The Dream of the 90s Finally Died In America

I’ve thought about the 1990’s a lot in recent weeks. No, it’s not because I’m getting old and nostalgic. No, it’s not because I saw the new Microsoft ad pandering to me.

It’s because everything about that decade seems to have been a house of cards that finally crumbled.

sosa si cover
Some crumbled quickly. The .com bubble burst a painful death a decade ago. The booming economy crumbled within years and was ground down to nothing by 2008. Our belief that the end of the Cold War meant a safe existence was destroyed on 9/11.

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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  1. The 90's also gave us OJ Simpson cheating the criminal justice system.

  2. Every era has its heroes and villains. As with so many things in life, it is usually when you look back on the stories of your yesteryear, through the less naive and more "worldly" lens of the older and so-called wiser self that (most of) the young become, when you realize that heroes don't really exist. Heroes, by their very ethos, are not real, but merely a state of being that we create in our minds and in our hearts. This is why when you are young, it is so much easier to believe, because we are all so much more...trusting and willing to accept the exceptional without question. We see the possibility in life as endless. Heroes, in sports or any other facet of life, are no different than Spiderman or The Hulk, they exist as heroes because we choose to see them that way. They represent the one thing that no human can be without; hope. The hope of something better. The hope of something greater. The hope that there is at least one person that is better and gives us something to strive for, something to work towards. Don't be sad for the death of your heroes, just be happy that you were smart enough to believe in them in the first place (regardless of what the "truth" was). If they gave you hope, then they really were heroes. Maybe they were not necessarily great people, or even fair sports players, but they were great heroes. The point is that they inspired you and made you believe and gave you that hope that can only come from those childhood heroes. Regardless of the numerous other pieces and parts of them that were simply human and flawed, they represented greatness, if only for a brief period, and for that you can be grateful.


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