GORDON WHITE: World of Sports Plagued By Troublesome, Deceitful Events
Unless you were born yesterday, you are well aware that scoundrels and knaves of all sorts, liars, thieves, incompetents, drunks and fools are alive and well and, as usual, succeeding too often in botching up many aspects of our social structure from government to board rooms, education to military and even the First and Fourth Estates.
So is it any wonder that mischief has spread like the plague over the world of sports?
There has been enough drug use, alcohol, gunplay, assault and cheating in sports for the first eight months of 2006 to plaster a post office wall with numerous athletes' pictures.
Starting on New Year's Day and continuing right up to this past week, there have been more unlawful and stupid acts by athletes, coaches, managers and those deemed to be supervising all of this circus than in any similar eight-month period in my memory.
Maurice Clarett, the sensational tailback who led Ohio State to the 2002 college football National Championship, was to go on trial this month for holding up a couple outside a Columbus, Ohio, night club at 1 a.m. on Jan. 1. But he foolishly compounded his very serious difficulties when he led police on an 80 mph auto chase in Columbus two weeks ago before being stopped. Police found four loaded guns in Clarett's car and had to use pepper spray to subdue him.
As a reporter who covered the college basketball fixing scandals of 1950 and 1960, plus boxing, horse racing and intercollegiate recruiting violations for nearly a half century, I cannot recall such a litany of dishonesty and skullduggery in the department of "fun and games."
Add to these misdeeds extremely poor judgment by a few athletes plus the usual tragedy of serious injuries, and these first eight months of 2006 present a rather depressing sports scene right here in the North Carolina triangle, across our nation and throughout the world.
Booze and Drugs
North Carolina is center stage in this bad 2006 sports scene because of a number of ugly actions involving booze and drugs.
Duke's lacrosse team hired two exotic dancers to perform at a beer party last March. One of the dancers claimed she was raped by three lacrosse players in the off-campus house where the guzzling and gawking took place. Eventually, three members of the team were arrested and charged with the assault. They await trial as the conclusion to what has become a horrible legal scene involving the Durham district attorney and a pack of defense lawyers yapping at the DA.
Durham police records indicate that a number of the Duke lacrosse players have been cited in recent months with drunk and disorderly conduct. The lacrosse coach was fired by the Duke president, who also suspended lacrosse at Duke for the remainder of last season but reinstated it recently.
Within days of the lacrosse players' arrests, the Blue Devils' best athlete in recent years, J.J. Redick, was arrested for drunken driving. This happened shortly after he was named the nation's outstanding collegiate basketball player for the 2005-06 season.
Unfortunately, Duke, known far and wide as one of the finest academic institutions in the land, is also well known as a campus of drunken, arrogant, spoiled, rich kids. Maybe it is because the administration does little to discipline these youngsters who obviously are not mature adults yet and are in dire need of leadership -- not pampering.
To add to the bad scene in the Triangle, Justin Gatlin, co-holder of the world record for the 100-meter dash, was given an eight-year suspension by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last Tuesday when he said he would not contest the positive laboratory results for testosterone in his system.
The 24-year-old former University of Tennessee runner may have agreed to help the agency investigate his coach, Trevor Graham. A number of Graham's athletes who are in his Raleigh-based Sprint Capitol organization are suspected of using performance enhancing drugs with Graham's help.
Marion Jones, current U.S. Women's 100-meter dash champion, is one of them. She tested positive after winning the national race in July and may suffer a similar penalty to Gatlin's if a second test comes in positive next month.
The United States Olympic Committee has barred Graham from ever using any of the USOC training facilities in the future.
Baseball fans are so tired of hearing and reading about the boorish Barry Bonds and whether or not he used steroids on the way to his home run records, that when he broke Babe Ruth's mark of 714 home runs early this season and set his sites on Hank Aaron's record of 755 home runs in a career, fans everywhere uttered a collective, "Ho hum and so what!"
Bonds may be in much more serious trouble then steriod use because he is apparently under investigation for tax evasion and perjury before a grand jury.
The worst of this summer's drug scandals made a farce of the Tour de France. Most disappointing was the short-lived thrill of seeing a surprising American other than Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France, only to have his victory annulled when he tested positive for testosterone. Floyd Landis, once a teammate of Armstrong's when Lance was winning his seven consecutive Tour de France races, posted the eighth consecutive American triumph in the Tour -- at least for a while.
When Landis' lab tests came in positive, the folks running the Tour de France gave the title to Spain's Oscar Pereiro, who came in second to Landis on July 23.
But this Tour de France was marred from the start when 58 cyclists were refused entry following blood-doping investigations in Spain. Jan Ullrich of Germany, long Armstrong's strongest competition and this year's pre-race favorite, was refused entry in the Tour because of positive drug tests.
The Tour and cycling in general are in serious jeopardy of becoming as disgraced as track and field.
Drugs continue to involve major league baseball as Jason Grimsley, a veteran pitcher with the Houston Astros, admitted to using HGH (humane growth hormone) after police searched his home in June. The Astros let him go, and he is no longer in baseball.
Then there are those thug-type big athletes who need to prove their manhood by beating up women. Usually these guys are under the influence when they lash out at their wives or girlfriends.
Brett Myers, a pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies, was arrested in Boston and charged with repeatedly punching his wife, Kim. Not far from that ugly scene, the Harvard football captain for the 2006 season, Matthew Thomas, was arrested in June when his former girlfriend accused him of breaking into her dorm room and assaulting her. Thomas is a 6-1, 245-pound linebacker. He was suspended from the Harvard football team. Both Myers and Thomas await trial.
