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Tuesday, March 7, 2006

A Day of Irony

The irony was palpable. Today, according to the Daily News’ Rich Hoffman, was National Sportsmanship Day. It was also a day that sports talk was dominated by news of the upcoming release of a book that details Barry Bonds’ alleged use of performance enhancing drugs.

Hoffman did his usual quality job, pointing out the wretched state of sportsmanship:

. . . take the incident from Saturday night, when a brawl/melee erupted at the end of the boys’ Philadelphia Catholic League championship game between Neumann-Goretti and Roman Catholic. Cops were called, arrests were made, people were hurt — although, thankfully, not seriously.

By most accounts, after Neumann-Goretti’s Derrick Rivera hit the last-second, game-winning shot, he ran over to celebrate in front of a group of fans from Roman Catholic, soon to be joined by teammates and Neumann-Goretti fans streaming onto the floor. Plastic bottles and other debris were thrown from the stands in reply, and then it all broke loose — with adult fans playing a prominent role in the disturbance.

This discussion comes in two parts. The first concerns what Rivera did. Instead of celebrating with his teammates, he did the whole celebrating-as-retribution thing to the Roman fans. You wish that wouldn’t happen. At the same time, it is a high school kid just whooping a little bit. It shouldn't start a riot.

This is the main point: The real problem today in the sports arena is not the kids. The real difference between the American sports arena of today and the arena of a generation ago is not the kids. It is the adults. Everybody needs to recognize that.

Twenty-five years ago, a student section at a college game was no place for a 10-year-old, and that is true today as well. Very little of this stuff is new. There is not an act of bad sportsmanship being performed today, either on the field of play or among the students in the stands, that does not have a decades-old antecedent.

Players have been talking trash for the better part of three decades. The rollouts at Big 5 games were worse in the '70s than they are today. The kids have been fairly consistent over time. They really have. The kids push it to the line and then they take a half-step over the line, and that is the way it is always going to be. It is the grown-ups who draw the lines. It is the grown-ups who have changed. Adults were, by all reports, a major part of the brawl the other night. Adults are the ones drinking the beer and yelling the worst stuff in every pro stadium. Remember: The reason you couldn't take a kid into the old 700-level at the Vet wasn't because the other kids were too rowdy.

Then there was the Bonds story. As if we needed more proof that Bonds used performance enhancing drugs. As if the incredible spike in his stats mid-career, his suddenly bulky frame, and ridiculously arrogant attitude highlighted in last year’s preseason press conference by his laughable attempt to blame the media for the trouble he was in, weren’t enough. As if his taking almost a year off to hide from Major League Baseball’s stiffer drug testing wasn’t enough.

Now, the two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who collaborated on the Balco articles have written Game of Shadows. According to Blinq:

It portrays day-to-day, drug-by-drug performance-enhancing. Says [Bonds] used Winstrol, a powerful steroid.

Started in 1998, write Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, when they contend he felt overshadowed by the home run battle between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

They describe the following Spring Training, when he arrived with 15 extra pounds of sculpted muscle. Says he downed as many as 20 pills at a time. Shot himself in the butt.

The AP writes: The reporters, who based the book on a two-year investigation, included an extensive summary on their sources, including court documents, affidavits filed by BALCO investigators, documents written by federal agents, grand jury testimony, audio recordings and interviews with more than 200 people.

Bonds denies.

On Daily News Live, Hoffman (by coincidence) was already dutifully outlining the defenses Bonds and his supporters will use. Denial. Some of the drugs weren’t banned from baseball when he used . . . I mean, allegedly used . . . them. It’s Bonds’ word versus those making the allegations.

My favorite argument goes something like this: If you penalize Bond, do you go after Mark McGuire? Do you go after others? How far back do you go?

Uh . . . yes, yes, and as far back as possible.

Hoffman, it should be noted, didn’t seem to necessarily support the arguments. He was mostly pointing out what they were. He’s no doubt correct.

They are still the most asinine arguments in the world, and come up every time some fraud gets caught red handed. Those who support these arguments are implying that to punish Bonds for the same thing others have gotten away with is unfair. Follow the logic far enough, and it basically says that no cheater should ever be punished unless every previous cheater has been punished. It simply makes no sense. If followed, no sport could ever make any attempt to clean itself up. It’s the anthem of those who know they’re guilty.

Here’s my question: Does anyone really want sportsmanship these days? I mean, really want it?

Saying Bonds “allegedly” used drugs is a joke. It’s necessary for papers and TV stations to hedge when reporting on Bonds’ drug use in order to cover their ass against legal trouble, but even the outfielder’s best friends must smirk at the use of “allegedly.”

Fans hear constant chatter about Bonds’ chase for 700 home runs, as though it matters. Debate continues as to whether or not the (allegedly) juiced-up slugger will make the Hall of Fame. Worst of all, TV stations constantly show what seems to be recent video of Bonds signing autographs.

Even if you understand the logic, which escapes me, of seeking autographs in the first place, the fact that anyone still wants Bonds’ is just sad. It seems blatantly obvious that the statistics granting him Hall of Fame consideration are a sham. In other words, he cheated, which I’m pretty sure is the biggest “no-no” of sportsmanship. The story has been out there for ages. Yet, again, he has fans seeking autographs and some reporters debating his status as a Hall of Famer.

The answer seems to be that we all want sportsmanship from our athletes . . . unless, of course, they put up good numbers. Maybe next year we can celebrate Sportsmanship Day by at least pretending that sportsmanship still matters.

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