Breathing Golfs Cleaner Air

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In case youve been vacationing in the suburbs of Upper Volta, these are hard times for the so-called major sports in the U.S.
 
Major League Baseball lurches along to the halting beat of Barry Bonds pursuit of Hank Aaron, Americas all-time home run king.
 
Bonds, a San Francisco Giant, was one of the least popular superstars in baseball even before words and phrases like allegations, perjury, performance enhancing drugs, grand jury and indictments began circling his career curriculum vitae like so many verbal vultures.
 
Now the national pastime faces the prospect of Bonds breaking Aarons record of 755 home runs on the road, which could mean Bonds will be booed while rounding the bases. Nor is there a whiff of a convincing argument, in any precinct outside of San Francisco, that we should consider Bonds a sympathetic figure in any sense.
 
All of which has wedged MLB commissioner Bud Selig between a rock and a hard place. He was joined there recently by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who didnt have to wait long after replacing Paul Tagliabue as the czar of professional football, before the unholy Michael Vick mess landed in his lap.
 
Vick, once a massively talented college quarterback at Virginia Tech and more recently something of an underachiever for the Atlanta Falcons, actually IS under indictment on multiple counts in a U.S. District court in Virginia.
 
The indictment alleges, among other things, that Vick and two friends drowned, hanged and otherwise abused trained fighting dogs that didnt kill other dogs that Vick and his friends had pitted them against.
 
We should go no further here without emphasizing that neither Bonds nor Vick has been convicted of anything. But the point of this column is not to debate their innocence or guilt. It is to point out the dark clouds following them that have settled in over their respective sports.
 
And then theres NBA commissioner David Sterns latest nightmare: Allegations that one of his officials, in this case Tim Donaghy, was coerced into shaving points in games he officiated. This revolting development, if true, strikes to the very heart of the integrity of Sterns league.
 
All of which brings us, in a roundabout way, to professional golf.
 
All of a sudden Hall of Famer Gary Players recent charge that he knew of certain top golfers using performance enhancing drugs doesnt sound quite so ominous by comparison.
 
Player declined to name names last week which infuriated many of his games best players, including fellow South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. But it spotlighted the discussions, already underway between golfs governing bodies, aimed at establishing an anti-doping policy and a random testing mechanism.
 
Nobody, to my knowledge, has yet gone public with hard evidence of drug use in golf or convincingly explained exactly how performance enhancing drugs can benefit golfers.
 
That is not to say Player's information is wrong. But it is to say PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchems tempests these days are contained in a small teapot compared to the feeder bands of scandal coming in waves at Stern, Goodell and Selig.
 
Best I can tell is that Player, as much as anything, did Mike Weir a favor. Heres how:
 
Because of the backlash from golfs inner circle resulting from Players scattershot charges, Player is now aware he must placate his critics. And that probably means Player wont want to increase his enemies list by leaving popular Canadian Weir off the International Presidents Cup team he will captain against the Americans in September. The matches, after all, will be taking place in Canada.
 
Meanwhile back at Camp Ponte Vedra the generals remain vigilant. Player said this week PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem has told him an anti-doping policy will be in place the end of the calendar year.
 
This wont be a minute too soon in the world of big money sports where it becomes more imperative by the month to attempt to keep ahead of the moral turpitude curve.
 
Sterns worst nightmare was always going to be a scandal that involved Michael Jordan, the games shining knight. Similarly, Finchems would involve Tiger Woods. Jordan had a gambling itch he managed (happily for Stern) to scratch away from the basketball arena. Woods'and this is where Stern, Goodell and Selig have to be privately envious'remains clean as a whistle on all fronts.
 
All sports commissioners live with the knowledge that they are just one days news cycle away from full damage control. The world is smaller and that means things are somehow more inter-related. Author Thomas Friedman offers the best explanation of this in his book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.
 
There are fewer degrees of separation. Consider that Vick been replaced as the Falcons quarterback, for now, by Joey Harrington. Joey Harrington is a distant cousin of Padraig Harrington. Padraig Harrington just won the British Open in golfs most drama-filled Sunday of the year to date.
 
And the beats go on. Blood doping has reduced the Tour de France into a tour de farce. And the Olympics are about half a dozen positive tests away from losing their credibility as well.
 
The Roger-to-Padraig connection is nothing more than a happy accident (unless youre Vicks spin doctors in which case nothing is very happy these days).
 
But the R&A, meanwhile, might want to look into the opportunity that - unbelievably - still exists in the UK for players, caddies, friends, fans and assorted low-level creeps to walk into a bet shop during Open Championship week across the street from the golf course and place a wager on (for or against) pairings they can directly influence.
 
Its no coincidence that the PGA TOUR has long kept Las Vegas casino interests at arms length when those establishments have flashed their swag and offered title sponsorship.
 
Which is just part of the reason why Im guessing that Finchem, who watches all of these latest developments with keen interest during the day, sleeps better at night than Stern, Goodell or Selig.
 
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