- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2003

Sammy Sosa apparently is the victim of a racially inspired witch hunt.

If he were a white-bread dude, the predominantly pale-faced conspirators in the national press would be working extremely hard to soften the revelation of the corked bat. They would be talking about what a good guy Sosa is and that it was an honest mistake, and that would be the end of the tsk-tsk process.

Instead, because Sosa is a black athlete from the Dominican Republic, the conspirators are treating him like a criminal. They are issuing end-of-the-world proclamations and even questioning the veracity of Sosa’s explanation. They just can’t let it go.

Jose Canseco, the ex-ballplayer with the zillion nervous tics, made the inevitable race charge to ESPN last week.

“I definitely am very disappointed in the media, the way they’re attacking Sammy Sosa,” Canseco said. “The way they’re portraying him because he’s a Latin, black athlete is completely wrong. I guarantee you if this were Mark McGwire or Cal Ripken Jr., a so-called ‘protected athlete,’ an ‘All-American’ name, this would have never happened because I’ve seen things that some players have done, and they are white players and they’re completely covered up. If he were a white superstar player, this would never, never happen.”

Pedro Martinez, the Boston Red Sox pitcher, voiced the same complaint to the Hartford Courant.

Asked how this matter would be playing if it involved McGwire instead of Sosa, Martinez said, “It would still be a big deal, but not like this.”

It is funny that these two self-appointed media critics should mention McGwire, the former basher with the bulging biceps.

In the summer of 1998, when McGwire and Sosa staged their assault on Roger Maris’ home-run record, McGwire became the focus of considerable moral hand-wringing because of a legal substance known as andro.

Fair or not, a strong dose of suspicion came to be associated with McGwire’s pursuit, just as it did two seasons ago with Barry Bonds. Sosa labored with the same suspicion long before the corked bat. Their massive upper bodies and startling power explosion in their 30s contributed to the credibility gap.

Nowhere in the gap is the element of race. Call it a conditioned response.

We learned long ago that some athletes will do almost anything to get an edge over their competitors, even risk their long-term health. This includes athletes of all races and nationalities in all sports.

We could get into the smell that accompanies Lance Armstrong to France each summer, but that subject will receive another thorough airing out soon enough.

Canseco and Martinez don’t seem to understand that the 24/7 news cycle tends to exhaust everything in its sights. Sosa just happens to find himself stuck in the cycle’s vortex. This does not make him a bad guy, just another guy who happened to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

His lame excuse only added to the eye-rolling exercise.

The playing of the race card, if only out of habit, has become a fairly standard ploy in America. If it is not the race card, it is the ethnic card or the gender card. It seems everybody wants to be a victim of this or that.

“We may be Latin, a minority, but we’re not dumb,” Martinez said. “We are not dumb. We see everything that happens.”

Here’s what others see: Sosa used a corked bat and vowed to take his punishment like a man before he came to be an incredibly wealthy martyr with an image to protect. Now Sosa is appealing the eight-game suspension.

Martinez is feeling Sosa’s pain.

“I want to see two nights in a row on ‘Outside the Lines’ say close to 100 bats were checked and nothing was found,” Martinez said. “I want to see something positive go on now.”

Here’s something positive: Sosa earns a zillion dollars to play a game in a foreign land that gives athletes second, third, fourth and fifth chances. He’ll recover from this.

So please, cork the whining.

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