Belief is a word that carries a lot of weight, and requires a great deal of context.
Hope, for having only four letters, is a big word with a serious implications.
For sports fans, both of these words have been followed by a question mark far too often lately.
On Thursday night, Lance Armstrong released this statement that indicates he is no longer going to fight the USADA's doping charges. He crafted his words well, indicating that he is exhausted of the process. As a fan that has heard the rhetoric of the accused too often, my doubt was triggered when he used the phrase "I played by the rules that were put in place by the UCI, WADA and USADA when I raced."
We live in a world where scientists make a lot of money to stay ahead of the curve (read: testing capability) and designer steroids are a reality everywhere. Just ask San Francisco Giant outfielder and 2012 All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera, who was suspended for 50 games for failing a PED test. Cabrera went so far as to create a fake website, and then try to cover up his mistake with an even bigger lie.
But the struggle with this Armstrong statement, and the implied guilt that many are associating with it, has become commonplace for sports fans.
As Armstrong points out in his statement, his LIVESTRONG Foundation has raised nearly $500 million for cancer research in its 15 years of existance. Armstrong himself, a cancer survivor, has been an inspiration to millions of people, and the funds raised by his Foundation have made an enormous impact.
Many people believed in Armstrong. He gave lots of people hope.
And, now, many are left to wonder if he has been honest with the public.
If we rewind our calendars only 12 months, the college football season was just beginning. At that time, Joe Paterno was still considered to be one of, if not the greatest college football coach of all-time. He had the most wins, had donated seemingly-endless personal hours and dollars to Penn State University, and his name was on the trophy handed to the champion of the Big Ten. He was a god to many in Pennsylvania, and ran one of the most respected programs in the country.
Then the Jerry Sandusky news broke.
In a swift downward spiral, report after report buried the Penn State program. Sandusky was arrested, Paterno was fired, and the world watched as a confused campus both loved their former leader and hated the reality of the situation at the same time.
Dirty poker in sports, either at the college or professional level, is nothing new. I have joked many times that if Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle or Bobby Hull had been subjected to the same social media scrutiny that Josh Hamilton and Patrick Kane are today, our views of our "heroes" would be incredibly different.
Indeed, blogs, YouTube and Twitter might have kept Ty Cobb out of the Hall of Fame as long as Pete Rose.
But the recent streak of deceit from men that had, until recently, been considered great sportsmen and human beings is disheartening.
Pillars of the sports world are being tarnished, and fans need to step back from their hero worship and soak in the reality that these are people who can (gasp) make mistakes. And many aren't honest. And many have their priorities messed up. And many care about the wrong thing at the wrong time.
It has been almost 20 years since Charles Barkley famously told us "I'm not a Role Model." Newsweek wrote about it back then, and the discussion that stirred in 1993 remains.
How much faith, belief and hope should we place in athletes and coaches? On a regular basis we're being reminded that the answer to that question should be "not very much."