Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / July 11, 2000

So….here we go again. This past week the forward for the Charlotte Hornets, Anthony Mason, was arrested in the French Quarter for hitting a police officer who was trying to break up a disturbance involving the basketball player and what was presumably his entourage, and another group. He was also charged withinciting a riot after he encouraged the crowd surrounding the action to interfere with the officers, as well as being charged with resisting arrest and being drunk in public. He has entered a not guilty plea through hisattorney, who says this is much ado about nothing. His client is, of course,innocent.

My, my, my. Imagine that. Yet another spoiled, overpaid athlete is innocentof everything he has been accused of, despite being smack dab in the swirling center of a disturbance on Bourbon Street. Go figure. I mean, justbecause Mason has pleaded guilty of the same type of thing in New York in 1996 doesn’t mean he’s prone to creating problems, does it? Even when the problems involve underage girls, like the situation he found himself in back in 1998. He pleaded guilty of endangering the welfare of a child thattime and slipped past the more serious charge of statutory rape.

Mason is just one of a number of athletes in Jock Land who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Players have been involved inissues involving domestic violence. In the real world this can be a careerender these days. But not in Jock Land. Latrelle Sprewell choked his coachwhich, in the real world, constitutes some form of battery or assault and is accompanied by charges. But not in Jock Land. Mike Tyson is not only aconvicted rapist, he’s a bona fide dirty fighter and ear muncher. That typeof behavior in the real world would probably get you fired from whatever company you represented if it were nearly as high profile as the highly publicized world of sports. But it is not nearly enough to get an athleteexpelled from Jock Land. Tyson was not only able to fight again after hebit off a substantial portion of an opponent’s ear, he got paid a whopping nine million dollars to do so. And he was the loser, too! Certainly, domestic violence can cause a soldier’s or policeman’s career to come to abrupt, screeching halt because the new federal law prohibits owning or carrying a gun if you’re convicted of it. An athlete’s career isnot threatened if he gives his wife a good thumping. And in the real worldchoking your boss is considered a bad thing and is generally enough to get you fired from your profession, never to be hired again in the same field.

Not so in athletics.

So, I have a question. Just what does it take to be banished from JockLand? I know it happens from time to time that a jock is expelled, but it usually takes multiple arrests and/or convictions. It seems that thestandards pertaining to the behavior of athletes when they’re off the field are abysmally low. Like it or not – and some don’t – they really are rolemodels for the kids who watch them and idolize them. Sorry. It goes withthe territory. Then why do you suppose organizations like the NBA, NFL,and MLB don’t take immediate and severe disciplinary action when one of the people who represent them to the public makes a criminal ass of himself? Oh but, wait! They do take immediate action on certain things, though.

When Pete Rose was caught gambling on baseball he was booted right out of the Hall Of Fame even though he never bet on his own team. Gamblingwas bad for the image of the sport, you know. Yeah, well, so is cocaineabuse, but Daryll Strawberry and Dwight Goodwin continued to play after their arrests for the stuff.

They also took swift and decisive action when John Rocker publicly expressed some politically incorrect views during a Sports Illustrated interview. He was actually fined $20,000 and made to attend sensitivitytraining. And he wasn’t even arrested for anything, he just expressed anopinion, bone-headed though it may have been.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s a weird little dichotomy at work there, don’t you think? The simple fact is that star athletes, as long as they can hit that home run, make that basket, or punch through that defensive line for a touchdown, can get away with just about anything because they make money for their respective organizations. Lots of money. They’resurrounded by a force field of immunity that’s powered by the almighty dollar and as long as they have the sure knowledge that they’ll get away with just about anything and still have a high paying job the next day, people like Anthony Mason will continue to do just that.

After all, they’re stars. As long as they perform they can keep that job nomatter what they do.

If they don’t express a politically incorrect opinion, that is.

LEE DRESSELHAUS writes this column every Wednesday for L’Observateur.

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