Skip to content

Sport has not lost its innocence. It never had it to begin with.

Dec 15, 2011, 8:15 AM EDT

ryan braun wide getty Getty Images

Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times is around 60 years-old but it was just last Saturday that he lost his innocence. At least that’s what I’m taking from his column today.  Because if you take it at face value it says that after nearly 40 years of writing and reporting, the the Ryan Braun drug thing is what has finally made him realize that sports are awful and corrupt:

The 2011 MVP of Major League Baseball testing positive for synthetic testosterone might be the crisp cherry atop the mushroom cloud of fraud and cynicism and toxic greed that once was good ol’ sport … Nobody is saying that sports were ever pure. At least you won’t get that from this corner. Heck, I’m not sure David’s method for beating Goliath was sanctioned by the rules. But sport of the last 20 or so years doesn’t appear to have even a vestige of the morality or glorious lesson-learning that old sport seemed to have.

And yes, there is blame to be spread around. Telander blames “TV, the Internet, the multiheaded beast known as ESPN, even Twitter” for this horrible mess.  For the lack of heroes that he believes once existed among athletes. For the loss of morality he thinks existed. To which I’d say, on what basis does Telander believe that good ol’ sport ever had those things to begin with?

From racism to violence to cheating to drink to drugs to greed to misogyny to any other vice you can name, it has always existed in sports. Always. Because it has always existed in society and sports is no greater than society in any material respect. Athletes are human beings and human beings are flawed and those flaws lead all of the ills Telander cites in his column.  They always have. The only difference: it gets reported more today than it did in the 1930s or whenever.

Is Telander simply unaware of this? Or is his real beef that, because the way the world works, he is now incapable of being unaware?

  1. amaninwhite - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:21 AM

    Ignorance is bliss, my friend.

    • JBerardi - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:51 AM

      Not when it’s being projected upon you by loud idiots.

      • Old Gator - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:52 AM

        Ignorance loses its bliss in transit.

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 16, 2011 at 4:16 PM

        The GOP debates have nothing to do with this.

  2. skeleteeth - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    Reminds me of Keith Oberman stomping his feet and crying on the air when Mickey Mantle died.

    • skeleteeth - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:37 AM

      l n

  3. Chris Fiorentino - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    What a stupid and insane idea. So basically, sport used to have more innocence because there was no “TV, the Internet, the multiheaded beast known as ESPN, even Twitter”? Is this guy from Mars or something? Haven’t we all seen the stories of guys like Arnold Palmer being with other women, but because it was a different time, it was never reported on…whereas, Tiger Woods goes to McDonald’s at 10:30 pm and it is captured by 700 cameras and is on the newscast at 11 pm?

    I think the funniest commercial on right now is the one with the two guys on the chairs outside the game talking about how fast AT&T is. Granted, AT&T sucks, at least for me, but when the guy comes rolling out of the van and says “Anybody know how to post a video to Facebook” and the guys are playing it for him on Facebook before he is even done…well, that scene never fails to crack me up. And it is a pretty good statement of today’s world. You do something and it will be reported if you are in the public eye…like it or not.

    It doesn’t mean the past was more innocent. On the contrary, you could make the case that because the past was more discreet, it was probably a lot LESS innocent than today.

    • hittfamily - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:46 AM

      Rich famous men having multiple sexual partners hasn’t only started occurring in the last 20 years?

      If only athletes read the bible more, then they would know you can only sleep with your wife, and by wife, I mean woman whose village you conquered, raped, and then forced into sexual slavery.

      Ahhhh. Such innocent times in the old testament.

      • Old Gator - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:53 AM

        It’s good to be the King.

    • ta192 - Dec 16, 2011 at 1:37 PM

      Or at least, more was gotten away with…

  4. proudlycanadian - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    The guy is from Chicago and he never heard of the Black Sox?

