“Who can we cheer with any kind of certainty? What too-good-to-be-true story is legit? Where does hopeful belief end and rampant cynicism begin?”
-Pat Forde, ESPN.com
I will tell you where. Too often, and for too long we have looked at our professional athletes as our source for inspiration, and heroism. Far too long we have tolerated their drug habits, their wife beatings, their entourages and posses, Hummer 2’s and “me first” attitudes.
The professional athlete has become a whining, spoiled, crying, “everyone owes me something”, baby.
Today I want to salute the everyman. The you’s and me’s of the world. People who get up early and go to work, spend the day doing someone else’s bidding, daydreaming of the wind in their faces, and a thin layer of dust rising behind them as they speed through singletrack snaking its way through thick forests, and over tall mountains. People who train as compulsively as any pro, but do it on their own time and dime, men and women who are parents, professionals, PTA board members, church leaders, quality citizens and all the while still find the time to put down a sub 9 off-road hundie, a solo 24, or a team relay in Park City.
Maybe along the way they will win an age group national championship, a local series points title, or just have that magical day when they sneak on to the podium because their usual competition didn’t show up. These are people who will scrutinize data from a mid-pack finish, skip desert, and get patient smiles from their wives when the family vacation is planned around a 12 Hour race 3 states away. These are folks who have co-workers who don’t understand the shaved legs, 50 resting heart beat, the terribly defined tan lines and why for “heaven’s sake you are taking the stairs”.
The everyman is the heart of our sport. He is the guy saving up for a bike that comes, not from a sponsor, but from the kid down at the local bike shop. He is the guy who rides and competes because he loves riding and competing. I have no doubt that the pros still love what they do. Down to earth guys like Nick Martin are proof of that. But for to many, in every sport, the pure joy of it all melts away. It gets clouded in contracts, phat gold jewelry and “doing whatever it takes”.
Yeah. Whatever it takes. Especially cheating.
I hope Floyd is clean. For his sake, and the sake of the sport. But I would be naive to think that he is outside the realm of performance enhancing drugs. How is he different from Tyler Hamilton? He is not. They are the exact same person. Tyler was the next king. We cheered him on as he broke away with a broken collar bone, winning a dramatic Tour stage while silently weeping for his dying dog. Then the roof came down, and my ideals became sullied.
When does the house that Lance built come crashing down? I hope never. But look how many riders that were his teammates have been suspended. I am choosing to remain naive enough to think and believe he is, and always has been clean.
Are all amateurs clean? No way. But most are. And today I salute all those riders who put in the time and effort just because they choose to. Maybe I am sentimental. Maybe this pseudo-rant is romantic. But with every new hero that falls, or is torn down by positive tests, allegations, or [insert whatever you can think of that ruins careers], I can’t help but turn toward my fellow competitors and realize that right in front of me is all the inspiration I need to be a satisfied sports fan.