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There ain't no good guys

May 11, 2016
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(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek) (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Friend of our show Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald recently wrote a column on good guys and bad guys in sports, focusing on David Ortiz of the Red Sox and Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez.

While Big Papi walks on water here in New England, he certainly has his detractors in other cities and the things he's doing at age forty have once again reignited suspicions of PED use. ARod was suspended from major league baseball for a year and then returned in spite of his team's wishes; he has been the post-Bonds poster boy for the steroid era.

Buck, however, wrote about them because they had each done something that would classify them as heroic figures. Ortiz promised a young fan battling health issues that he would hit a home run and then delivered in Ruthian fashion. Rodriguez's gesture, while not as dramatic, was every bit as kind, giving a young Fenway fan (who was also dealing with health challenges) his bat following a home run.

What was compelling in the Buckley story is that both Ortiz and Rodriguez were quick to proclaim that they are neither hero nor villain. Rather, they are flawed individuals who have a platform to do good things that draw media attention, but who are also judged on a regular basis in the harsh light of celebrity and media speculation.

As Ortiz pointed out, in regard to fans, 'you don't know me.'

All of this got me thinking about how frequently sports fans place a player in that 'good guy' or 'bad guy' box and how we sometimes keep them there in spite of evidence to the contrary. Recently, major league baseball suspended Chris Colabello and Dee Gordon for PED violations, yet they were universally praised as wonderful teammates and great guys - in no small part because that's how we've always viewed them. Would the reaction have been the same if the guilty parties were repeat offender Rodriguez or Sox whipping boy Pablo Sandoval?

Sports is filled with these dichotomies. In Patriots Nation, Tom Brady is a deity, one unfairly persecuted by an incompetent commissioner and jealous owners. Meanwhile, in other quarters he is seen as a talented but arrogant cheater. Peyton Manning will probably always be viewed as a hero in Indianapolis and Denver - this despite evidence which paints him as a sexual harasser who made it his mission for nearly two decades to destroy his accuser. LeBron James was the best player in the game and a guy everyone seemed to love - until he went on ESPN to announce his intent to take his talents to South Beach. Michael Jordan built a lucrative endorsement career on the image of the likable everyman an image that stood in stark contrast to the trash-talking, gambling, self-serving MJ teammates and opponents knew.

Even legends can be painted with a broad brush inappropriately. Baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb has been thought of for at least a half century as a racist, a dirty player and a guy no one wanted to play with. That is, until author Charles Leerhsen, in an eye-opening book built on stunning research ('Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty'), found that the real Georgia Peach came from a long line of abolitionists, was lifelong friends with many of the guys he played against and, while not one to suffer fools gladly, by most accounts played the game the right way.

The simple reality is that these people are athletes, nothing more. By all means, love the games and cheer for your team, but don't place any of them on a pedestal or assign virtues beyond their obvious talent.

Because - as David Ortiz reminds us - we really don't know them at all.

(Rich Kimball is the host of 'Downtown with Rich Kimball,' which airs from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday on The Pulse AM 620.)

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