Most heros don't live long enough to see their lasting legacy, even fewer live to see it tarnished. For the rare breed who do go from demigod to persona non grata, the Lance Armstrongs and Roger Clemens of the world, it is less the question of how their final legacy will be determined, than who will be determining it.
With the emergence of high speed internet and a headline hungry media, people don't have time to wait for a judges ruling or Sports Illustrated article. Those went out the window with the Walkman and VCR. We now live in an age where graphics have become the new headline, and headlines have become the new article. The sports fan has changed through the years and the 21st century model makes decisions not with a gavel and gown, but with a mouse and short attention span.
To look at the affects of this on a larger scale, I took a gander at Roger Clemens' storied career, a 24-season resume that boasts two World Series rings, seven Cy Young awards and nearly every strikeout record known to man. Quite an accomplishment for a kid from Dayton.
But while the Rocket threw a heater like no one before, his lasting legacy won't be the pitches he tossed, but rather what he was or wasn't on while throwing them.
As Clemens career came to a stuttering halt, accusations of juicing began to surface. The pitcher would soon trade in his pin stripes for a court suit, and spend nearly half a decade in front of Congressional panels, Judiciary committees and a grand jury.
Though Clemens was never found guilty, the image of his name in the headlines with the words "PED" and "HGH", was more than enough to cast culpability. And while there was never a definitive link established between Clemens and steroids, the average fan seemed to think there was.
In a recent ESPN poll, nearly 50 percent of Americans believed that Clemens should not be inducted into the Hall of Fame based on his history with anabolic steroids. An astounding statistic for a man who was never proven to have a history with anabolic steroids.
In the Rocket's case, it would seem that the verdict was in before the judge ever made his ruling. The public had made their decision months earlier. What this decision was based on can best be described as definitive speculation (A skill finely tuned by many Americans during the OJ Simpson trial).
For Clemens, a baseball immortal from here to Senegal, this was not an easy pill to swallow. His cult hero status in the lone star state was something he relished, and his relationships with the players and coaches came in as a close second to his family. After this, no one would touch him with a ten foot pole.
Most legends end their careers with endorsement deals and a seat behind the Sportscenter desk, Clemens would have to watch from his plush couch in Texas, the scarlet letter on his jersey keeping him far away from ESPN's Bristol headquarters.
There would be no keynote speeches to deliver, no erectile dysfunction pills to advertise and the players and coaches he'd once mentored, would stop returning his calls, for fear of being implicated in one of Clemens' many open cases.
To put it best, the Rocket had gone off course.
Recently though, Clemens announced his return to baseball, a statement we'd seen him make and act on before (The most memorable being his seventh inning "Ya'll" filled comeback announcement at Yankee Stadium).
This time would be different though.
In his previous comebacks he was only battling old age, an enemy he seemed to have tamed on many occasions. This time he was going up against a much bigger foe, a league that didn't want him and a general public that seemed to disavow his entire career.
I'm eager to see the public's reaction. Will he be booed off the mound or raised on shoulders? Chastised by diehards or praised by reporters?
One thing is certain, in a country where you're innocent until proven guilty, there are some cases where you're guilty when proven innocent.