Back in the 1600s, British playwright William Congreve produced The Mourning Bride. It had kings and love and mistaken identity and disguises and beheading and tragedy. All the things you saw in sports just last week, basically.
The play’s most enduring contribution to modern culture was the closing line from Act III: Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turn’d. Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d. Hence the saying, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. But it appears Scorn’d Woman might lose in a pay-per-view heavyweight match in Hell today against Scorn’d Sports Consumer, as disgraced Lance Armstrong and shamed Manti Te’o can tell you today while soaked in so much love-to-hatred-turn’d.
Fraud! Liar! Hoax! The crowd at this particular play seems to enjoy shouting these things when the disguises fall apart, turning our kings to court jesters when they fall down on stage. Why? Because, while we wrap them in collisions and testosterone, sports are really just soap operas for males, allowing us to cluck and gossip in a way that feels masculine. Mock the gossip-monger for his or her obsession with celebrity in the supermarket’s magazine aisle, but what we witnessed last week was the Kardashianization of our sports-news cycle, swallowed as it was by Scorn’d Sports Consumer.
This includes fans and media alike, by the way. Not exonerating us here, not by a long shot. There are reasons this story climbed from inside the playpen of your newspaper to the very front page, where adult things should reside. You crave this mess. We provide it. Then, inevitably, we overindulge at feeding your cravings, for profit and for clicks, and you get mad at and blame us, the evil media, and we are all just a little bit dumber by transaction’s end. In the interim, while the media feeds you well past the point you’ve lost your appetite, guys like Armstrong make that up-down-up journey from god-to-fraud-to-martyr as if he were still riding all those mountains on that bike.
Armstrong, a very smart cheater, knows all this. It is why he volunteered to step into the made-for-TV confessional booth under no obligation, flanked by attorneys, to purge himself in two parts … so that he could start turning the rage to pity by giving his story one of those fresh blood transfusions that got him into so much trouble in the first place. Having conquered cancer and mountains, the devil-god on a bicycle is not daunted by impossible climbs, and so another begins for him now.
But the Scorn’d Sports Consumer must be heard first, damn it, so we will call Armstrong names and we’ll gather up our pitchforks and our torches, and we’ll even go find Oprah Winfrey, wherever she is now, to lead our angry mob. Alter your perspective by stepping back and gathering yourself amid all this hysteria for just a moment, though, and what you will see is that we pounced with furious anger and great vengeance upon:
1) A guy on a bicycle.
2) A college kid with an imaginary friend.
We gossip and cluck about what they were hiding just like those supermarket tabloids wonder about what John Travolta is concealing, the coverage so very disproportionate to the “crimes.” So, too, is the anger and the need for answers and the whole absurd and wonderful circus that should come with soap-operatic strains and dramatic turns toward the camera on cue. Athletes are competition-aholics looking for every advantage, cheating included, like junkies look for a high. College kids do dumb things and lie, even the famous ones who play for Notre Dame. It is so redundant, though, this rinse-repeat way we behave about sports, first turning athletes into gods and then turning on them when these false gods we’ve created are revealed to be merely human. Then again, soap operas have been recycling the same storylines since before both soap and opera.