The indictment of Roger Clemens presents once again a challenge with which thoughtful sports fans have long been familiar.
Do we allow what some of the athletes do off the field to diminish our delight in what they and others do or have done on it?
They test us, these clowns, don’t they?
They get caught carrying guns on to airplanes, then go all wide-eyed and maintain that they’d forgotten the guns were in their luggage, or they say that the guns belonged to somebody else, or that the luggage did. Or something.
Or they bring guns into their locker rooms.
They dose themselves with steroids and then, if they’re caught, they confess in words their attorneys have hired some other people to write. Or they say they thought it was flaxseed oil. Or they shake their fingers at congressional committees, having previously signed autographs for the grandsons of the congressmen, and then we learn they have tested positive.
They drive recklessly and get into accidents and alcohol is involved.
They shoot themselves in the legs, and other people in other places, or they hire people to do it.
As their professional careers are only beginning, while they are still living on college campuses, they steal computers and credit cards from their dorm mates.
They speak of themselves in the third person and inhabit comic book personas.
They make bad music.
They get into the news for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with points, wins, or championships…reasons like possession of a controlled substance with intent to commit stupidity.
And we keep watching them, because the games they play continue to be absorbing. In their best moments, they give us – or have given us - images of grace and excellence. They provide our days and nights with suspense, and sometimes with an outlet for growling and griping that we might otherwise direct elsewhere. They make a kind of art, and if their brilliance is not lasting, perhaps we appreciate it all the more for that.
The happy truth to which we cling – we fans of the games that are sometimes betrayed by those who play them – is that those games endure and always will endure the insults, great and small, intentional and unconscious, of those who play them at the highest levels.