By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Quartet of players may bring integrity back to sports
Placeholder Image

Clearly the deplorable situation in which the Atlanta Falcons former starting quarterback Michael Vick is embroiled needs to be brought to closure as quickly as possible.

We're all weary of hearing the details of his involvement with dogfighting. The courts will get around to handling it either this year or next, but in the meantime we'll all be victimized by having to hear the sordid details of the mess brought about, purely and simply, by a system which gives a whole lot of money to people who in many cases are not mature enough to handle wealth and power.

Hey, Michael Vick is not the only Vick who has managed to mess up the American dream. His younger brother, following in his footsteps as quarterback at Virginia Tech, managed to get himself thrown off the team and out of school. Pulling a gun on students in a parking lot will do that for you.

And you don't have to be a genius to know that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The only Vick I want around me is a concoction called VapoRub - a topical cough medicine that also helps those of us prone to allergies and colds breathe easier.

Michael Vick is not the first professional athlete to be accused of dabbling in illegal activities, and he surely won't be the last. Life is full of disappointments. Sports figures are usually guys who were great physical specimens as youngsters, who rode their physical talents into the major leagues and big bucks. Many times those same athletes never bothered too much with the academic side of being a "student-athlete." And, sadly, more often than not their moral development similarly lagged behind.

A few months ago a promising quarterback for a large metro Atlanta high school died in a car wreck. The booster club had a big send off so folks could grieve the tragedy of a career cut short. But then the toxicology report showed that the kid had been under the influence of a mixture of alcohol and cocaine, and suddenly nobody wanted to talk about that side of the tragedy. It's far easier to grieve for the victim of a random accident than to admit that the kid was morally screwed up, because someone else had to have a hand in that part of it.

The fact is that true sportsmen are fans of the game - of the sport - and not idol worshippers of those who play them. Those who rush to get autographs and think the stars are bigger than life are simply setting themselves up for a lifetime sequence of crushing disappointments.

About 90 years ago the Chicago White Sox fielded a pretty fair baseball team, featuring a left fielder by the name of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson. Jackson might have been the best player of 'em all, but unfortunately a number of the White Sox were found to have thrown the 1919 World Series to Cincinnati, and were thence banned from baseball. "Shoeless Joe" died in Greenville, South Carolina, the year I was born: 1951.

When I was in my 20's, Cincinnati had a juggernaut of a baseball outfit, managed expertly by George "Sparky" Anderson and honed into what was known as the "Big Red Machine." There have been some great catchers through the years, but my personal favorite is still Cincy's Johnny Bench from those years.

The Reds also had Pete Rose, nicknamed "Charlie Hustle" because he was always getting after it at full speed. Rose would run to first after drawing a walk, and more than a few times kept on going to steal second while the catcher, pitcher and infielders weren't paying attention.

Many of the "Big Red Machine" players are Hall of Fame inductees already. Rose, who collected more hits than any other player in Major League Baseball history, will never be inducted, however, because he chose to bet on baseball games.

Like Shoeless Joe before him, Charlie Hustle has learned the hard way that when you deal in illegal things - even if it's guilt by association - it'll come back to bite you in the end.

There are many who feel Jackson should be posthumously vindicated, that the evidence never supported that he was willingly and directly involved in throwing the 1919 World Series.

Too bad. He was associated with illegal activity unbefitting a champion and a sports figure entrusted to uphold a modicum of integrity for those of us who have to work for a living.

There are those who believe Pete Rose should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Not gonna happen. Rose was associated with illegal activity unbefitting a champion and a sports figure entrusted to uphold a modicum of integrity.

And there are people lining up to defend Michael Vick. One of Vick's partners has already started singing to the Feds, and it doesn't take a genius to see that Vick will most likely be wearing No. 7 again some day, but it'll be seven numbers in a row on a prison outfit.

The real tragedy in all of this is that there are little kids - and some big ones - who idolize Michael Vick. They want to wear bling and drive fancy cars and ... well, I guess now they'll want to get involved in dogfighting.

In my opinion, Michael Vick does not deserve the privilege of setting foot on a football field for even one more day. He has failed to uphold any modicum of integrity befitting a champion or a sports figure for those of us who work for a living.

This brings me, improbably, to San Francisco left fielder Barry Bonds, who at this writing has tied Henry Aaron's mark of hitting 755 home runs. There are those who say Bonds' achievement is tainted due to his use of steroids, and that he should never be allowed in the Hall of Fame because of it.

Well, believe it or not, there is in my mind some room for discussion regarding Barry Bonds. Steroid use was not banned until the 1990's, and even then anabolic steroids were classified as Schedule III drugs and were legally used by many athletes.

While it's true that Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron never used performance enhancing steroids, and whereas it's clear that Barry Bonds has, the main reason America has not flocked to defend Bonds is that the man is aloof to the public. He has not helped himself by coming across as an egotistical jerk.

What is comes down to, in the end, is this: While Major League Baseball was slow to come to grips with the use of performance enhancing drugs, gambling on games by players and anyone else associated with the game has always been taboo. It has always, always been an inviolate truth that any player, coach or umpire found to be involved in gambling on the games would be unceremoniously thrown forever out of the game.

And as to how the courts determine Michael Vick's fate or whether the NFL decides to let him play again, Vick has let America down.

No matter how many homers Bonds hits, the fact that he used drugs to help him hit even one has let America down. If he makes it to Cooperstown, I wouldn't even pause at his bust, for his achievements will always be tainted.

Pete Rose was one of my favorite players a long, long time ago. But he let me down, as he let down America and the great game of baseball, by gambling on the games while he was active.

And as for Shoeless Joe, a poor boy who never learned to read or write, his only tribute will be the one that probably matters most: The great Ty Cobb picked Jackson as the best left fielder of all time. Oh, and a famous sportswriter called Jackson's glove "the place where triples go to die."

Perhaps the day is not far off when fans will realize that their true affection needs to be for the game itself. The price of continued idolatry of those who play on feet of clay is a lifetime of disappointment.

How ironic it would be, indeed, if by tainting themselves and having fans turn away from them in disgust, the quartet of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, Pete "Charlie Hustle" Rose, Barry Bonds and Michael Vick manage to restore integrity to their respective sports.