It’s because everything about that decade seems to have been a house of cards that finally crumbled.
But in recent weeks, the men we held up as sports idols in the 1990’s have been cruelly tossed aside as pariahs that cheated the system.
When the Baseball Hall of Fame announced its class of 2013, it did so very quickly. No one was elected. Not Barry Bonds, the man who won multiple MVP awards in the decade. Not Mark McGwire, the man who smashed 70 home runs in 1998 and brought baseball back to relevance. Not Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza or Roger Clemens – three men who helped defined the game in the decade.
The reason wasn’t shocking, of course. All of those men* admitted or have been implied with great evidence to have taken some form of performance-enhancing drugs. Whether you feel that the Hall of Fame should ignore their accomplishments is beside the point – they were all cheating to get ahead.
*The Mike Piazza thing annoys me as a Mets fan since there is no evidence, which I’ve seen, fingering him on the same level of Bonds or Clemens or McGwire. But rumors are rumors and it wouldn’t exactly stun me if it was true. I don’t think we have enough evidence though to say he did.
What stands out to me is being a baseball fan in 1998 – a wide-eyed, naïve 16 year old who couldn’t get enough of McGwire and Sosa smashing baseballs further than any man had the right to. Steroids never crossed my mind. I believed the lied. I believed it was due to better weight training. I believed Sosa could transform himself into a power hitting God. I believed 70 home runs in a season were natural.
I was stupid.
In 1999, Lance Armstrong overcame cancer to win his first Tour de France and became one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet. The French press angered me with their accusations. They were spiteful. They were ignorant. They were wrong. Lance Armstrong was clean.
I was wrong. I was ignorant.
As Lance continued his web of lies to Oprah, telling half-truths and sort-of-lies, I became spiteful. I became angry that I had wasted any amount of time defending Lance. I became annoyed that I wasted my time watching him crush the Alps like he was going up a molehill.
I am sad.
The late 1990’s were, compared to today, the Roaring 20’s. The economy was humming. MTV still had Carson Daly. ESPN hadn’t yet destroyed the sports media by embracing debate. Napster existed. Facebook did not. High-speed Internet was a shiny new toy. People read newspapers.
It felt, if I can be cliché for a moment, that anything was possible. It rang clear through our sports idols. You could hit 70 home runs. You could win a Tour de France after beating cancer. We never imagined those things could happen, yet they did.
They shouldn’t have. And now I am depressed.
As a teenager, I had an excuse to being naïve. I grew up in a small farm town in eastern Connecticut. The big world was still foreign to me. What about the rest of us? How did we let everything slide? From Al-Qaeda to the economy to steroids, we missed it all. Were we having too much fun spending money like it was a never-ending supply? Were we blind on purpose? Or were we not even looking?
The dream of the 1990’s – that glorious time when people could sleep until 11am and still be functioning members of society – has faded for a while. It has finally succumbed and no longer exists.
The final death knell, fittingly, came in the form of song. Britney Spears, the vixen who stole many hearts – mine included, released a song with Will.I.Am. It is probably the worst song ever recorded.
Okay, that’s too much hyperbole. Let’s describe it more aptly as a few minutes of random noises, nonsensical lyrics and terrible beats.
That’s music today? Imagine going back to 1999 and Britney releasing that song to a throng of adoring TRL fans on a Wednesday afternoon. They would be horrified. They would be scared. They would be grief-stricken.
What happened to our Britney? What happened to our Lance? What happened to us?
The 2000s were not kind to our culture, and the 2010s haven’t started out much better.
Maybe we need this. Maybe we need to destroy what we built, so we can rebuild again. We should be better. We could be better. We will be better?
Let’s hope I’m not writing a similar blog post 15 years from now about a disgraced Michael Phelps or Tim Tebow. America thrives on heroes, especially of the sports variety.
It would just help if they deserved our affection.
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