- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2004

An old friend was asked by his college basketball coach many years ago to help recruit a promising high school player with whom my friend was acquainted.

Sitting in the front room of the house, with the prospective recruit and his mother, my friend was going over the merits of the institution where he also played when the mother interrupted his pitch. “Tell me,” she said. “Do they go to church where you go to school?”

My friend replied most emphatically that not only was church a part of the scene, chapel every morning was mandatory. After all, it was a Catholic institution. “Well,” the mother said, turning to her gifted son. “That’s where you’re going, Bobby.”

That is how Bob Cousy, the legendary college and professional basketball star of the Boston Celtics, got to Holy Cross.

What a difference a half-century makes in the buying and selling of America’s athletes — from the simple values expressed by a mother in a genteel front room to lap dances and promises of much more on expensive weekends.

As the father of athletes and the grandfather of several who look as though they will be, I shudder every time I pick up a sports page these days and am confronted with another horrific example of the corruption of big-time sports at every level — professional, college, even high school. It is a problem so large one can hardly imagine how, if ever, it will be resolved.

We now know some of baseball’s premier players may have got that way by using steroids. The personal trainer of homerun king Barry Bonds, for instance, reportedly admitted passing out the chemicals as part of a ring (now being investigated by the Justice Department) while Major League Baseball looked the other way.

On the same sports page recently, we learned that a female place kicker at the University of Colorado confided she was raped by a teammate but kept quiet about it for four years in fear of retaliation. This is the same school whose football recruits were enticed — unofficially, of course — by strippers and others at the expense of alumni.

But the Boulder school isn’t alone in using women to help recruiting. Nor is the practice new. The man who provided the entertainment said he has done so for a number of schools. My youngest son, a standout high school football player, received almost nightly calls from coeds who officially represented several of the major schools recruiting him, and on several authorized trips he was assigned a coed escort. I can only assume the same process goes on in efforts to sign female athletes with the help of males. What is implicit here is obvious.

On the same page with the latest developments in the steroid scandal was the news that Virginia Tech’s Marcus Vick, the quarterback brother of superstar Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons, and two of his Tech teammates were arrested in a case allegedly involving sex, booze and minor girls. Mr. Vick was charged with four misdemeanors of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and the other two with three counts.

There isn’t enough space in this column to cite all the recent examples of deplorable, immoral, even criminal behavior in a business where about the only values are at the gate or box office. Oh sure, both college and professional jurisdictions have strict rules, but somehow the bottom line always seems to get in the way of substantial reforms.

The corrupting influence of the obscene amounts of money through television and the marketing of stardom overwhelms any sense of decorum, even in the colleges where new stadiums with all the professional sort of amenities make amateurism a cynical joke.

Only now and then does a community speak out. The good citizens of Portland quite obviously had their fill of bad actors on the professional basketball team and used their economic leverage to force them to trade a couple, including a team star who was among the worst offenders in the NBA.

Perhaps if the Justice Department charged the recipients of steroids as well as the distributors, as is the case with the users of most other illegal substances, it would send a sobering message to all professional leagues and their overpaid players. But don’t bet on that happening.

The values expressed by Bob Cousy’s mother must still be alive somewhere today and will help thousands of youngsters who are potential superstars to survive as he did. Naive? Maybe, but it is to be devoutly wished.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.

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