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Monday, July 31, 2006

The Mrs. Graham Defense

Floyd Landis says that he has unnaturally high testosterone levels, and that's why he might have flunked his drug test that might cost him his victory in the Tour de France. Justin Gatlin's coach said that his sprint champion, a world record holder, had a massage in which the masseuse, unbeknownst to the sprinter, used a testosterone cream that might have caused him to flunk a drug test.

It's pretty amazing that when crashes like these occur no one steps up and accepts accountability. (Of course, I'll take back my words if tests on Landis's "B" sample prove Landis correct, but I haven't read or heard many commentators who believe Landis; I have heard the protests of fans who simply don't want to believe that cyclists dope). They use all sorts of amazing defenses. It would be refreshing to hear a professional athlete who doped and set records to just stand up and say, "I did it." In baseball, that admission might not even deny the player membership in the Hall of Fame. After all, steroids weren't banned in baseball, and the writers that vote for the Hall tend to be fans more than they are journalists.

All of these discussions remind me of a story that took place in, I believe, the late 1980's or early 1990's about a serial killer who lived in North Philadelphia not far from the Temple University campus. His name was Harrison "Marty" Graham, and when police solved the case they found all sorts of body parts and some corpses in his $90 a month apartment. Needless to say, the conviction came rather easily, and Graham is now in prison for life.

His mother, though, defended her son and proclaimed his innocence. When asked how to explain the physical evidence -- bodies and body parts -- that were found in her son's apartment, his mother replied, "They were there when he moved in."

The local papers had a field day with Mrs. Graham's blind loyalty to her son, as they have had on occasion with the denials that have come forth from the tarnished athlete of the month. No, Bill Giles, Brett Myers wasn't helping his wife on a Boston street. No, Justin Gatlin, if you're a professional athlete you can't play ostrich and have people put mystery creams on you. No, Gary Sheffield, you just can't take things that Barry Bonds gives you.

The stakes are just too high.

And the stories that are told demean the sports that the athletes excel in and besmirch the reputations of all athletes in that sport. The logic goes something like this, "well, if the champions are doing it, then everyone else must be doing it to keep up." True, all professional athletes should seek out the latest advances in nutrition and fitness. We want them to push the envelope, and so do they. But we want them to do it the right way.

I hope that all professional athletes and their representatives out there remember the sports that they are representing when they have to face up to their transgressions. That everyone does it doesn't make it right, and that you have done it doesn't mean that you have to tarnish an entire sport by saying it ain't so in a way that leads even someone who knows little about the sport to think that you did it.

These problems "weren't there when you moved in." When athletes caught in these pickles realize that and face up to it, they will liberate themselves, their fellow elite athletes, and their sports.

Until that time, their lame excuses will just be fodder for late-night comedians and humorists everywhere. They also will continue to sour the public on what is actually being achieved in competitions everywhere.

When will there be a big reckoning?

Just look to the upcoming balloting for baseball's Hall of Fame.

Mark McGwire will be on the ballot.

And the voters will tell us whether they've bought what he's been selling.

And, in the process, tell us whether they've been paying attention to what's been going on.


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