SCOTT SIMON, host:
It's hard to be a sports fan these days.
(Soundbite of a baseball game)
SIMON: He's stepping up to the plate, and the cup.
What a blast. Going. Going.
(Soundbite of cheers)
SIMON: Heh(ph), hey, the test is negative.
The most dramatic moments in sports are now the urine test and the arraignment. Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Lawyers. Lawyers.
Tour de France can't seem to get an untainted leader for a single day. Barry Bonds is a swing away from an exalted home run record, and reportedly an indictment for illegal use of steroids to help get him there. That storied home run duel between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa nine summers ago, now seems like a cruel prank on sports fans. It's almost embarrassing to recall our delight.
Quarterback Michael Vick has been indicted, not for using drugs, but abusing animals in a criminal enterprise. A pro-basketball referee is being investigated for gambling on games he worked. He was reportedly in debt to gamblers. And there are number of other sports figures now indicted or under investigation for failing drug tests, drug or gun charges, spousal abuse and other crimes.
It's the reflex of many fans to blame the spate of scandals on all the money in sports these days. I am not amazed or offended in sports stars who command an audience of millions, should earn this much for having a great season as, say, Tom Cruise does for making a couple of clunkers.
But I talked to a sports agent and general manager this week who say, we fans have failed to grasp the link between sports figures behaving badly and the basic honesty of the games we follow.
A player who continually violates the law by acquiring drugs or running an illegal enterprise, like dogfighting, has to worry about being exposed. This makes him or her vulnerable to being squeezed by professional criminals, especially gamblers. Now, gamblers don't make their money by betting that the Red Sox will beat the Yankees. That's the kind of bet school teachers make on their vacations.
Pros win by betting on the points spread that a team wins by two runs, not three. So a player (unintelligible) can hit homeruns, unflappable that doesn't lose the game but tightens the score. A quarterback can complete his passes but then ran out of the pocket and fall to the ground just short of the first downmarker.
Was the flub or the fall just one of the breaks of the game or some kind of payoff to protect his secret? When fans begin to watch and wonder about that, too, it gets harder to care about the games we love.
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