Put aside the world citizen stuff and Usain Bolt matters in a way that no athlete has since Muhammad Ali because he makes us uncomfortable with truth (albeit in a different way) and that's very, very good.
Because he's a sprinter, we wonder if he won't go all Ben Johnson on us at some point, so we await the message in the bottle each time out. What are you going to do, eh?
But with Bolt, it's something beyond skepticism because in dispatching the field yesterday in an astonishing 9.58 seconds in the men's 100-metre final in Berlin, he once again was not entirely focused on the finish line.
He looked around, for Pete's sake. And so we are left to be suspicious about whether he can't cut down the world record even more, which makes wondering how he does it and if it's all above board seem a little less worthy of our time.
I mean, he hasn't been caught yet, has he? And with his celebrity and our TMZ, tabloid culture, you'd have to think his secret would have been out by now.
If a minor-league ballplayer like Howie Clark gets outed as a user of performance-enhancing substances … well, you know. Would a person using something illegal be so cavalier? So quick to draw attention to himself? So willing to make enemies of the white guys who run international athletics? Plus, wouldn't fear of being caught make a person want to run the best-ever time on each occasion, just in case?
We already believe Bolt has fooled if not cheated us by appearing to hold a little bit back in each race. It's a wink of an eye - an "I know something that you don't" that in its playfulness makes us think not of guys in lab coats - and in that regard, Bolt is a tease who in an odd way has managed to get many of us to change the list of our questioning to "How fast?" from "How?" It's a subtle change, but one that's important and in some ways liberating, and there is no other world athlete since Muhammad Ali who has been so worth worrying about.
As an aside, convicted steroid user Dwain Chambers finished in 10 seconds flat in the final. Chambers was given a two-year suspension and is still barred for life from competing for Britain in the Olympics but is eligible to run in other international events. The next step in the evolution of this debate is expediting re-entry for those who have failed tests and maybe that's part of Bolt's allure, too: His public would demand his reinstatement even if the suspicions came to pass.
Monday 2 Monday
I understand that commissioner Roger Goodell wants to be tough on the increasing number of miscreants that play in the NFL. It's about time. But I have an issue with the way he's dealt with Donte Stallworth.
Like Michael Vick, Stallworth has done his time for pleading guilty to a DUI manslaughter charge stemming from an incident on March 14 when he hit and killed a pedestrian, 59-year-old Mario Reyes, in Miami. Stallworth was suspended indefinitely by Goodell after pleading guilty on June 16 and served 24 days in jail after reaching a financial settlement with Reyes's family. This week, Stallworth - who signed a seven-year, $35-million (U.S.) contract in 2008 with the Cleveland Browns - was suspended without pay for the entire season.
Stallworth did not spend enough time in jail. But what we think doesn't matter. He did what the legal system required him to do. Period. Goodell has effectively second guessed the judge's decision, and his sniffling "the NFL and NFL players must live with the stain that you have placed on their reputations" is laughable. Honestly, there's no white space left to "stain" their reputation because an assumption of violence and males behaving badly is part of the culture around the league, as is demonstrated on any game-day stroll through the open urinal that is Rich Stadium's parking lot.
As for Vick? I give it three weeks before the NFL's media apologists stop referring to his criminal past. NFL fans are professional sports' version of the "Birthers" movement in the U.S., with ESPN serving their lowest common denominator sensibilities in much the same way as Fox News serves the wing-nut right of the political landscape. They are easily desensitized and offer their heroes more blind forgiveness than any other group of athletes in world. We'll have one of those inane, fawning pregame features with soppy "look how nice he is to little Johnny" with interviews conducted by one of those leading lights of journalism like Pam Oliver or some linguistically challenged ex-player and all will be good.
Yeah, there could be some interesting times in Philadelphia. Jen Utley, the wife of Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, is a board member of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was one of a group of SPCA officials who were turned away by security from Vick's news conference after he signed with the Eagles. Maybe her profile will help, but at the end of the day, it's the SPCA vs. the NFL in a country with a large percentage of citizens who think public health care means grandmammy and grandpappy Jones will be pulled off life support.
Can't have a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent.
I keep hearing that Rogers Communications has let it be known that they will agree to increase the Toronto Blue Jays' payroll, but only if Paul Beeston stays on as president and chief executive officer. The thinking is he would be allowed to hire a facilities management guy and bring in a veteran baseball person if he so desires to continue grooming Canadian-born assistant general manager Alex Anthopoulos … Tomas Kaberle's no-trade clause has kicked back in and Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke seems content. Kaberle is cost effective and logs a great deal of ice time and seems at most a benign dressing-room influence. But I'm wondering whether the fact that the other teams in the Leafs' division have either held firm or made dubious free-agent signings has Burke thinking that maybe his team can take a run at a playoff spot in 2009-10 … B.C. Lions quarterback Jarious Jackson thinks the Toronto Argonauts' defence is going to give CFL teams fits with the way in which they brazenly overload. "The whole front line is at least 6 foot 4 and they show you what they're going to do before you snap the ball," he said Friday. "You don't see that." … The more I watch Toronto FC, even in victory, the more I believe Jim Brennan and Carl Robinson's expiry dates have passed and that the club needs a major upgrade in both areas. I just see them being turned around too often … No surprise that baseball and softball were kicked out of the Olympics. Major League Baseball wanted no part of it and never planned on sending its star players. I feel bad for softball, though: It's a women's sport that's competitive - unlike the make-work project that is Olympic women's hockey, which as far as I can tell basically provides cradle-to-grave funding for the same 40-odd female players in the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. dominates softball, but women's hockey is nothing other than a Canada-U.S intramural sport with no potential for international growth in warm weather countries … The relationship between Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez is less of a clubhouse factor now because of the introduction of new personalities, but it now appears the two New York Yankees are in the middle of a cat-fight: Jeter's squeeze, Minka Kelly, refuses to sit in the Yankees' wives and friends section of Yankee Stadium if A-Rod's flame, Kate Hudson, is there … Here's a note to Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike Kelly: Stop getting into it with fans and hire an offensive co-ordinator because you are the detriment to progress. You're welcome … The stuff you find out at Jack Astor's at 1:45 a.m. after a CFL game: Giulio Caravatta, the B.C. Lions' radio analyst and former quarterback and punter, worked on the grounds crew at Exhibition Stadium while growing up in Etobicoke. He was working the night Dave Winfield killed a seagull while he was with the New York Yankees … Blair Facts is going to be absent the next two weeks for holidays, but I'll be composting from the Rogers Cup and Jays games this week and can be followed on Twitter under the handle GloBlair. (And, yes, that's a deliberate misspelling.)