Sunday, April 27, 2014

Death Of The Role Model

As published in The County Times ( in April 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

First, an admission: I’m a D.C. sports fan. That is relevant for the following list.  It includes players I couldn’t or won’t “boo”…regardless of on-field performance.  No amount of botched plays, dropped balls or strikeouts would warrant me hurling negativity in their directions or impolite pleasantries at my television.  Their accomplishments are too great, they have brought me too much joy and they have consistently conducted themselves with admirable amounts of class, dignity and integrity (remember those nouns).  They are bigger than the game; they are pillars of the community and role models - to a man.  Who are they?  Here’s my short-list: Cal Ripken Jr., Ryan Zimmerman, Art Monk and Darrell Green.  I’ll stop there. More names would increase risk (of being proven wrong).  Unquestioned character is in short supply these days. 

Despite my prudence and the spotless personnel records of the fabulous four, risk remains.  Humans are quite capable of spectacular mistakes.  Would it shock me to wake up tomorrow morning to news that one of the faces on my Mount Character committed a disturbing transgression?  I’ve been a sports fan too long for poor behavior or bad choices by athletes to shock me.  And if one of these fine gentlemen proved not to be the man I think they are – regardless of their otherwise impeccable track record – I’d let them hear about it.  If one, say, pulled a Ryan Braun, I’d have no problem offering a hearty boo (among other thoughts) in reply.

Braun, star outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, has been busy soiling his reputation.  The Brewers drafted Braun in 2005 and by 2011 the homegrown product had become Milwaukee’s favorite son, a perennial All-Star and the 2011 National League MVP.  Chances are he occupied some star-struck Milwaukee-based sportswriter’s “all-time good dude” list.  Then MLB and their pesky doping tests upset the love affair.  Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone in the fall of 2011.  He defiantly denied the allegations, tenaciously fought the results and, in a controversial decision, had his record cleared in early 2012. 

During a passionate monologue in February 2012, Braun filleted MLB’s testing protocol and showered himself with superlatives.  Braun proclaimed he was a man that owned his mistakes and would “bet my life” the questionable substances never entered his body.  He praised his conduct during the appeal process, describing himself as a man of class, honor, dignity and integrity (remember those?).  It was all rather moving.  It was also a lie.  Eighteen months later, after having had Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a close friend, and the Brewers, a team who had signed him to a 9-figure contract extension, take him at his word and contribute to his defense, Braun admitted to PED usage.  A cheap, disingenuous and obligatory apology followed.

MLB suspended Braun for the remainder of the 2013 season (65 games).  Having betrayed the trust of his team, friends and the love of Brewers fans, Braun’s return to the field this spring promised to be as warm as cheating spouse’s return home.  However, as Braun strode to the plate at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, he received…a standing ovation. 

The scene was analogous to an embattled hero returning after an unjust exile.  I understand forgiving Braun, but how could any self-respecting Brewers fan embrace this unethical dunce?  I interpreted the cheers lavished on Braun as evidence of the death of the athletic role model.  Perhaps that’s a wise, sign-of-the-times angle.  Maybe fans are perfectly fine with winning at all cost and judge players as loosely as professional wrestlers. 

Tell me I’m wrong.  The fundamental premise of this now six-year-old column is that sports provide brutally honest commentary on society as a whole.  Our games are a conscience of sorts.  So if we have arrived at a place where sports are just cheap entertainment – like all other reality T.V. - and the conduct of athletes has no broader application, then we deserve “heroes” like Ryan Braun. He’s worthy of our adoration.  Should I stand and cheer him too…for exposing this disturbing truth?  If you don’t mind, I’ll remain seated…and hopeful that I’m wrong.

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