The Cornerback Vanishes: Airbrushing Sports History Out of Picture

In the parallel universe created by the Sports Gods, Lance Armstrong didn’t win the Tour de France seven times, Joe Paterno isn’t the winningest coach in college football history, and Mike Tyson didn’t beat Andrew Golota. Each of these iconic figures offended the Sports Gods: Armstrong for performance enhancing drugs, Tyson for performance inhibiting drugs (marijuana), and Paterno for his association with a pedophile. So, the Sports Gods removed any record of their accomplishments.

The phenomenon of erasing records and even the existence of controversial athletes and coaches is the subject of an article in today’s New York Times, which looks at last month’s Heisman Trophy ceremony and wonders why two of the award’s top finishers—O.J. Simpson and Reggie Bush—have been erased from memory. The paper cites the omission of the year 2005—Bush’s Heisman-winning season—from the trophy’s official history as an example the sports amnesia address in the piece.

“In avoiding any mention of two controversial winners,” Richard Sandomir writes, “the Heisman ceremony was notable for another recent trend: colleges and sports teams that love to celebrate their history have become masters at editing it. Often this is done quietly, with computer keystrokes altering a record book, and not with an angry mob throwing a rope around a statue’s neck on the stadium steps.”

Bureaucrats punishing dishonest competition generally do so through dishonesty, whiting out wins, seasons, and records as though they never happened. Did Joe Paterno really lose all those games that we saw him win because his defensive coordinator turned out to be a sexual predator?

“Sports, perhaps better than any endeavor except politics, has become adept at a type of cleansing more commonly associated with authoritarian governments,” Sandomir explains. “With surprising regularity and ease, once-popular figures who have run afoul of the rules or the law have been erased like disgraced leaders from an old Soviet photo album, whitewashed from history to preserve an institution’s image or to abide by a governing body’s sanctions.”


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