This has not been a particularly good time for sports. We have not seen an overabundance of positive role-modeling. Barry Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice and possibly may serve jail time, although that appears unlikely. Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 by the NBA for hurling an anti-gay slur at a referee who had the temerity to call a technical foul on the Lakers star. Meanwhile, the Fiesta Bowl is self-destructing as a result of some alleged self-dealing on the part of its CEO and President John Junker.
Of course, none of this is particularly new. Bonds had been tried and convicted in the press for years. He apparently now admits that he was fed some steroids. (Could you imagine his surprise when he discovered his head was expanding and his testicles were shrinking?) The jury seems to have come in with a verdict just opaque enough to leave the public jury confused. You mean he wasn't lying about the injections, but he was just generally lying or otherwise being snarky?
In any case, the verdict will end for a long time the guessing game about whether they should clear a space for the Bonds' plaque at the Hall of Fame. While other users not convicted of a felony may hope that after a decent interval they will be considered for election, Bonds will have real difficulty pushing that stone up the hills surrounding Lake Otsego of the easternmost Finger Lakes. If Roger Clemens' trial this summer ends in conviction as well, we will have a pair of felons. Add their names to the list of those who have publicly admitted their use of performance enhancing drugs, like Alex Rodriguez, and there may be some years when the Hall of Fame ballot will be devoid of superstars.
Kobe Bryant continues to be a piece of work. By now, most fans have forgotten his criminal charge in 2003 for the sexual assault of a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado. The alleged victim refused to testify and settled her civil suit against Kobe for unspecified damages and a public apology: "I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year... I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure." The next year Kobe signed a seven-year, $136 million contract.
Kobe's homophobic outburst this week was followed, of course, by another apology: "What I said last night should not be taken literally. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone." He admitted his choice of words was not appropriate. All you have to do is say you were sorry, capitalize NOT, and all will be forgiven.
Ultimately, the Fiesta Bowl scandal may be the most important of the recent improprieties. The Bowl hired a special investigator to look into allegations of some very questionable expenditures, payoffs to politicians, coaching witnesses, and altering documents. The 276-page report is filled with delicious improprieties, but my favorite was Bowl CEO and President John Junker's explanation for the $1,241 charged to the Bowl for a visit to a Phoenix strip club. "We are in the business," Junker said, "where big strong athletes are known to attend these types of establishments. It was important for us to visit, and we certainly conducted business." Junker also charged the Bowl for his four-day birthday bash in Pebble Beach. The celebration of his 50th cost the Fiesta Bowl $33,188. The Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors was duly "shocked" and fired Junker after 30 years of distinguished service.
The Fiesta Bowl-o-rama could not have come at a worse time. While it may cost the Fiesta Bowl its status as one of the BCS bowls, the Justice Department is currently considering whether to open an investigation into whether the entire Bowl Championship Series violates the nation's antitrust laws. It is time for the NCAA to step in to protect the integrity of its college football operation.
There are additional allegations pending against other bowls. Questions have been raised about the compensation levels of executives of the Sugar and Orange Bowls and their expenditures have also been criticized. No similar questions have ever been raised about excessive compensation and expenditures in connection with the NCAA's basketball tournament. No scandals, no apologies, no antitrust violations, just basketball.