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All sports should follow player's lead ... Come clean

March 14, 2004|by MARK KELLER

It's not often that I have good things to say about the NBA.

Now that I think about it, this isn't really going to be one of those times either.

I will, however, say something good about one NBA player who went out of his way to do the right thing last week - and I'll hope aloud that some others in professional sports will follow his lead.

Damon Stoudamire was one of the biggest renegade players on the most renegade team - the Portland Trail Blazers - in the league. He had been arrested three times in 18 months on various marijuana charges.

Last year, following his third arrest, he apologized publicly to his fans and teammates for his misdeeds - standard fare for pro athletes who are suspended or arrested.

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Apparently, a columnist for The Oregonian wasn't buying Stoudamire's claim that he had cleaned up his act, and he told the player so.

Stoudamire's reply: "Give me a test anytime."

The columnist obliged. He showed up unannounced following a Blazers practice last Friday - five months after Stoudamire's apology - and told Stoudamire it was his day to be tested.

Stoudamire shrugged it off and, with Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks holding the bathroom door, provided the columnist with a urine sample. The test reportedly came back negative for five different drugs, including marijuana.

Seems like that should be a banner day for Stoudamire and for the Blazers, but, as expected, Stoudamire has come under fire from the players' union for submitting to the test.

The union said the test violated the league's collective bargaining agreement and that it frowns upon "publicity driven freelance drug testing."

I don't think Stoudamire had publicity on his mind when he agreed to be tested at any time. He said he did it "because I had nothing to hide." He also said he knew he would catch heat from the union for submitting to the test.

I've got no problem with unions, but I do have a problem with those which would criticize someone who is out to clear his name.

Stoudamire is a player with plenty of black marks next to his name. People should look up to a guy who wants to erase some of those black marks.

In reality, he did what nearly anyone else would do. Someone called him a liar. He said he wasn't, then proved he wasn't. That should count for something, no matter what the union says.

It's a stance that most Major League Baseball players are refusing to take while facing similar doubts about their involvement with steroids. Those players are saying that they're not using drugs, but instead of stepping up to prove that fact, they're hiding behind the union.

The situation, as usual, couldn't come at a worse time for baseball, which is coming off an incredible postseason and one of the hottest off-seasons ever.

Baseball's players - and the union - need to address the steroid issue now and impose stricter testing and disciplinary policies. Otherwise, the game will continue to deflate while the players keep bulking up.




Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at keller@herald-mail.com

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