As the Wednesday guy, I’m often last to the dance when it comes to writing about current events. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as if the most compelling stories occur during the week.
So, I’ve adopted — really out of necessity, since I work a couple of jobs that take me most weeks 40 or so hours — a narrative-essay writing style, one where my column content isn’t constricted by time. I submit columns several Wednesdays out, and generally, by halfway through one month, if I haven’t sent to my editor all four or five of the next month’s columns, I get nervous.
Now, having said that, there are times when I just have to weigh in on something that’s more current and will replace an already-submitted column, and that’s what I made time to do last Friday. That’s about as current as I have time to get, folks!
So, what about last week in the world of sports? At the beginning of the week, it was dominated by Lance Armstrong’s long-overdue act of contrition about using performance-enhancing drugs to pedal his way to a platform to do a lot of good through his creation of LIVESTRONG, a foundation to help those who are battling cancer as he once did, and also to pedal all the way to the bank. Through his cycling success, he, according to the website Celebrity Net Worth, has also amassed a personal fortune well north of $100 million.
However, by the middle of the week, the story of the taping of his 2 1/2-hour mea culpa to Oprah (no last name needed) was forced to play second fiddle, no doubt much to the consternation of O, who chose to tease the story for a few days before airing it on Thursday and Friday night. First fiddle became the strange tale involving Manti Te’o, the heart and soul of this past year’s Notre Dame football resurgence (save for that Alabama pasting in their finale).
Unless you were living in subterranean fashion last week, you’ve heard ad nauseam about Te’o and a girlfriend who never existed, one who became a tragic mythological figure as well as a motivating force for the man considered by some as the best linebacker in college football. Her widely reported-on “death” from leukemia turned out to be the stuff that those LMN movies that breathed some life into the careers of folks like former Wings co-star Crystal Bernard are made of.
As for Armstrong’s real motivation to his finally admitting what anyone with a brain larger than a sparrow’s already knew or what really happened with the football hero and the girl who never was, who knows? No matter how many layers are peeled, we may never know what really happened, no matter what the principal figures say happened. But, what I do know is that the world of sports is hardly a stranger when it comes to the weird.
Many of you may recall the case of the girl back in 1980, that starry-eyed 23-year-old Cuban-American who had a dream. That dream was to be the first woman to cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon without panting or sweating despite race-day temperatures near 80. Now, the fact that several spectators later concurred that they’d seen Rosie Ruiz sprint out from the crowd on Commonwealth Avenue, a half mile from the finish line, is another matter. After all, why waste all that time running all morning when all anyone cares about when it comes to people who run in the street is who gets to stop first, right?
Fast-forward to 1994 and, against the backdrop of the Olympic trials and Winter Games in Lillehammer, Germany, we all were treated to a tale that stretched the seams of credibility as much as Honey Boo Boo might stretch an undersized leotard.
Seeking to increase her chances of winning medals, Tonya Harding, that plucky kid from Portland, Ore., apparently was complicit, either before or after the fact, depending upon whose version of the story you believe, hers or ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and her bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt, in an attack by hired thug Shane Stant on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan with a tire iron.
The blow intended to break her kneecap, but you know how things go in the world of sports and crime when the game’s on the line. Stant’s aim was off, and the blow landed mid-thigh during the assault after a Kerrigan practice in Detroit for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, a precursor to the Olympics. The deep bruise was enough to knock her out of the U.S. Championships, but she recovered in time for Lillehammer and medaled in silver, while Harding finished far back in the pack.
Come court time, to avoid jail, Harding pleaded to conspiracy and received probation, community service and a hefty fine. Some years later, she was, apparently, forced into reality TV servitude as an inane commentator weighing in on submitted videos showing really stupid and really drunk people. Caution, if watching “The Smoking Gun: World’s Dumbest” is a guilty pleasure, tell no one!
Perhaps the saddest of an anthology full of weird sports stories is one colored by tragedy, one that took place in 1999. It was an event of which I was reminded last fall when I read a story in Sports Illustrated about a 13-year-old boy, Chancellor Adams, that isn’t supposed to be here, and as remarkable a woman as you’ll ever read about, his caregiver and grandmother, Saundra Adams. Her daughter was murdered by a hit man hired by former Carolina Panther wide receiver Rae Carruth, a guy who, for my money, just may be the most evil man in the entire pantheon of sports.
You’ll recall it was Carruth who hired a hit man named Van Brett Watkins for six grand to solve that sticky problem of a pregnant girlfriend named Cherica Adams and her soon-to-be-born baby. The contract called for the killing of both.
What Carruth didn’t plan on was, after being shot four times, Cherica Adams living long enough to provide damning testimony at the hospital that eventually put him behind bars. Additionally, what Carruth didn’t plan on was the C-section performed and the birth of the baby.
In Thomas Lake’s incredibly moving story in that Sept. 17 issue, as fine a piece of journalism as I’ve ever read, the tale is told of the duel indomitable wills of the brain-damaged boy who can speak only a few words at a time and can’t walk more than a few steps at a time and has to be fed by his mother’s mother, the woman who refuses to see him as anything less than a gift from God.
Meanwhile, Carruth is serving an 18- to 24-year sentence. He can speak as many words as he wants, can walk as far as he is allowed and can feed himself as much as he desires. And, in 2018, at a still-young 44 years old, Carruth will be released to do these things beyond any prison walls.
So, please, let’s not overreact to last week’s twin tales of the cyclist and the linebacker, for when it comes to anything that spins around in the news cycle, like a sock that sticks to the wall of the drum, often what is hardest to find is perspective.