
The use of steroids and the exposure of those who use steroids continues to get more and more press. Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, and a host of MLB and NFL players have been charged and some indicted for using illegal drugs to propel their own performance. Somehow, we’ve reached a point where cheating is okay…but it’s not. Somehow, we want our professional athletes to become something more than mere mortal, and in their quest to reach that dominance, some of them choose to cheat. I’ve never understood why cheating was a viable option: whether it’s athletics, taking a test or beating a videogame, what joy is there in a task that you can’t really take credit for?
4. Winning and Losing Matter Sometimes
As I write this, the Detroit Lions are well on their way to going reverse undefeated, or 0-16. On the other hand, the New England Patriots went undefeated during the regular season (2007-08) but lost to the New York Giants who were wild card entrants in the playoffs. Kevin Garnett (with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and his team) won the NBA Championship for the Boston Celtics after years of frustration for Garnett, Pierce and Allen individually, and the Celtics as well. The Atlanta Falcons, in light of the loss of their star quarterback (Michael Vick) and abandonment of their coach (Bobby Petrino,) proved that with a new mindset, that they could resurrect their team. And Brett Favre proved that he still had gas in the tank, that the Green Bay Packers might have written him off to early, and he could win again with the New York Jets. Winning is of course not the only thing, but in these cases, a few life lessons can be learned: a) showing up doesn’t mean succeeding; b) the underdog will have his day; c) teamwork trumps star power and bluster; and d) the drama of sports continues to keep us enraptured and entertained.
3. Crime Doesn’t Pay
Whether it’s O.J. Simpson, Sean Avery, Michael Vick or Plaxico Burress, new crackdowns from the leadership of professional leagues result in different standards. Of course, the standards by which each of the men listed above is charged are perceived differently based on your own experience. Simpson kidnapped a sports memorabilia dealer, but some see his nine-plus year punishment as retribution for the unsolved murder of his ex-wife. Avery slandered(?) his ex-girlfriend Eliza Cuthbert and was suspended from the league for eight games, but who knows what point the suspension was to prove based on his previous infractions in the NHL? Vick’s crimes were committed in 2007 and prior, but his continual appearance in the news for various court dates has made him a continuing story in today’s news. And finally, Burress stands to be made an example of athletes who fear the violence perpetuated against them (see: Sean Taylor, Darrent Williams, and others,) of individuals foolish enough to carry weapons that they aren’t properly educated in using, and of the laws of the state of New York.
2. Softball and Baseball Tell More Than Box Scores
The Boston Red Sox proved to be pretty decent on the field this year, but the stories of their players makes for some interesting reading, too. While baseball and softball might have been bounced from the Olympics for the foreseeable future, the Red Sox’s Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia proved that the Olympic spirit might be alive and well within the sport. Lester overcame his own battle with cancer and the battle with cancer of his father to go 16-6 for the 2007-08 season and pitch a no-hitter. Pedroia proved that the size of the man is measured more by his heart, as he became the American League MVP (and subsequently signed a rich contract!) Not to be outdone, softball provided one of the best stories of the year, as two members of the Central Washington University carried an injured player from the other team (Western Oregon) around the bases to complete her homerun. The most amazing part? CWU lost the game thanks to that homerun, once again proving, it’s not all about winning and losing.
1. The Wonders of the Olympics
While the Redeem Team won a gold medal, baseball and softball were kicked off the Olympic menu and Usain Bolt ran wild over the track events, the whole world seemed captivated by what happened in the swimming pool. There, Michael Phelps tore up the pool, winning nine gold medals and winning races breathlessly and by miles. Of the races, Phelps’ individual defeat of Milorad Cavic by a breath and Jason Lezack’s come-from-behind win as the anchor of the 4×100 relay served up the greatest drama and kept us watching for days (even events that we didn’t care for.) Still, the world was equally in awe of Dara Torres who, at forty-one, competed in her fifth Olympics and proceeded to shatter her own Olympic records, which she had previously set at age fifteen. The Olympics proved that sports could inspire, unite and entertain, and that the year in sports wouldn’t be remembered for what went wrong, but what went right.
In 2008, truth seemed to be of even more paramount importance in uncovering cheaters and punishing criminals, but the greatest measure of humankind came in teamwork and discovering the strength to exceed expectations and rise above. Aren’t we all created in the image of God? Hopefully, we will all learn to focus on the just and the true, and rise above it all as well.