Sometimes a story is too good to be true. And sometimes, we choose to believe it anyway.
This week, Lance Armstrong finally admitted to the truthfulness of accusations he faced throughout his cycling career. Armstrong was repeatedly accused of doping throughout his Tour De France whirlwind, but most Americans chose to believe him when he said he was no cheater.
The story was too good. Here was a cancer survivor turned champion, best-selling author and philanthropist. It’s a classic American narrative. The last time people in this country cared so much about someone riding a bicycle E.T. was fleeing earth for home. Unfortunately, Armstrong’s autobiography was as fictional as E.T.
It seems fitting the chickens would come home to roost for Armstrong around the same time that baseball writers chose not to put anyone on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. After all, they made that decision because it was the easiest thing to do when most of the possible inductee’s played in the steroids era. Rest assured ... Armstrong won’t be getting into any hall of fame either.
Then we have the weird story about Manti Te’o and his girlfriend (or something to that effect) coming to light just ahead of the Armstrong/Oprah ratings grab. When he shared the story of his sick lover who supposedly died of leukemia, Sports Illustrated and ESPN ate it up. It became college football’s feel good narrative about a young man persevering through a difficult time. It was a great story. It also was not true. We don’t yet know for sure whether the joke was on Te’o, the biggest sports organizations in the country, and then us ... or just on us. But there was, indeed, a duped party.
The thing about the Te’o situation is he report never should have made it off of an editor’s desk at any organization. The work done by deadspin.com to expose this whopper of a tale is evidence enough of that.
My hope is these developments are signs that sports journalism still finds its way to the truth because box scores don’t lie. They may not tell the whole story, but they create limits as to where the story can go. You can’t go out and compete at a level much higher than you have in the past, or be a starting pitcher in your 40s without throwing up red flags. I guess sometimes the story is so compelling we choose to have faith rather than dig deeper.
ESPN and Sports Illustrated are certainly guilty of that here.
Derek Johnson of Dover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.