It's almost 11pm on a saturday night, and I'm watching Florida - Giants on ESPN. Barry Bonds has 754 home runs now, only one short of Hank Aaron's record. When he finally ties then breaks it, which is bond (haha) to happen soon, it's gonna be a biiiiig day, something baseball fans will remember for all their life. For several reasons.
First, breaking the HR record is a big deal. It's a record which brings back memories of Babe Ruth, , who's been broken only once since the babe's era almost a 100 years ago.
But of course, the big deal is all about Barry Bonds, whose use of steroid is widely known. What do you do when someone who you know takes illegal stuff does something amazing? The problem, of course, is that nothing has ever been proven, so even though everybody knows the truth, "every us citizen is considered innocent unless proven guilty", as MLB commissioner Bug Selig puts it.
The same thing happened with Lance Armstrong winning a record 7-straight Tour De France. I still find it amazing Americans believe Armstrong to be innocent. They speak of his unbelievable story, a cancer survivor who comes back to win - 7 times! - the world's physically toughest event, as if it was something to be celebrated.
The truth is, if it's unbelievable, there's a reason for it: because it is not true. How can a smart person think someone who has gone through chemotherapy hell can come back and be naturally fit enough to win a Tour de France, let alone 7?
It is very fitting, I think, that Barry Bonds will break old' Hank's record just when the worst Tour in history is about to finish (several teams retired because their leaders were found guilty of using steroids and other testosterony crap). This might well qualify as the most shameful week-end in sport history. So why do people celebrate despite of all?
In Barry Bonds case, I think the answer has to be profoundly American. Breaking records is as much about looking forward to an always improved future as it is about celebrating a glorious past. Both values are dear to American hearts. Those hearts believe in people's best and to the beauty of sports as a way to push yourself always further. If it is proved in later years Barry Bonds cheated, his record will be taken away, but at least baseball fans won't have missed an occasion to celebrate their sport.
In Lance Armstrong's case, it's a little easier. The Tour shines from France on the whole world. Americans will never let an occasion for one of theirs to become a sport hero. So the US media made sure Armstrong's faults were not widely known (despite France newspaper and tour de france founder "L'Equipe" efforts),and instead destroyed poor (though guilty) Floyd Landis as a scapegoat. Landis is an American, of course, so that makes them look fair.
Finally, why does the Tour de France continues, year after year, stage after stage, despite the growing evidences that the whole sport is corrupted? Maybe it's because simply stopping the Tour seems impossible. Maybe because we all love to watch those guys climb mountains with a smile, the way James Bond haircut stays perfect even after 2 hours of action hell. Maybe the Tour is closer to Hollywood than we think.