The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel.
-- H. L. Mencken
Even for the sports world -- which has a long history of celebrating its cheats and scoundrels, colorful characters and rogues -- this has been a memorable week for practicing amnesia when it comes to the lousy things that some folks have done.
Tom Brady went to New York on Tuesday for his principal's office meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell over Deflategate. Yet Goodell is being treated like the piñata, even though Brady is the star of a New England Patriots team that long ago replaced the Oakland Raiders as the league leader in chicanery.
In New York, oft-disgraced Alex Rodriguez just passed the 3,000th-hit plateau and continues to bask in the warm ovations at Yankee Stadium -- while two of the men who facilitated his PED use face jail time. That OK with you?
And Monday, Pete Rose was revealed to be an incorrigible liar -- again -- this time in an ESPN Outside the Lines report that presented evidence showing his decades-long denials that he bet on baseball games while he was a player, and not just a manager, aren't credible.
John Dowd, the man who directed baseball's investigation leading to Rose being banned from the sport for life, said the new information confirmed his longtime concern that the mob might have "a mortgage" on Rose because of gambling debts he had with bookies with ties to organized crime.
Yet rather than exile Rose even further to the fringe for violating the most inviolable rule in sports -- casting doubt on the authenticity of the game -- the news about Rose only re-activated the robust army of defenders he's had for nearly three decades now. Will you lay off the guy, already? they barked back on radio shows, online forums and man-on-the-street interviews. Let bygones be bygones. The Hit King belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Yes, that again.
How is it that Rose and A-Rod -- like Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods and a long list of misbehaving athletes before them -- have somehow migrated into sympathetic figures despite all the questionable things they've done? And meanwhile, as Mencken pointed out, the people who blew the whistle on them or mete out discipline turn into the bad guys.
It has to be more complicated than just the cynical observation that if the villains play well, people tend to forgive and forget.
Something more complex seems to be at work, if only because there are different degrees of rogues becoming sympathetic figures and their image rehabs in different ways, for different reasons.
Some wayward jocks snap back only as local heroes, as did Barry Bonds in San Francisco or Latrell Sprewell with the Knicks as they made a run to the 1999 NBA Finals. Sprewell became a fan favorite in New York despite being just one season removed from choking Golden State head coach P.J. Carlesimo in a practice dispute. Sports Illustrated published a photo where you could literally see the outline of Sprewell's fingers where he choked Carlesimo. People conveniently forgot.
Still, other fallen stars are seen as having paid the price for whatever they did, and flogging them anymore can seem gratuitous. Woods, like Rose and A-Rod, now falls in this category.
The worse Woods plays, the more fans seem to root for his renaissance.
If undergoing an image rehab is defined more narrowly as merely being "re-employable," then football coach Bobby Petrino has one of the more amazing stories. Anyone who remembers him standing at a mea culpa press conference at Arkansas -- a brace on his neck and Vaseline and blazing red brush burns all over his face after he wrecked a motorcycle he was riding with a woman he was having an extramarital affair with -- has to marvel at how Petrino has been given two more college jobs. The first was at Western Kentucky, which he then dumped after a year to return to Louisville. The same Louisville he abandoned, six months after signing a 10-year deal, for the Atlanta Falcons. Of course, he stayed just 13 games into his only season as the Falcons' head coach before bolting for Arkansas.
In Atlanta, Petrino relayed his decision to resign a four-sentence laminated note that was left at the locker of each Falcons player, a move that many in the organization called gutless.
Then there are the athletes who regain favor after it's later decided that their offending actions were forgivable -- LeBron James clumsily saying he was taking his talents to South Beach; Serena Williams screaming she was going to cram the bleeping ball down the bleeping throat of a cowering U.S. Open lineswoman during a 2009 semifinal.
James did win two titles with the Heat before returning to Cleveland, where he's lapsed back into earning admiration for almost singlehandedly dragging undermanned Cavaliers teams to the Finals. Been there, done that, and still came back home? Bringing the city of Cleveland its first championship in over half a century is starting to look like a quixotic quest.
Bad as Williams' treatment of that lineswoman was, it wasn't all that different from the behavior that's earned men's tennis stars from John McEnroe to Jimmy Connors great affection for their "intensity" for years. The only difference this time was the person doing the cussing was wearing a skirt.
Williams has endured unkind judgments for everything from her muscular physique to her willingness to call out racism and sexism during her long, unconventional career. But now look: Today, even people who don't agree with the details of everything Serena has done nonetheless admire the way she has endured.
As Monday's start of Wimbledon approaches, she has a chance to grab the third leg of a calendar year Grand Slam -- one of the few feats in her sport she hasn't accomplished -- and may end up with the most Slam titles ever in the Open era. At 33, she's also the closest thing women's tennis has to a player-stateswoman.
It goes a long, long way with the American public if you're willing to stand up and admit mistakes were made, too.
The late Joe Paterno kind of did that -- if far, far too late -- regarding his handling of Jerry Sandusky sex abuse charges. Former FBI director Louis Freeh's school-commissioned report concluded Paterno covered up reports of Sandusky's behavior. Nonetheless, Paterno was just inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, his supporters argue his statue should be placed back outside the football stadium and the Duquesne Brewing Company plans to roll out a special lager beer in his name later this summer.
Michael Vick did his prison time at Leavenworth after his dog fighting scandal and is now seen by fellow players as a highly respected locker room sage. He expertly defused the extreme tension on his Philadelphia Eagles team in 2013 after white receiver Riley Cooper was caught on video using a racial epithet. More recently, Vick told the Bills' LeSean McCoy to quit being so sensitive about others' opinions and play.
Taken all together, these cases seem to have to have something to do with the nature of fandom itself. And Mencken was right: The "facts" aren't necessarily the arbiter. Individualism rules. As fans, we have a little maverick in us -- much like the folks we forgive -- when it comes to having our entertainment interrupted or our fondest sports memories or personal touchstones compromised. We're selfish that way.
We want to hang onto the memory of being able to say where we were and who we were with back when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had that thrilling home run race for the ages, or, say, Tyson demolished Michael Spinks in 91 seconds in one of the most awesome and intimidating displays of heavyweight boxing ever.
A lot of folks would rather not dwell on how there might be something terribly wrong with McGwire hugging Roger Maris' kids the night he broke their dad's record, though he knew damn well he cheated. And the more recent optic of Tyson -- not just an ear biter, but a convicted rapist, remember -- being welcomed back into polite society and even treated like a bit of a loveable little plush toy just because he did some self-spoofing work in the "Hangover" movies is even more amazing. Those cameos led to Tyson being given a one-man show that he took to Vegas and Broadway and in which, at one point, he delivered a soliloquy basically nullifying his rape conviction as bull.
For Tyson, it appears the bar for re-entry was set pretty low.
All of which has to give Lance Armstrong hope.
Armstrong argued recently in one of Britain's leading newspapers that, "I've admitted to it all and I've suffered enough -- now it's time to draw a line in the sand.
Armstrong is a smart man. There's a method to his persistence and insistence on forgiveness.
History suggests he'll get his wish.