Last week, I wrote this: I had a column written for today, but an hour ago I tore it up. My boss is furious. I need your help. Desperately. I'm having an existential crisis.
Bautista. Contador. Vick. Rose. From Armstrong to Landis to Zenyatta, how much of it can I believe? Can I still believe in the home runs and the yellow jerseys? What about the apologies, the accusations and the tears? What about the wins? The losses? Can I believe any of it? All of it? None of it? When did every sporting event become a referendum on my trust in sports? When did every athlete become a challenger to faith?
Because as anyone from Aquinas to Zoroaster will tell you, belief is the first and final casualty of doubt.
This week, some of your answers. All of which, in their hundreds, were terrific. Many sincere thanks to those of you who contributed your time, your thoughts, your honesty and your poetry to writing our first crowd-sourced column. We'll be doing more of these.
Below find bits and pieces of the manifestos and cries of the heart that made up the scores of tweets and e-mails I received.
All contributions have been tidied up a little for space and grammar and typography.
@NJEMurray Moments like Halladay's no-hitter tonight are why I still believe in the brilliance of sports. It brings us all together.
@jasonbiser can we really believe anything in sports? Not sure but we can't believe our politicians, financial companies or NE1 else.
@BCSTour improper benefits don't affect on-field performance. That Range Rover had nothing to do with Reggie's Heisman.
@jdubs88 I believe in the sincerity of walk-on football players.
@G_BOA i still believe that the home run record is still the best record in sports even though it's tainted
@susaninvegas ...sports just reflect society
@Hunsicker I believe in the general goodness of people. And I believe in our unfailing willingness to gawk at those who fall short.
@Rimbosity I believe I'll have a sandwich.
@QualityStarts I believe in asking ?'s that are not so overly broad if I want replies. And that asking the same ? over and over is annoying
@Sprow_ESPN I believe it's okay to sift through your New Yorker for the cartoons first, then digest the rest later
@TimCary I believe in God, I believe in eternal life, I believe the Cubs really will win a World Series, & I believe the BCS is a joke.
@Lewis_Hull I believe what doesn't kill you, simply makes you ... stranger.
The Wised-Up, The Doubters, The Cynics
The same adults who still "believe in sports" are the same adults who believe the stripper for whom they have just purchased a $20 "cocktail" really likes them. Don't disturb their fantasy. Children are exempt, until their favorite player signs a free agent contract and announces their departure live on national television.
Human beings compete on any terms necessary. That's why we are here, and Cro-Magnon man isn't. I appreciate the amazing feats athletes are capable of (I couldn't hit a single-A fastball even with enough steroids to kill a small elephant) and I would tell my kids -- if I had them -- that athletes are just like any other people. Some of them try to do the right thing, some of them don't much care, and pretty much any of them can be weak and give into temptation.
It has been 12 years since I have been to a professional baseball game and only then because I got free tickets. The only problem with steroids is owners pretended that the numbers put up were pure and thus overpaid those same players. The direct result is an average family cannot go to a game without spending over two hundred dollars. Let the players use what they want. Just don't pretend the numbers are real and pay them as if they are.
God bless Bautista and all of the others who put up big numbers. Let's just hope the owners don't get duped into another $20 million contract. the fans just can't afford it.
-- Thanks, Peter
I don't think the total amount of dishonesty in the world changes with time. People have been cheating in sports, like in life, since the beginning. It just gets more attention today.
Athletes are people. People are flawed. In general, people suck. Why should we expect our athletes to be any different?
Good Thoughts From True Believers
I believe in putting an emotional stake into being a fan, and being able to rise and fall with the results of one's team.
Sport holds something in us, something primal and emotional. It connects us, it informs us, it leads us to debate and friendship and happiness and despair. It leads me to write this letter. And despite my better judgment, I can't stop. I believe too much.
I know I still believe in one thing: the spirit of the game.
Do I believe in what I see on the field or track now? It may be naive, but I think we have to. Otherwise it loses something, and we begin to care less and less about it. I don't think we've lost the belief altogether though. Just look at the World Cup, and the U.S. National Team, Donovan's goal heard round the world. That was something that will forever live in this small moment in time. Linked by a common thread, belief. After he scored that goal, we believed we could win, we could actually do it. And if we lose this belief we lose a little part of us.
