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Congress should keep pressure on baseball

Published March 21, 2004

I'm with you, Joe.

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) spoke with Capitol passion about our country's sports. At a congressional hearing on the bulging sins of athletes on steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, he decried effects on lots of leagues but said the stain on baseball is "unAmerican."

Biden's oratory was an uppercut punch onto the collective, obnoxious jaw of big-time sports. Expressing beliefs that, I am convinced, are shared by a whopping majority of those who cheer the games, buy the tickets and control TV ratings.

"We expect our sports," Biden told members of Congress as well as a somber congregation of major-league bosses, "to be more like Hoosiers and the Natural." Romance was pumping in his heart, moistening the eyes.

We could throw in Miracle.

Congress would hit a grand slam by creating D.C. threats with sharp, serious teeth to gnaw at the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and every power organization, including the NCAA, with demands that they diligently pursue a cleansing of competitions. Identifying the cheaters. Harshly penalizing them.

If we can't trust, why play?

Players unions are sickening with overprotections of pros. Working to shield cheaters rather than operating in the best interest of their games. Until all garbage can be conquered, I have no problem with regularly testing all players for all illegal substances.

Stand down, ACLU.

If players are using "juice" to fatten stats - and wallets - the athletes who play it straight, depending entirely on their talents and hard work and attitude, are being robbed. Cheated. They should be so irked that good guys en masse put scalding pressure on union leaders.

If a PGA Tour golfer were caught nudging his little white ball to achieve a less-nasty lie in the rough, he might be hanged by the Royal and Ancient heels at St. Andrews. He would be damned for life. But such an act isn't a smidgen of what some baseball sluggers are suspected of doing through long, hammering summers.

It is still possible for us to love a sport even with vulgarities of contemporary salaries and ballooning ticket prices and jock egos that can flourish into moronic exhibitionism with no legitimate reason ... but we cannot take cheaters. Jocks who cheat their game, cheat their fans, cheat their opponents and cheat the history of their sport.

I want our youngsters, even the skinny or chubby or lightly gifted, competing honorably by sweating into competitive shape and fine-tuning in traditional ways. Not looking for heroics in a pill or needle. Surveys show that half the teens in America now believe that major athletes use steroids.

Unquestionably, there are many athletes - pro and amateur - who have turned to juice and other junk "because I couldn't compete otherwise." Nobody should ever be forced into such stinky, do-it-or-lose thinking. Cheaters are to blame.

Cheaters must pay.

Play hard, Congress.

* * *

ANTE UP: Smart, creative readers answered last week's call and e-mailed a load of suggestions for seven-person TV poker tables. No grouping was more intriguing than "Baseball Villains and People Just As Bad" proposed by Rob Scott of Tarpon Springs: Malcolm Glazer, Vince Naimoli, Don King, Donald Fehr, Bud Selig, Pete Rose and Martha Stewart.

* * *

THE LAST WORD: Athletes are not to blame for today's bloated salaries, but we should hold them accountable for actions tied to operating with so much money. In that spirit, my new fairness-in-economics hero is Dominik Hasek.

Detroit's goalie is refusing to accept $3-million in pay. He has played just 14 games this season due to a groin injury. Hasek received half his salary by Jan. 9 but wants no more.

Greed not his creed.

Hasek is a wealthy man, most of his fortune earned in nine years of extraordinary work with the Buffalo Sabres. He was twice MVP of the NHL and six times earned the Vezina Trophy as the league's best in net. In 1998, Dominik led his native Czech Republic to an Olympic hockey gold medal in Nagano.

I'd like to think, if I were an athlete worth many millions but was felled by an injury and couldn't do my job, that I would return loads of salary or at least spread heavy cash among charities.

Too bad Wilson Alvarez came to no such conclusion in five hapless, grossly overpaid Devil Rays seasons. Or that Grant Hill can continue to back up to the Orlando Magic pay window and grab millions despite always being hurt and never helping his team.

Show 'em how, Hasek. Jocks talk about "giving back," but too many are too greedy to execute what they preach.

[Last modified March 21, 2004, 01:35:34]

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