Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sports Innocence Lost

Some time ago I was listening to sports talk radio and they were talking about when each of them had lost their sports innocence. You can probably figure out what they meant, but just in case it's not clear, they were referring to that point in time when they had realized that the sports world isn't entirely magical. Athletes are people and sometimes they are unfaithful to their wives, sometimes they cheat, and sometimes people associated with sports can be more than selfish.

I don't remember what their various responses were, but for me it was easy to pick out exactly when my sports innocence was lost. 20 years ago yesterday was the day that Magic Johnson announced that he had contracted the HIV virus and that he would be retiring from professional basketball. I was 11 years old at the time and the Lakers were just coming off their NBA Finals loss to Michael Jordan's Bulls. I remember sitting on the leather couch and watching the screen and having no idea what HIV or AIDS was, and wondered how something could be so serious that it would derail the career of someone so iconic who was not far removed from the peak of his athletic abilities.

I had never even heard of the disease before then, didn't know how it was contracted, or what it was capable of doing, but if it could pull down both Magic Johnson and the Lakers, then it was something really serious.

If I had to name another time, I think I would have said either Bo Jackson destroying his hip in the AFC Championship Game against the Bengals or OJ Simpson's epic drive in Al Cowling's Bronco. I loved Bo for obvious reasons (Raiders RB and EVERYONE loved Bo Jackson), and I loved OJ because of the Naked Gun movies. Those movies came at the perfect time for a boy my age. Each of those events I remember very vividly.

Anyway, I bring this up not only because it was the anniversary of that announcement, but because of some of the recent swirling going on with Penn State and Joe Paterno. I am not a fan of Penn State, and I wouldn't even say I'm a huge fan of college football, but the news about the possible blind eyes that were turned about the defensive coordinator and former heir apparent of Paterno sexually abusing young boys is just heartbreaking. On more than one occasion I've heard of people refer to Penn State with reverence, even calling it Camelot. It's such a sad story to associate with the program and with Joe Pa only because he was otherwise probably one of the most revered people in all of college athletics.

It's just a sad thing to lose your innocence. What's weird is that sometimes it feels like you can lured back into believing that some things are just unthinkable, and then it happens, and you're left with nothing but heartache. It's a sad time for those boys and for Penn State.

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