  5. paperlions - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:34 AM

    Telander is just filling inches (or web space). If you actually watch/read anything about what baseball used to be like, you’ll think “damn, fans these days are down right civil compared to 100 yrs ago”…players were never “loyal” to teams, they didn’t have a choice in the matter….historically, being a “gamer” was nearly synonymous with doing anything to win, especially cheating…scuffing balls, grabbing the jersey of runners, spiking fielders, stealing signs from the CF scoreboard, throwing at guys heads…it wasn’t a hard game played by hard men, it was a hard game played by mean men.

    • stlouis1baseball - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:38 AM

      You are absolutely right Paper. Your reference to “grabbing the jersey” instantly reminded me of a story my old High School Baseball Coach used to tell.
      He was the starting center on the 1954 Milan High School Championship Team.
      For those not aware…the Milan team (and their single class state championship) was the basis for the movie “Hoosiers.”
      The Muncie South team was stacked with a bunch of big, strong, quick athletes.
      Coach admitted with pride his tactic of grabbing the Muncie Centers jersey from behind everytime he worked for post position and/or they fed the kid the ball in the box.
      When the Muncie kid learned to play through that…he grabbed his shorts the rest of the game an attempted to pull them down to keep him off balance.
      This stuff (gamesmanship) has been going on since sports were first played.

  6. Jonny 5 - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    Baseball was wayyy more pure and innocent before drug testing…..

    Here is more damning proof of that. It’s NSFW even if it’s only a letter.

    • skeleteeth - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:50 AM

      Hmm, bj by the Yankee bullpen. Not surprised…

    • ta192 - Dec 16, 2011 at 1:53 PM

      So what’s the problem, it’s not like doing drugs…he wasn’t putting a foreign substance in HIS body…

  7. drmonkeyarmy - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    One of two possibilities exist: He is a crusty old man who has a distorted perspective about the over arching cultural values and mores of his youth. It seems to happen quite frequently as people age…you know they whole “in my generation…” nonsense. It is perhaps a subconscious mechanism in which one glorifies happier, more innocent times in their lives. Of course it is complete bullshit. People always have engaged in unsavory behaviors. It is no better or worse now…just different. Some people can’t handle that and perpetuate stereotypes about certain eras. Or perhaps is just a sportswriter who feels some type of righteous indignation (I know, rare for a journalist) and just wants to rant on something taken to an extreme.

  8. blueintown - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:50 AM

    Rick Telander continues his quest to fully recast himself as Jay Mariotti. He should be booked for beating up a hooker any day now.

    • stlouis1baseball - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:39 AM

      Wow Blue. We finally agree on something. Both of those guys grate on my nerves like no other.

  9. philliesblow - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:50 AM

    Maybe someone should sit Telander down and talk to him about Santa Claus too.

    • stlouis1baseball - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:42 AM

      Yeah really…
      And while they are at it they should probably cover the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.

      • hittfamily - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:47 AM

        And Tim Tebow

      • tommyshih - Dec 15, 2011 at 4:22 PM

        What. Tim Tebow is REAL.

        He climbs down your chimney and leaves an egg under your pillow. And when you crack open the egg there is a crisp new dollar bill in it. Proof: on the back of the dollar bill it says, “IN GOD WE TRUST.”

  10. 18thstreet - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    I’m reading Jane Levy’s book on Mickey Mantle right now. The only reason heroes of previous generations didn’t take steroids is that they didn’t exist.

    • JBerardi - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:21 AM

      Corked bats, anyone?

      • 18thstreet - Dec 15, 2011 at 4:20 PM

        I can’t find the quote (well, I’m not looking for it), but Mantle went to some quack doctor (who later lost his license) in the hopes that he could get his pain relieved. The guy gave him a shot that Mantle had literally no idea what was in it. It’s not a picture of a guy who wouldn’t have taken steroids. (Keep in mind — he did take greenies “by the handful” according to the book.)

    • jimbo1949 - Dec 15, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      I remember reading in Ball Four, Bouton’s desire for a pill that would enable him to pitch better. Born too soon?

  11. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    I lost my innocence one spring night in ’66 under the stars, I was 18 at the time. It’s a shame that Telander had to wait until he was in his 60s. Dude, you missed a lot.

  12. stex52 - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    He just had a deadline, and it was topical. Although I could agree with him about ESPN.

    There is probably a time for all of us real baseball fans when we are between the ages of about 8 and 16 where things look simpler and happier. Baseball is just about those guys on the field and giving the “just glad to be here” interviews. Cultural norms are the only rules we know. You don’t get all the other stuff yet.

    A lot of people don’t ever get over that time in their lives and are still talking about it when they are 60. The article was written for them.

    • cur68 - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:41 AM

      Yup, stex, between 8 & 16 I used to love athlete interviews. Somewhere in there I discovered that they all say the same thing in interviews and I stopped liking them…(unless it was Bonds: he was such a truculent interview I kind of wondered if he was like that so the press guys would flock to him).

      Same thing with athlete behaviour and cheating in general. In my early teens I worshiped those guys like they were gods. Then I noticed that most of the guys I really admired were pretty abysmal at ordinary things that I just took for granted: keeping your word, not cheating, being kind to people who haven’t harmed you in some way, etc. These days I dread meeting any pro athletes or celebrities that I like for their work: what if they are failures as people? So I got over worshiping athletes (and now worship a Halladay bobblehead with a golf club cover pulled over it: he likes to drink rum with me).

      Our boy Telander either never got past being about 14 emotionally or never forgave people for being as human as he is. That’s the demographic that piece is aimed at.

  13. hittfamily - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    Some evenings, when the wind blows just right, I get reminded of the good ole days when our public schools didn’t teach evolution, priests could still molest children unreported, and Negro’s had their own league.

    Those were the good times. What has this country come to?

    Now where is that remote, O’reilly is on.

    • thefalcon123 - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:44 AM

      We all yearn for that better, more innocent time in America when the National Guard had to escort African-Americans to school….

    • stex52 - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:45 AM

      Exactly. But when you were 10 years old, who knew any different?

      • JBerardi - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:05 AM

        “Exactly. But when you were 10 years old, who knew any different?

        I think it’s a projection thing. When you’re ten, you’re blind to the evils of the world (hopefully). By the time you’re 50, your eyes have most likely been opened to just how crappy and corrupt and stupid every single person in the world is. And I think the most common way that people reconcile that is to assume that it’s the world that’s changed; when all that’s really changed is them.

        Think about it. Boomers don’t defend guys in Ty Cobb’s generation. And they don’t defend players now. But Willy Mays’ “red juice”? Right down the old memory hole, like it never happened.

      • hittfamily - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:17 AM

        I forgot about red juice. Thanks for the reminder.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:04 AM

        A much better article and the single best thing I have ever read to counteract all the hypocritical idiots at the BBWAA and their hall of fame voting.

      • jwbiii - Dec 15, 2011 at 1:43 PM

        Thanks for the the late Mike “Hat Guy” Celizic piece. Did you know that he was NBC’s go-to guy for shark attack stories, of all things?

        For more fun, put “Babe Ruth sheep testes” into the Google machine.

  14. thefalcon123 - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    “. But sport of the last 20 or so years doesn’t appear to have even a vestige of the morality or glorious lesson-learning that old sport seemed to have.”–

    –Like back in the good old days when Ty Cobb stabbed a black man for being “uppity” and did exactly zero jail time for it…Or those several decades when the game was for white’s only…or when Gaylord Perry was doctoring the ball…or Joe Niekro being caught with sandpaper on the mound…or Whitey Ford using his wedding right to gash the ball…or when Juan Marichal clubbed Johnny Roseboro over the head with a bat…or the Black Sox…or wonderful little Greenies…

    • JBerardi - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:58 AM

      You get a cultural exemption for being a childhood icon of the Baby Boomers.

  15. badmamainphilliesjamas - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    I’m wondering about a guy who could play and cover sports for so many years and keep those illusions.

    Is it me, or does he seem to yearn for the days when we didn’t care about athletes’ head injuries?

    • stlouis1baseball - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:22 AM

      That’s right Mama. The days of leather helmets and NO facemasks.

  16. Reggie's Bush - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    Maybe it’s just me, but I could care less about what a player does on his own time. Why does it matter if Tiger Woods likes to get some nookie on the side? Why should I care if Miggie Cabrera likes to get stupefyingly drunk?

