Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Spirit of forgiveness forgets Rose

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The quality of mercy is not strained in sports. It droppeth as the gentle jump shot of Latrell Sprewell. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: John Elway as well as Dan Reeves. It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown, even the exalted NBA Commissioner, David Stern.

        The sports pages are full of forgiveness these days and, generally speaking, this is a good thing. Carrying grudges is a burdensome business, and it is a lousy way to go through life. Among the more useful lessons of athletics is the value of second chances. No score is truly final so long as there's another game to play. Few deeds are beyond redemption, with the notable exception of betting on baseball. (More on that later.)

        Thus Sprewell, banished last season for putting a choke hold on his coach, will soon be operating at full throttle for the New York Knicks. He will have the opportunity — in the media capital of the world — to rebuild a reputation shredded by his efforts to strangle P.J. Carlesimo.

        In related developments:

        • Elway and Reeves, formerly the principles in a bitter Denver divorce, are now amicable adversaries in the Super Bowl. Neither the Broncos quarterback nor the Falcons coach wants to be defined by his antagonism toward the other. Both men see the advantages of moving on.

        • Mike Tyson, reinstated from exile for dining on an opponent's ear, returned to the ring Saturday night with declining skills but improved table manners. Progress is slow. Hope springs eternal.

        • Petr Korda, steroid-positive last summer at Wimbledon, has escaped suspension to begin defense of his singles title at the Australian Open. Rivals complain rules have been bent. Korda claims “exceptional circumstances.” Officials allow for the benefit of the doubt.

        • Stern, fresh from solving the NBA's labor impasse, Friday reinstated those referees whose traveling violations had run afoul of the Internal Revenue Service.

        • Lawrence Taylor, his whole life the captive of cocaine, is likely to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame next week.

Try, try again
        In literature, in myth, and particularly in athletics, few themes are as enduring as reprieve and reconciliation. Each week, it seems, some prodigal athlete is welcomed back with open arms and a no-cut contract, having A) learned his lesson; B) cleaned up his act or C) paid his debt to society.

        Cynicism says this trend represents deteriorating values and rampant opportunism; that some sports executive would surely sign Satan if he could tackle Terrell Davis or pitch left-handed. (In point of fact, Satan is unavailable, committed to a career in telemarketing.)

        Yet the reason second chances exist is because so few of us get things right the first time. We tend to forgive human frailty because most of us are so familiar with it. Each time some sports sociopath is granted professional amnesty, the reflexive reaction is not outrage, but for some first-time caller to inquire why the same standard can not be applied to Pete Rose.

Pete twists in wind
        Sixteen months since he applied for reinstatement, Rose is still waiting for a formal reply from Commissioner Bud Selig. This is 11 months longer than Rose spent in prison, and a continuing affront to the notion of due process.

        Selig has no intention of reinstating Rose. To do so, he believes, would be a disservice to baseball and would desecrate the memory of his dear friend, Bart Giamatti. Because Rose is both uncontrite and unreformed and because he has been unable to refute the allegations against him, his case for clemency would seem fairly flimsy.

        Yet Selig's failure to provide a speedy trial — to formally hear Charlie Hustle's plea for parole — makes baseball appear vindictive and hypocritical. It suggests drunken drivers, drug addicts and wife-beaters are somehow more sympathetic than compulsive gamblers.

        It is unseemly. It is unfair. It is unmerciful.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at