Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford


Among many other things, the phone-hacking scandal has sometimes raised questions about people's loyalty to each other inside a company. The recent scandals in college sports got commentator Frank Deford thinking about the price of loyalty.

FRANK DEFORD: It is not uncommon for outstanding athletes to succeed in later life. But it is rare for teammates, literally playing side-by-side, both to be in the spotlight almost a half-century later. But such is the case with two old boys from Syracuse, who were roommates as freshmen, went on to become the starting backcourt, saw their lives diverge after college and now, at an age when most men have retired, are facing two very different but very painful challenges in the professions they've chosen, in the places they love.

The men, those starting guards of so long ago, are Dave Bing and Jim Boeheim. I think it's safe to say that no one in sport has ever described the path of Dave Bing. After being an All-American at Syracuse, Bing became, simply, the best player in the history of the Detroit Pistons. That is, he stands with Ty Cobb, of the Tigers; Barry Sanders, of the Lions; and Gordie Howe, of the Red Wings; in the most exquisite athletic company of that one major city.

Only now, after a successful business career, he is the very beleaguered leader of that place where once, he was only an idol. Bing volunteered to be mayor of that most distressed large American city at the crest of civic corruption. Detroit may, literally, be broke by the spring, and Bing must impose the most drastic, unpopular measures upon the citizenry. He could have lived out his days as the beloved, old hometown hero. He chose to put himself in the cauldron. Above all, he was loyal in hard times.

Jim Boeheim not only grew up near Syracuse, he's hardly ever left. Soon, he will have won more games for his alma mater than any coach, ever, in men's basketball at any one college. But now, Boeheim's old friend, his assistant coach, Bernie Fine, has been fired, vividly accused of molesting young boys.

When the accusations were made, in an eerie echo of the sordid pedophilia scandal at Penn State, Boeheim refused to believe the charges against his assistant. And the fact is that Jim Boeheim is, indeed, very much to his university and basketball what Joe Paterno has been in football, a couple hundred miles due south. And now, it seems, something of Boeheim's grand reputation - his very legacy - will, like Paterno's, be much diminished of grace.

Unlike Paterno, though, Boeheim appeared truly thunderstruck by the revelations, and his immediate visceral reaction now looms as unfeeling as it was hasty and foolish. But then, like Dave Bing, the other member of the old backcourt, above all, Boeheim was loyal in hard times.

Loyalty comes in many types. Sometimes, it is unabashed; sometimes, it is naive. Always, though, it is risky. But then, if loyalty is to mean anything, there must be a risk attached. And surely, the greatest risk to loyalty is deceit.

INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each week from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Sweetness And Light

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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