    I watch for the sport not to make their lives a 24 hour reality tv show. When you cheat the rules of the game – now I have an issue.

    This is not to say all sports have been innocent all along, actually far from it. I just wanted to voice my opinion of what would violate the innocence of an athlete – not a person. I don’t know these guys I shouldn’t judge them personally based on what we see on BSPN or other media outlets or at least I have no reason to do so.

    Before I get the “these guys are heroes to kids” retort, I will say this: blah! Kids should look up to their parents or other real heroes not some guy who can swing a bat well (trying to emulate their play on the field is totally different)

    • stlouis1baseball - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:32 AM

      I am with you 100% Reggie. I will add that although they should NOT be heroes and/or role models…the fact remains they ARE to a vast number of kids. When those guys are splased all over the news, web, print, etc… making complete asses of themselves these kids can’t help but notice it. This is also no different than Parents/Coaches brawling on a little league diamond or bantam league football field. Sad…but a fact of where we are. When Charles Barkley stated he shouldn’t be a role model and he is NOT a role model he was right. But that is also naive because to many…many…kids he is/was. Whether we like it or not.

  17. Old Gator - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    Based on pretty convincing evidence from mitochondrial DNA, paleontologists now believe that George Antrobus, the Cro-magnon who invented the baseball bat (which he used to brain mastodons in the offseason – we’ve never found splinters from the original bat but clearly it wasn’t maple) occasionally hybridized with Neanderthals when he was on the road. Ergo, sin waited for baseball before ever baseball was.

    Paleoanthropologists further believe that, based on fibers found in the middens of archaic motel caves, that Antrobus would wake up the next morning and place a reed-paper bag over the female Neanderthal’s head, finding her features by daylight very odd by comparison with his own. Some further believe that Antrobus coined the term “strange” to account for this.

    • stlouis1baseball - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:34 AM

      Gator. I love bluegill. Nothing better (from a fresh water fish perspective).
      Bluegill with a Horseradish/Ketchup mix as a dipping sauce…Wow. It will give a beer fits!

      • Old Gator - Dec 15, 2011 at 1:21 PM

        Very in with the horseradish and ketchup. At Caplansky’s Deli in Toronto, they have a horseradish-mustard mix that could turn a horrible horsemeat and Velveeta™ sandwich into a prime rib sandwich from Lowry’s. When I’m up there I slather it on one of their overstuffed smoked meat on rye sandwiches. You never imagined it was possible to have a sensation like that so far up your body.

      • ta192 - Dec 16, 2011 at 1:45 PM

        Wonder if Darvis knows about this deli?

  18. philliesblow - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    Speaking of losing innocence, would the Allies have won WWII if the press reported on that with the freedom and access they have now? There might be something to be said for being better off not knowing everything.

    • Old Gator - Dec 15, 2011 at 1:17 PM

      It looks to you like we won?

      • stex52 - Dec 15, 2011 at 2:09 PM

        You might say we finished first and everyone else did a lot worse.

  19. Lukehart80 - Dec 15, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    Growing up in Chicago, Telander was my favorite columnist, this was back in the 90s, when the newspaper was my main source of sports news and opinion. I thought he had good insights and interesting takes on things. The man also wrote “Heaven is a Playground,” still one of the greatest sports books ever.

    The world seems to have passed him by, as it has so many others. I wonder if newspaper writers have consciously changed their approach, their voice, to adapt to a world in which a very particular segment of the population is still getting their sports from newspapers.

    I would guess that the type of fan who still thinks a newspaper is the best way to learn about sports is the kind of sports fan who thinks things were better in the past, so columns like this one probably go over well with Telander’s core audience.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. G. Stanton (2725)
  2. C. Correa (2642)
  3. G. Springer (2636)
  4. H. Ramirez (2634)
  5. B. Crawford (2428)
  1. M. Teixeira (2402)
  2. H. Pence (2352)
  3. J. Baez (2331)
  4. J. Hamilton (2258)
  5. Y. Puig (2235)