Commentary

What do you still believe about sports?

Updated: October 4, 2010, 2:47 PM ET
By Jeff MacGregor | ESPN.com

I had a column written for today, but an hour ago I tore it up. My boss is furious. I need your help. Desperately. I'm having an existential crisis.

[+] EnlargeJose Bautista
Brad White/Getty ImagesJose Bautista hit 54 home runs this season, 38 more than in any previous year.

Bautista. Contador. Vick. Rose. From Armstrong to Landis to Zenyatta, how much of it can I believe? Can I still believe in the home runs and the yellow jerseys? What about the apologies, the accusations and the tears? What about the wins? The losses? Can I believe any of it? All of it? None of it? When did every sporting event become a referendum on my trust in sports? When did every athlete become a challenger to faith?

Because as anyone from Aquinas to Zoroaster will tell you, belief is the first and final casualty of doubt.

Here's what happened.

I was working on a story about sports and belief. Then on Thursday night my colleague Bill Simmons tweeted the following:

@sportsguy33 Whoa! 54 home runs for Jose Bautista. Tied for 19th all-time. Nobody from 1962 to 1996 hit that many. I'm still buying it. Like his swing.

"I'm still buying it."

That might be the tipping point phrase for 21st century sports right there. What we believe to be authentic has become the exception. What we can accept without cynicism is now remarkable.

That's when it hit me: What we think is real now seems rare.

In this Golden Age of cheats and PEDs, of bald-faced liars and bad faith science, of spin doctors and brand strategists and parole boards, of heartfelt apology and heartless larceny, it has become nearly impossible to believe that something -- anything -- might actually have been done on the square.

So I spent the weekend lost in a thicket of doubt. I tried to write my way out of it, but couldn't. On top of which, I'm sick to death of what I think I think. I tried everything from metaphysical objectivism to categories of belief, and fiddled with ontology from Tolstoy to Russell to Groucho.

But I'm still lost. I know that in order for sports to work, we have to believe what we're seeing. Believe it absolutely. Utterly. Otherwise it's theater. It's a fiction. In fact, what that play-by-play announcer means when he cries "unbelievable!" is the very opposite, that the thing we've just seen is completely believable.

Because it's real.

[+] Enlarge Alberto Contador
Pedro Armestre/AFP/Getty ImagesAlberto Contador became the latest cyclist to discuss trace amounts of a substance that should not have been in his body.

If fans don't believe what they're seeing, the whole apparatus collapses.

That's where you come in. That's how you help.

What do you believe?

Go to the comments section of this column and tell me please what you still believe about sports. And what you don't. And why.

Do you believe what you see on the field?

Do you believe what you hear off the field?

Do you believe what you read?

Do you believe in sports and do you believe in athletes and do you believe in them now as you did 10 days or 10 months or 10 years ago?

And I'll be logged in, and what we'll do this week is build a column from your comments in the comments. E-mail me or tweet me and I'll include those beliefs, too.

Argue me into something or argue me out of it. But argue.

For a long time I wondered what any fan's duty was to their sport. An hour ago it came to me. This. This is it. To make a case for our belief in the game.

And to believe.

Now just tell me why.

Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at jeff_macgregor@hotmail.com, or follow his Twitter.com feed @MacGregorESPN.

MORE COMMENTARY »