Cynics and superstars

By all accounts, I am a card-carrying cynic.

It’s an ugly trait in a 26-year-old, but there you go.

The thing is, we cynics enjoy an easy view. Keep expectations low and you are never disappointed. Expect the worst from someone or some situation – you’ll get it more often than not. A bleak and grim view? Sure. But the evidence tips my side of the ledger recurrently.

This is especially true across the world of high-level sports.

The shadiness and corruptness of the NCAA, the NFL, FIFA and the like is obvious and probably inherent.

As Frank Herbert, author of Dune, wrote: “Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect any who seek it.”

So no one should be surprised when Roger Goodell pushes for an 18-game season with one side of his face while the other preaches player safety. And it should catch no one off guard when Jeffrey Loria holds Miami hostage for a new stadium only to cut cost and salary as soon as the ribbon is snipped. By the very nature of their position, executives demand skepticism when they order tea instead of coffee.

We should expect double-dealings from administration and the like. It is core to their nature.

But more disheartening, it permeates on the individual athlete level too.

Growing up in Wisconsin, my experience with sports stars went something in the order of Brett Favre, Brett Favre, Brett Favre, stories about a young Robin Yount, Brett Favre.

Live and breathe Packers. And the Packers were Brett Favre.

Which made the tone-deaf temper tantrum of the 2008 retirement flip-flop all the more illustrative. If a man who was universally loved in Wisconsin for 15 years – despite his, ahem, checkered personal history – could so thoroughly demonstrate a lack of appreciation for that love, then no athlete was to be trusted.

Which is OK, by the way. They were to be admired for their athleticism, skill, grace, ability under pressure, creativity, bravery – many of the same reasons we enjoy literature and movies and stand fascinated by art. You can appreciate the human endeavor without attaching to the individual responsible.

Five years later, Ryan Braun confirmed this stance.

Braun lied to Brewers fans, and then lied about the lie. Something even most 6-year-olds understand – coming clean when you are caught – the face of the Brewers organization couldn’t grasp.

Which brings us to LeBron James.

You have read the Sports Illustrated essay by now. You have likely, formed an opinion; signed, sealed and delivered. Nothing I can say will change your mind – nor is that the point.

I choose to believe LeBron.

I acknowledge the silliness of that decision. I accept that his returning to Cleveland may have had as much to do with the talent level in place on the Cavs (or lack thereof with Miami) and the cap room to come, as any sense of loyalty. His decision could have been motivated by 1,000 selfish reasons, none of them revealed in his SI epistle.

But for once, I am choosing to shed my cynicism. I am choosing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The more I look at it, there are two sides to sports fandom. You have the rational side, and the irrational 12-year-old.

The rational side appreciates sports for the strategy, the accomplishment and the marvel of the athletic undertaking. Football is very much like a war game, taking 11 troops and positioning them against another 11. Basketball is Newton’s Third Law. You dribble here, and the defense shifts there. Set a pick now, and this lane opens up then. Baseball has beer and summer and Uecker and Scully. There are plenty of rational reasons we enjoy sports.

But the irrational side is there too, even if we want to ignore it.

Team loyalty itself, is irrational. The Brewers have enjoyed five winning seasons since I was born. My father is from New Jersey, my mother from Minnesota. Cold logic dictates that I should have taken up another team, or no team at all, a long time ago.

But I’ll be sporting a Crew cap until the day I die or the zombies finally attack.

So I want LeBron to be a good guy. I want a top-level athlete who gets why the 12-year-old hangs on his every move. I want someone who returns just a little bit of the respect he receives.

I want my nature to be proven wrong this time. So maybe the Cleveland 12-year-old won’t grow up a cynic like me.