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One central theme wove its way through a number of major sporting events in America.  There is a pervasive use of steroids and enhancement drugs by professional athletes across the board.  And in the big money sports, particularly baseball and football, drug use gets little more than a slap on the wrist.

So let me get this straight!  If you use or distribute drugs in major league sports, particularly in baseball, you still get a $20 million contract.  But if you use or distribute drugs on the street, you get a 20-year jail sentence.  Go figure.  Isn’t this a great country or what?

Eighty-seven major league baseball players were accused last week in the Mitchell report about using steroids and other illegal enhancement drugs.  Some admitted such use, but most of the rest just refused to talk to investigators.  Innocent until proven guilty, but they weren’t called before a grand jury, and only asked to talk about the problem with some of the Mitchell team.  Surprisingly, only one of 87 players took up the offer.

Senator George Mitchell headed up the investigation, said baseball should move forward, and no players should be disciplined.  Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said no record should be changed or even marked with an asterisk.  Let’s just move forward they both said.  So a large number of major league baseball players look to be guilty of committing violations of criminal law, but all we hear from the money-driven sport of baseball is to just “move forward.”

It is quite a marked comparison, the approach taken by officials with the International Olympic Committee.  I followed closely the case of Marion Jones, who is certainly the greatest sprinter in the history of the sport.  She went to my alma mater, the University of North Carolina, where I also ran track.  Jones was stripped of all her gold medals she won at the Olympics, has returned some half million dollars in prize money, and was banned for life from running again.

Why the difference?  It’s all about dollars.  You see, Track and Field, is not a big money sport.  You don’t have individual owners who focus most exclusively on the bottom line.  If you ban Barry Bonds and the rest of the druggies, fans aren’t happy, there’s not as much money in play, and the owners certainly don’t won’t that.  Track and Field?  Only a handful really care.  But baseball?  Football?  You can’t tamper with America’s games.  It used to be apple pie, motherhood and baseball.  Now you forget the pie, and hope your mother doesn’t know you’re shooting up regularly in the locker room.

And how about the kid on the street?  You “shoot up” in the neighborhood, have a little extra in your possession, and you’re looking at 15 to 20 in the federal pen.  Same thing in both cases.  But the neighborhood druggies or piranhas need to go away for a long, long time.  But the athletes!  They are the driving force in what entertains us, and brings in the big bucks.

If no penalties are assessed on major league athletes for substance abuse, with just a slap on the wrist, what kind of message are you sending to millions of kids all over the America who look up to these sports stars?  It’s simple.  If you want to be a superstar, start in your early teens by buying those extra strong supplements at the health food stores full of creatine and even testosterone.  Start pumping up early.  Don’t worry about the fact that you might stunt your growth, and that there is great potential for liver damage, prostate cancer, and a variety of other diseases and illnesses in your later years.  But who cares?  Everybody is doing it.  If you get caught, nothing really happens to you.  Hey, I want to be a superstar.  And that’s the path you have to take.

So if you’re a professional athlete in the big time, don’t worry about it.  The owners and the fans are looking out for you. Out on the street, doing the same thing, you’re in completely different and very dangerous territory.

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