I hope you can believe in sports again. Just remember at the end of the day they just want to win so bad they make mistakes.
-- Mike from New Jersey by way of Detroit
I can always believe in sports; sports didn't do anything wrong. People gave sports a bad reputation. Baseball is now associated with steroids because of people, not because of baseball. People choose to do bad things, and sports take the hit. Please don't lose your faith in sports, you can believe in the heart and soul of the games being played. They're all still games. If anything, lose your belief in people and their ability to make clear judgments.
That stretch of time that ball hung in the air in the waning moments of Duke/Butler. Waiting for the replay to make sure Santonio Holmes' feet were actually down. The way Tyson's head snapped back when Douglas landed that uppercut. Joe Carter running the bases. LeBron James taking out the entire Pistons team in a playoff game by himself. David Tyree. Hearns vs. Hagler. The Miracle on Ice. The Play. The Catch.
These are the moments where none of that other stuff matters ...
I believe a father opting to take his sons to hit some baseballs instead of taking a nap in between his two jobs is the true reason that the words "sports" and "role-model" should be inseparable.
-- The Golden Rabbit
Brady Anderson ... that's why I believe in Bautista.
Look it up.
The Middlin' And Conflicted
In Bernard Malamud's novel The Natural, Roy Hobbs swings and misses. He walks out of the stadium, and a young boy confronts him with rumors of his being on the take. In the film, a bloodied Robert Redford, playing Hobbs, destroys the lighting system with his mammoth home run.
We want the movie, but too many of us are the book.
Athletes are overpaid and over-worshipped. We love them too much, which is our fault, not theirs.
I liked it better when I could root for the good guys and against the bad guys. Now even many of the good guys turn out to be bad guys.
The Forlorn And Terribly Heartbroken
I want to believe, I really do. Maybe it's generational or maybe it's becoming cynical over time, but I try to enjoy but I will never believe. Whether it's PEDs or on/off-field behavior there is not a whole lot of believability.
I think we should quit worrying about steroids or other PEDs. Let the pro athlete consume whatever the heck they please. Screw the record book, why look to the past for present enjoyment. Give me the chemical induced behemoths hitting gargantuan home runs. At least I don't have to fake a belief set that the game is clean.
Play it dirty and let's just enjoy it.
Eat it, rub it on, I don't care, I just care about the game.
Unfortunately, I really don't believe that either. I have reached a point of not caring. Athlete behavior is reprehensible, the drug stigma still permeates so, I can't believe anymore, I just can't.
After the last cyclist I am at the point where I just cannot believe anything. Even in Nascar.
Maybe It's The Money
People pay lots of money to watch these athletes cheating every day. It's sad.
I know that I do not believe athletes when they talk about loyalty, while jumping to a bigger paycheck, and I do not believe athletes when they say that "it's not about the money."
The Second-To-Last Word On The Matter
Before answering your question I would like to propose an alternative definition for "belief," one of which Americans have very little understanding. Our word believe actually derives from the German word beleiben. The root being leib, which means love. Believe, in its root, means to belove, not to think something is right or true, which is what we have come to think in a society that only values the head and not spirit.
Our word believe is now translated into German as glauben, which is more like to know. (This sounds a lot like our English word gullible to me, which may be a good part of this discussion of what do we trust about sports). I can't tell you what I think about what's true and what's not about sports, and I'm not certain my opinion on that point matters. I can tell you what I belove about sports though.
I belove a redemption story, even the case of Michael Vick, because no matter how much we stumble we can get a second chance. I belove the transcendence of athletes pushing each other higher and making each other better, even in the midst of competition. I belove my expectations being shattered, and I belove the camaraderie of a team. I belove what athletes can do with their bodies. I belove the joy and I belove learning about myself and society. I belove the purity of a well struck free kick, of a perfect driver down the fairway, of Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing, and the paradox of outcomes on any given sports day.
I am not always certain what to think about sports, but I belove them.
-- Peace, Ben
Your Last Word
If I don't believe in it, how can I root for it?
Thanks again everybody. Great work.
Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow his Twitter.com feed @MacGregorESPN.