Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

To Sports Fans, Forgiveness Is Divine

In Depth

The apparent widespread use of steroids — in baseball and elsewhere — calls to mind the rich history of cheating in sports. Read about some of the most notorious instances of sports cheaters.

Everybody always talks about what a forgiving people we Americans are, but probably we forgive sports faster even than anything else. In the immortal word of that great American hero, Roger Clemens, who, in his red-white-and-blue congressional defense, proved once again that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, we misremember.

Curiously, though, first we are always so quick to postulate that some scandal will be the death of a sport. We should have learned by now that sports are pretty bulletproof, but every time a sport suffers a setback, here come the pallbearers.

Do you remember, for example, just last summer, when one rotten NBA referee was caught giving inside advice to gamblers? My gracious, to hear the talk then, this one rogue ref would surely be the death of the league, if not indeed of all of basketball.

Ho-hum. The NBA has carried on quite as before. How quickly we misremember.

And for all the talk about how steroids have damaged baseball, the sport has never been more prosperous. Drugs? What drugs? Praise the Lord and raise the ticket prices.

Indeed, it is hardly America alone that is so quick to forgive and forget with sport. The soccer scandals that were revealed in Italy rose to the very top of the major league there, with both personalities and ethics alike. After a slight pause to punish the offenders and to bewail the horror of it all, the great game was right back on track. Forza Italia!

The Olympics were a veritable grease trap of corruption for many years, but it seems that every major city in the world remains anxious to host them, and damn the cost. This summer's Beijing games are already awash in ugliness. The expectation is that athletes and spectators alike will be gasping at air so foul it would lay low that every proverbial canary in the coal mine.

Steven Spielberg has just resigned his role as an artistic adviser to the Games, protesting China's nefarious connection with Darfur. A clutch of world notables, including eight Nobel Prize winners, have added their dissenting voices. But, be assured, when the Olympics begin at 8 o'clock on Aug. 8 — tripling the Chinese lucky number — the whole lucky world will be frosted over with cries of brotherhood and good will.

I suspect that sports are so unbreakable because, as much as anything, they offer hope, perennially. If there is one sentiment, one slogan, that speaks best for our love of sport, it is the venerable, "Wait'll next year!" Where else in this vale of tears does hope truly spring eternal?

In good times we relax with games and in bad times, we escape into them. Either way, they are a jolly refuge.

So don't worry about baseball. Until and unless he is indicted for perjury, we have already misremembered Roger Clemens. In Florida and Arizona, the pitchers and catchers are reporting, and all we care about is that that next year we waited for has surely begun again.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford