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Hard to be excited about today's sports climate

August 31, 2006|by DAN KAUFFMAN

It's been quite a while since anyone's seen my mug down here at the bottom of the sports page, for what I consider two good reasons:

I haven't had anything to say that's either original or interesting, so why waste your time?

Quite frankly, given the current climate of sports on the national and international stage, it's hard for me to find much motivation. Without motivation, my writing tends to be on par with William Hung's singing - awful.

Why the lack of motivation? Well, it's really hard to get excited about sports when everywhere I turn, there's negativity and suspicion. It's Barry Bonds this, Floyd Landis that, Terrell Owens this, Justin Gatlin that.

It's rather depressing.

Especially Landis. That one hit me hard. Bonds and Owens, well, we know the deal with those guys. As for Gatlin, unfortunately, when dealing with international track and field figures, I assume the worst ... and I hate that that's the case, but at this point, how could it not be? I've been through enough Ben Johnsons and Marion Joneses and C.J. Hunters and Mary Decker-Slaneys in my short lifetime that I'm not surprised at any drug revelations in track.

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I suppose it should have been the same in cycling, too, given its history. But Landis drew me in.

I wanted Landis to be different. I liked his rebellious qualities, liked that he would be spotted sharing a couple beers with Tour de France fans after a stage, liked his outgoing personality. If anything, I wanted to believe he would avoid any unfair advantages, just so he could say to his opponents afterward, "I didn't need an advantage to kick your butt."

Landis' Stage 17 ride was next to impossible. Riders just don't break away on a one-man crusade at the beginning of the most difficult mountain stage in the Tour and survive to tell about it, never mind crush the field and erase most of an 8-minute deficit. He did. It was stunning. And it was one heck of a good story.

Until it all came crashing down.

Seems a lot of potentially great stories are doing that. The Bonds thing is just sad at this point. In retrospect, so is the McGwire/Sosa home run chase from 1998. The two biggest baseball stories of the past 10 years, ruined by steroids suspicions. Where's Cal Ripken when we so desperately need him?

At least we have Tiger Woods. Right? I'm 99.9 percent sure what he's doing is on the up and up ... but it's pretty sad at this point that there's always that 0.1 percent chance of something not quite being right.

I'm not accusing Woods of anything, but isn't that where we are? Don't we have to look at everybody with at least a slightly suspicious eye?

What's the fun in that? How can I enjoy sports with that in the back of my mind? Nothing kills my sense of amazement more than constantly having to ask myself, "Is what I'm watching real?"

Which is why I'm about as excited as I've ever been that high school sports are starting up again.

I don't believe high school sports are 100 percent pure. There are thousands of high school athletes competing in the Tri-State area, and the odds that not one of them is on steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs have to be close to zero. That's the reality of today's world.

But I know this: Prep sports as a whole are a whole lot more real than most of what I've seen on TV this summer.

So, bring on prep football. Bring on soccer and volleyball, cross country and field hockey.

I need a dose of reality.

Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com

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