2007-12-21 / Editorial/Opinion

It's Not Whether You Win Or Lose,But How…

The conventional wisdom has always been that playing sports builds character. Rockaway is chock full of sports programs and many of our young men and women go off the peninsula to find an even higher level of participation than they can find in the programs run by the Catholic Youth Organization, the Rockaway Little League, the Far Rockaway Sports Association, the Broad Channel Athletic Club and the Police Athletic League. All in all, hundreds of Rockaway and Broad Channel kids play sports each season, most of them with dreams of stardom in heads and a glorification of professional athletes in their hearts. We have known for a long time that playing sports does not always build character. We are old enough to remember the college basketball point-shaving scandals of the 1950's, Pete Rose betting on Baseball games, the peccadilloes of countless professional basketball and football players. We have read of the Black Sox Scandal. We know that the conventional wisdom often tends to be wrong. The most recent episode seems somehow more horrendous than those of the past, however, perhaps because baseball is often called "America's Game," and many of us grew up here in New York with such icons as Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. They made little money, had off-season jobs and may have imbibed on occasion, but performance enhancers were not even on their radar. They were not cheaters, and that is what many of today's professional athletes have become. Perhaps we have to differentiate between Roger Clemens, who allegedly took the enhancing medication to keep his failing career going and Andy Pettit, who took human growth hormone to help him recover from an injury. Perhaps not. The major impact is not on the athletes themselves, but on the teenagers who idolize them, who want to be just like them. Their heroes take steroids to get the edge, why shouldn't they, teens believe. The real danger is not that Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens will get into the record books or into the Hall of Fame. The real danger is that the teens and young adults will believe that it's perfectly all right to do the same. In 2006, a group of kids from the Rockaway Little League, the Roxbury Little League and the St. Thomas More baseball team took a trip to Shea Stadium for a tour and to meet some players. The tour was chaperoned by Brian McNamee, a Breezy Point resident who worked as Roger Clemens' personal trainer and who, if you believe the Mitchell Report, was instrumental in providing the drugs to Clemens and others. McNamee also ran baseball clinics for young ballplayers at Breezy Point a few years ago. Professional sports has to move quickly to prove to teens that cheating at any level is wrong, that sports requires an integrity that is often lacking today. The first step is to sanction the players who were caught in some real, eyecatching way. That is the only way to get the teen's attention now that the cat is out of the bag. They have to understand that the way to play the game is with honesty and integrity, not with drugs and deception.

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