Deconstructing the Champ

Who does it hurt?

That’s the question that needs to be answered when examining the issue of athletes lying about the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

It’s a question that warrants meaningful examination by anyone who owns a team or sponsors an athletic event in which the public expects that athletes are not only giving it their physical best, but their ethical best, as well.

It’s also the question I would have asked Yankee third-baseman Alex Rodriguez last Monday (Feb. 10) when he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003 after lying about it for six years.

According to a New York Times article, “Rodriquez said he stopped using performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 after sustaining a neck injury in spring training.”

Lying in bed, contemplating his future, Rodriguez asked himself, “What am I doing? Not only am I going to hurt my baseball career, I’m going to hurt my post-career.  It was time to grow up, stop being selfish, stop being stupid and take control of whatever you’re ingesting. And for that I couldn’t feel more regret and feel more sorry, because I have so much respect for this game and the people that follow us.”

And what’s been the reaction from fans?

“If Alex Rodriguez was sincere about his apology to fans,”wrote Jeffrey Bellamar in a Times letter, “he would have come forward before his steroid use was made public.  But he held this secret for six years… He is sorry he was caught. Period.”

“What infuriates me about Alex Rodriguez,” wrote Michael Gillick, “is that they even think of being compared to a true American hero like Henry Aaron.  Aaron came up from worse than nothing, took unspeakable abuse all along the way, and set not only a record for the ages, but an example for every young boy and girl who would like to really do something with his or her life.”

The other night I was watching the film, Resurrecting the Champ.  The story follows Erik, a journalist who befriends a former boxer, now homeless, whom everyone in the neighborhood calls “Champ.”

After listening to a series of colorful stories from the old man, Erik writes an in-depth piece about this long-forgotten, heavyweight boxer named Bob Satterfield whose life took a dark turn.  During their time together Erik and Champ develop a bond. Both share a passion for boxing.  Both men long to be viewed as heroes by their sons.

When the story is published, Erik becomes the writer he’s always wanted to be in the eyes of many, especially his son, Teddy, and Champ regains some of the respect he lost.

But this is where the film takes its own dark turn, because most everything Champ told Erik was a lie.

Years ago, Tommy Kincaid, (Champ’s real name), borrowed Satterfield’s name as part of a scheme by an unscrupulous promoter.  Kincaid went along with the lie so he could provide for his family and re-build his reputation. But things never worked out the way he had expected, and Champ maintained the lie for so long that he began to believe it, until the truth finally catches up with him.

So, now the truth finally catches up with Alex Rodriguez; a truth he lied about for six years. Every time he answered a reporter’s question, he lied. Every time he cashed a paycheck, he lied. Every time he looked a young boy in the eye and signed an autograph, he lied.

And just like events in the film, the truth is revealed throughanother source, not by the individuals responsible.

Not long after the truth about Champ comes to light, Erik contemplates his own future with a colleague who also happens to be the wife from whom he’s separated.

“Joyce,” Erik argues, “the point in the article is still true.”

“Erik, it’s a lie. If you profit by a lie, then you’re the same as a liar… you let me down, and you let everyone else who works at this paper down because you ought to be better than that.  Is that simple enough?”

“No, Joyce, that’s not simple enough.”

“Then let me put it another way,” she tells him, “You need to behave as if Teddy was watching.”

All of us make mistakes. All of us have done or said something that we regret.  But how we handle those mistakes, how we deal with the truth, determines our character.

So, who did Alex Rodriguez hurt with his lie?

Whether he realized it or not, Rodriguez answered that question himself, last Monday:  “I have millions of fans out there who won’t ever look at me the same.”

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