Athletes’ Illicit Behavior Transcends Sports

It has been quite the whirlwind in the sports world this past year. From the 2004 Summer Olympics to Major League Baseball to the National Basketball Association to the National Football League, and not to forget the National Hockey Association and Major League Soccer, none have been without scandal and deserved scrutiny.

As a true Major League Baseball fan, or fan of any other particular Olympic, professional as well as a college sport, you become a student not only of the game of play, but also of its history. And if you have observed all of the legal, moral, and ethical challenges all of our sports have suffered, especially this year, there remains a common thread in all of their frailties.

2004 began on an ominous note following the late 2003 BALCO preliminary hearings of subpoenaed witnesses who just happened to represent the pinnacle of their respective sports: 2000 Olympic champion sprinter Marion Jones; 2003 World Track & Field Championships record-holder sprinter Tim Montgomery; Pro Bowl NFL player Bill Romanowski; 2000 MLB MVP and NY Yankee Jason Giambi; and four-time MVP and San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds, who just happens to be 13 home runs shy of surpassing Henry Aaron's all-time home run record who himself upset the record of no less a player than Babe Ruth.

The tabloids and mainstream broadcast media, pretty much the same animal these days, have feasted on sensational stories this year from January right through this December. To revisit all of the travesties to which we have all been subject would take up pages and pages of space. We have enough fodder in the past few weeks alone in which to write a diatribe. The words "NBA Brawl," "BALCO: Giambi & Bonds," "NCAA Football Brawl", "FCC and the NFL" to name a few take us through November alone to date.

And all of these situations involve variations of violent behavior, law-breaking, cheating, unaccountability, indiscretions, indecent behavior, disrespectfulness, selfishness, and brashness; just a few of many adjectives one could use to express the world in sports this year.

But there is plenty of blame to go around. This meltdown of behavior should not be tied to any one player, team, broadcaster, network producer, advertiser, coach, manager, university, or body of sport. They all made their own contributions.

The negative behaviors are but symptoms of our society and pop culture, which also have seemed to have become molded into one. Sports are unfortunately no longer immune from other segments of our society and remains a sad commentary on our state of affairs.

As sports has truly become an entity of corporate entertainment and thus equals "big money," which includes the NCAA and the Olympics, more and more rules of sportsmanship etiquette have eroded arguably over the past decade. Fans have been urged to become "interactive" as a part of the entertainment from team promotions to where advertisers place their alcohol ads on game days and encouraging tailgate parties in the teams' stadium parking lots.

The lines also have become blurred between entertainment and broadcast news which makes people wonder where accountability resides. If behavior that was at one time unacceptable is now looked upon as entertainment and broadcast as such, it is no wonder that disrespectfulness continues to fester to a fever pitch.

And what once was considered disrespectful behavior has now morphed into illegal behavior. What is even more surprising and distressing is that most people act so surprised, as if they did not see this coming.

More specifically, as concerns the BALCO case and Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Marion Jones, and Tim Montgomery, it unfortunately more immediately comes down to a money problem for the powers that be. For example, Giambi on the face of it has breached his playing contract with the NY Yankees by his supposed admission to the Federal Grand Jury that he used several types of steroids and illegal substances in order to enhance his performance.

Instead of enhancing anything, Giambi's use of illegal substances probably made him susceptible to the several infections he contracted over the past two seasons, including a benign pituitary gland tumor and thus breaching his "agrees to keep himself in the best possible condition" for example. (Taking Clomid, a fertility drug which he allegedly admitted to taking, can produce such tumors in males.)

It is a contractual nightmare for George Steinbrenner given the $82.5 million left on Giambi's contract and Giambi's "damaged goods" prognosis for the future. The ethical and moral consequences will have to wait.

Marion Jones must stick by her original denial of never having used steroids and growth hormones, regardless of BALCO's Victor Conte's contradiction. As a track athlete, her endorsements are crucial to her future income.

Track athletes do not get guaranteed $130 million contracts as both Giambi and Bonds have gotten. Meanwhile, the Olympics is a corporate money machine, much as the NCAA is, and their athletes are what keeps the money flowing. As their athletes fail, they fail, so there is impetus to overlook alleged illegal or unscrupulous behaviors.

If it were not for the NHL season lockout which has completely cancelled all hockey games thus far this year, we would be hearing more about its three players in the news this past year. St. Louis Blues player Mike Danton pleaded guilty to a murder-for-hire conspiracy charge of his own agent. Atlanta Thrasher Dany Heatley was indicted of vehicular manslaughter when driving under the influence, which resulted in the death of his own teammate, and Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Cannucks will go on trial January 17, 2005 for the on-ice assault of Colorado Avalanche player Steve Moore, which left him seriously injured.

Sports in the U.S. have always been treated in a clandestine manner and a symbol of hope and integrity. Without sounding preachy, although we collectively have taken many blows this year, for too long the writing on the wall has been ignored.

Sports did not suddenly break down in 2004. Its ills have been coming on for a long while now. But we must take our sports back.

As long as Major League Baseball was willing to look the other way when its baseballs where flying out of the parks, when it was obvious that many of its superstars were using illegal substances, MLB should be held accountable. As long as the NCAA has looked the other way when players who do not academically qualify but suddenly get good grades; when they are excused for alleged illegal behaviors by their schools and are showered with expensive gifts, all in the name of making millions and millions of dollars from network telecasts, the NCAA should be held accountable. And as long as broadcasters and advertisers continue to promote and hail "street cred" and a "gansta" mentality, for example, they should be held accountable.

And finally, no individual ballplayer or athlete should be considered above the game or sport in which they are engaged. We must collectively protect the integrity of our sports and games. Idol worship will not repair them. That perhaps is another reason we are in this mess. Had we not made such commodities of individual players, regardless of their behaviors, sports and it participants might very well still command the respect like they should and once upon a time did.

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