I believe men who make punching bags out of their women are right up there with the world's worst cowards. They go side by side with the cowardly ones who get five or six draft deferments and then send others to do the fighting and dying for them.
The Fix Is In
July was a month of big and bad things in European sports, what with the Tour de France, the World Cup in Germany and the Irish Derby in horse racing.
Italy won the World Cup, beating France on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie through overtime. But it was the billy goat action of France's best player, Zinedine Zidane, that remains the lasting memory of this title match in Berlin on July 9.
During the overtime period, Zidane, playing his final match of a long and heroic soccer (football everywhere but the U.S.) career became irate when Italy's Marco Materazzi chided him. Zidane wheeled about and head-butted Materazzi, knocking him to the turf.
Zidane, who scored France's lone goal, was ejected from the game, ending a glorious career on a very sour note.
Italy's triumph took some of the spotlight off a big Italian soccer scandal expected to conclude in a few weeks. Judges are to hand down verdicts from recent trials involving numerous Italian professional soccer teams, players and officials accused of fixing the results of matches.
In another fixing scandal, Irish jockey Kieren Fallon, who won the Irish Derby aboard a horse named Dylan Thomas on July 1, was arrested in London two days later and charged with fixing horse races between 2000 and 2004.
Two other jockeys and a bookmaker were also arrested in what was alleged to be a group conspiracy to fix horse races in England. Trial pending.
To go along with this lengthy list of misconduct in sports is the department of total idiocy or the foolish fancies of some athletes.
Take, for instance, the case of Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback of the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. In violation of a clause in his contract, Roethlisberger rode his motorcycle recklessly and had a serious accident early this summer. He was very lucky not to have been killed or at least paralyzed. But he recovered and is doing well in pre-season practice. Just plain dumb luck there!
Then there was the inexplicable mental lapse on the part of Phil Mickelson, when he used a driver on the 72nd and final hole of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and drove the ball way left into trees. He added to this error by trying unsuccessfully to blast through those trees. The result was that the always stubborn Mickelson, leading by a shot on the 72nd tee, double-bogeyed the final hole so that Geoff Ogilvy of Australia won the U.S.Open.
In a foolish show of how he could party, drink and compete, Bode Miller, a big favorite to win three and maybe even four skiing Gold Medals at the Winter Olympics in Italy, partied and drank, all right. But he did not win a single medal in one of the most disappointing shows of American athletic prowess in recent years. His performance was the hallmark of a lackluster effort by a U.S. team that entered the Olympics with high hopes and came away with little to brag about.
Things have gotten so bad in sports this year that even two chess players at a recent major international tournament were expelled for cheating. Yes, chess appears on sports pages in some newspapers.
Ohio State, embarrassed by Maurice Clarett ever since he entered the institution and well after he dropped out, was taken to task for administrative mistakes by an Ohio judge early this month. He ordered the university to pay Jim O'Brien, its former basketball coach, $2.2 million plus interest because Ohio State failed to live up to its contract with him when it fired him two years ago. This came despite the fact that O'Brien was dismissed because he violated NCAA rules when he paid a recruited player $6,000, lied about it and tried to cover it up. Ohio State, which has had administrative difficulties in athletics for years and years, also fired Andy Geiger, its director of athletics because of the Clarett and O'Brien cases and other mismanagement events.
Ohio State is picked by many to be the nation's No. 1 football team this fall. Nice if you can stand the odor.
In another Ohio incident, Frank Solich, the football coach at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, was facing a drunken driving charge.
How About This Chip?
Then there is the rather foolish new LPGA commissioner, Carolyn Bivens, who started the year by claiming that the LPGA owns the rights to all photos and news stories produced at LPGA events.
No athletic organization ever tried that trick before.
The LPGA, which I covered for years and years, has struggled to get attention in media outlets that pay much more attention to men's golf.
Bivens, who came to the LPGA last September from, of all things, the newspaper business, was immediately challenged by numerous publications and the Associated Press. She has backed down but insists on acting as if she has a chip on her shoulder.
Ozzie Guillen, manager of the world champion Chicago White Sox, tends to run off at the mouth by making ugly noises, verbal attacks and no apologies. His worst such verbal abuse occurred a couple of months ago when he used a derogatory term for a gay man to describe Jay Mariotti, a Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist and ESPN commentator.
Baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, fined Guillen an undisclosed amount and ordered him to undergo sensitivity training. Then last week Guillen insulted the National League by saying the American League was much better and that if the White Sox played in the National League "we would win 150 games."
So much for sensitivity training one oh one.
Tragedy and Tiger
Such is this 2006 world of sports, with its charlatans and fools. And I've only mentioned a small portion of the nefarious deeds.
You surely can lament the recent months in sports when you think of all this misconduct and also remember the sad yet heroic struggle of a horse -- yes, a mere horse and not a human.
The most tragic injury of the year involved Barbaro, who won the Kentucky Derby by seven lengths.
He suffered a broken rear right leg two weeks later, just a furlong into the Preakness, the second race in the Triple Crown. This beautiful animal was expected to sweep the Triple Crown. But instead, he is fighting for his life after extensive surgery.
Maybe Barbaro is the real picture of 2006 -- a fight for survival in sports that is battered by misfortune.
But wait just a minute. There may be stability after all. Tiger Woods is winning again, with two more major victories in the last month for 12 majors in his short 10 years on tour.
He may also be playing the best and smartest golf of his career.
Maybe we here in golf country plus fans everywhere else can look to the greatest golfer of his time to be the best symbol of what athletics should be in this day and age of otherwise troublesome and deceitful events.
Gordon White, who served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times, lives in Pinehurst. His e-mail is email@example.com.
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