Friday, January 3, 2003

Good guys, bad guys and changing perceptions

By Steve Wilstein
The Associated Press

O.J. Simpson strolls onto the football field at an Orange Bowl practice and finds himself welcomed by the USC coach and players like a prodigal son come home.

Handshakes and hugs. Autographs and photos. Friendly banter and wide-eyed hero worship.

And an unsettling thought comes to mind: Is this the start of Simpson's public rehabilitation? Is his next stop the broadcast booth?

"It's his school, and the guys were excited to see him," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "He's a legend. At SC, our guys hold a Heisman Trophy winner in high regard."

What about a guy who may have gotten away with double murder? A guy who was acquitted of criminal charges but found liable by a civil jury in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman?

At Southern Cal, all that seems ancient history. Or irrelevant. For Carroll and his fawning players, the only thing that matters is that Simpson was a great tailback for the Trojans and won the 1968 Heisman Trophy.

"The first time I got a football uniform, I wanted No. 32 to be like 'The Juice."' said tailback Justin Fargas, who took Simpson up on a lunch invitation.

The sports world is filled with good guys and bad guys, and sometimes it gets confusing. The years change and so do people and perceptions.

Pete Rose was a good guy as a player, then he was a bad guy as a manager for betting on baseball, and now maybe he'll be a good guy again, restored to major league respectability or, at least, Hall of Fame eligibility.

Mike Tyson was a bad guy growing up, then he was a good guy when he became a champion, then he was a bad guy who went to jail for rape, and a crazy guy who bit off an ear in the ring. And still fans pay millions to see him fight.

There are crimes and misdemeanors, issues that make a difference and those that simply disappoint.

What should we make of U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive officer Lloyd Ward?

Smart and polished, he came into office baggage-free 14 months ago amid the Salt Lake City bidding scandal. He seemed noble last spring when he stood up as a member of Augusta National Golf Club and called for the admission of women.

Now comes a report Monday in the Los Angeles Times that Ward directed his staff to help his brother's company try to land a multimillion dollar deal to provide power generators for the 2003 Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic. The paper also said Ward did not disclose his affiliation with his brother's company in a conflict-of-interest statement in July.

USOC president Marty Mankamyer said the allegations are "serious and disturbing," adding that the organization is "held to a high standard."

The USOC ethics oversight committee has looked into the issue, Mankamyer said, and the executive committee will hold a special meeting Jan. 13 to discuss the findings and decide what action to take.

"In the aftermath of the bid city controversies, and in a current climate in our nation in which business executives are subjected to intense scrutiny, the USOC is sensitive to these issues and the serious allegations," Mankamyer said.

Is Ward, a former Maytag CEO and the first black leader of the USOC, just another corporate power broker who abused his office and the public's trust?

Will he follow the path of former USOC president Sandy Baldwin, who was forced to resign last May after admitting she lied about academic credentials on her resume?

Ward, already under pressure for not revealing his membership in male-only Augusta National when he was hired, was traveling Monday and could not immediately be reached for comment by The Associated Press.

He told USA Today, however, that he has not violated his ethical code, and he believes his leadership will not be compromised.

"I don't think this will lead to any consideration about me being ineffective in my role," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Ward also faces tough negotiations on renewing Olympic sponsorships, and this issue is certain to upset sponsors.

Maybe Ward did nothing wrong and he will be able to save his job and spare the USOC further embarrassment. The last thing the Olympics need is another scandal, small or large, or another high-profile resignation. The USOC has suffered through dysfunction in its top ranks for more than a decade.

In 1991, president Robert Helmick resigned after being accused of using his position for personal gain.

Time passed and last year Helmick emerged from his Olympic exile and was appointed by Baldwin to the USOC's International Relations Committee. Eight months later, Baldwin was gone.

There are bad guys and good guys, and sometimes it's hard to keep score.


Steve Wilstein is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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Good guys, bad guys and changing perceptions
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