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THINK BEFORE CRITICIZING STEROID USERS

So you want to rewrite the record books for the sake of integrity, which in this case means adding asterisks to and erasing names of players who cheated.

That's what we're talking about, right? We want to eliminate steroid users and restore honesty, making sure we have an accurate account of history.

You're not going to get an argument from me. Steroids have spiraled out of control and compromised almost every sport. We can't get through an Olympics without somebody testing positive. Just this week Carolina Panthers punter Todd Sauerbrun was implicated in a steroids scandal, which drew immediate attention from Capitol Hill.

In a perfect world, everybody would play on an even field absent steroids and supplements. There would be no personal trainers or dietitians, just athletes who reached the professional level the old-fashioned way. But before you board your high horse and chastise every Jose, Mark and Barry, answer this simple question:

What would you do if given a similar opportunity?

Almost any ex-jock will tell you the best time of his life was when he was playing in the pros. Football players leave the NFL every year in their 30s feeling like they're 60. But they'll gladly take the aches and pains that come with the paycheck because they made more money and had more fun than they ever imagined.

We like to say our health doesn't have a price tag, but is that really true? Imagine your reaction if somebody came along and offered you a decade playing the game you loved and, say, $20 million just for your trouble. In exchange, you would be forced to give back, say, five years of your life.

Something tells me that many a mediocre athlete would be going to his grave after his 70th birthday rather than his 75th. Understand, I'm not going to suggest taking them makes a penny's worth of sense. I'm merely saying this is how athletes think when they're making decisions.

It's only after their careers are over, long after the cheering stops and the money becomes trivial, that they think about the ramifications of what they put in their bodies. In truth, there's many people out there who wouldn't think twice about taking steroids if it meant they could leave the assembly lines or office cubicles and get filthy rich.

You know who's ultimately responsible for this line of thinking? It's you. It's me. It's anybody who has ever overpaid for a ticket, anybody who funneled money into the pockets of athletes whose salaries have gone through the domes that they call home. Every sports fan is a hypocrite in a way because we've all contributed.

We don't want to admit as much, so we blame overpaid athletes.

It amazes me how many people are admonishing the very players they cheered for years after learning performance-enhancing drugs were part of the equation. And in the next breath these very same people say they would give their left arm for five years in the big leagues or a few laps around the PGA Tour.

Just last week, New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett suggested that half the players in the NFL were on 'roids in the early 1980s, including all linemen and linebackers. Haslett was exaggerating and it took away from his message. Rather than examine the essence of his statements, ex-teammates ripped him for shooting off his mouth.

Haslett was trying to say that steroids at one point had become so rampant and accessible that they were accepted in many circles. By the way, they also were legal. He was attempting to explain that athletes on the cusp of realizing a lifelong dream were looking for every advantage they could find, often at the expense of common sense.

You think pro athletes are worried about the cemetery early in their careers? They're too busy visiting heaven on earth.
e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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