It seems to be the age of disillusion

January 26, 2013

Almost at every turn, we see public figures and leaders who disappoint us.

I was surprised that Beyonce’s lip-synching during the inauguration seemed to be all anyone could talk about for a couple of days. If that’s all there is to complain about, we must be in pretty good shape.

Anyway, the ceremony itself was fake in the first place. Because of a requirement to get the inauguration done by a specific date, the real ceremony had been held the day before behind closed doors.

It was fake on top of fake.

Lance Armstrong’s admission that he lied about cheating with blood doping that helped him win the Tour de France seven times wasn’t anything that affects the rest of us directly. The Plano native did hurt plenty of others within his world, though. That includes people he had attacked and brought lawsuits against in a bizarre attempt to bully his detractors even though he knew he was in the wrong.

Jay Leno had a good “scandal” joke at Armstrong’s expense. He said it had been revealed that Armstrong, who rode for the American cycling team sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, had also been caught using UPS to ship his blood-doping paraphernalia ahead to the next race location.

Although that’s a funny one, it’s sad that Armstrong shredded the image so many fans had believed in prior to his admission of guilt. His fall from grace and arrogance are likely to harm many people connected with one truly great thing he did, creating the Livestrong Foundation that has served as a tremendous support for cancer victims.

Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame voters recently gave the old stiffarm to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others who have been accused of illegally using performance-enhancing drugs. The unfortunate fall of Clemens as a “hero” had far more of a personal impact on me than Armstrong did.

I’ve written about this before, but I had always put Clemens on a pedestal because of his baseball talent and the fact that he lived in Texas most of his life. He played college ball for the Longhorns, and eventually pitched for my favorite team, the Houston Astros.

Before that, when Clemens was pitching for Boston, I had an opportunity to meet him and ask for an interview when I was working as a sports writer. Clemens had a reputation of sometimes being difficult, so I was apprehensive as I approached him in the clubhouse inside the old Arlington Stadium. For goodness sakes, I had a poster of this man – pitching, in a Red Sox uniform – in my house.

Nothing was set up ahead of time. I took a chance because he wasn’t pitching that day. I approached him and stated who I was and which newspaper I represented. I asked if I could talk to him a few minutes. His response was “About what?” If he had been a second-rate utility infielder with a .224 career batting average, that question would have been understandable. But this was Roger Clemens – one of the best to ever hurl a baseball.

I thought, here we go. I’m about to get embarrassed in front of all his teammates. I figured he was going to say something humiliating in a loud voice and have security escort me out. But then a little miracle happened.

Clemens began to talk to me in a remarkably casual way – and not just for 30 seconds. He opened up and seemed friendlier than most pro athletes I ever met. He even described having a new house built for his family in Katy, near Houston.

At that moment, I couldn’t have been more pleased. And if Clemens wasn’t already my all-time favorite public figure, he definitely became No. 1 with a bullet on that day.

Years later came the rumors about Clemens’ problems related to, let’s just say, marriage fidelity issues. On top of that came the talk of performance-enhancing drugs that crept in a little at a time. Eventually, even the biggest Clemens fans – including me – no longer idolized him.

It wasn’t easy, but I eventually took down that poster of Clemens and threw it away.

I guess these fallen heroes serve as good lessons to the rest of us. We tend to overlook legitimate heroes, including members of the military, law enforcement and firefighting crews that many times deserve to be put on a pedestal because of their selfless sacrifices.

And even if they slip in their private life because they are human, at least our admiration for the good things they do isn’t foolish idol worship of a singer or an athlete.

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