Bantamweight Frankie Duarte has been in the news often lately. He couldn't have picked a better time.
You remember Frankie Duarte, the man who overcame drug and alcohol addiction, climbed back into society and then back into the ring to win the North American Boxing Federation bantamweight title?
His story should be told, and retold until every kid tempted to experiment with drugs or alcohol gets the message.
Duarte's tale is particularly timely because it serves as the perfect counterpoint to the stories of Len Bias and Don Rogers.
When Bias, the Maryland basketball star, and Rogers, the UCLA and Cleveland Browns defensive back, died from cocaine several weeks ago, the reaction seemed to be universal.
First, there was horror at the thought of two such seemingly innocent men in their prime having their lives ended so abruptly.
Then there was shock when it was revealed drugs were involved. Bias had just been drafted by the Boston Celtics and was ready to sign a huge contract. Rogers was about to be married. Why would they ruin their lives?
It must have been the emotion of the moment, some people figured. Both men must have been lured into drug use by friends offering them a new way to celebrate their good fortune. It must have been an aberration. Surely neither was a regular user.
Now that the evidence seems to indicate both men knew what they were doing, the most common reaction is anger--anger directed at both men for being fools, anger at those who sell drugs to impressionable kids, anger at our government for not cracking down harder on those who smuggle drugs past our borders and anger at other countries for not leaning on the smugglers at their end.
Anger. Anger. Anger. We are a society flailing away in desperation, groping for a way out of the drug morass.
The answer is not government intervention nor stiffer laws. Those measures punish the offenders but don't solve the problem. If someone really wants to use drugs, he's going to find them.
The war on drugs starts and ends with each potential user. Nobody gets their arm twisted to take drugs, just their minds.
The answer may be the Frankie Duartes of the world.
They are the winners in the war on drugs and alcohol. They offer hope to the most strung out addicts that rehabilitation can work. Duarte is a walking, talking advertisement against the evils of drugs and alcohol, and for the strength and power everyone possesses to resist addicting substances and to fight back if addiction becomes a way of life.
The young are the most susceptible to drugs and alcohol. But they are also the most impressionable, the ones most likely to follow role models.
For those who have never used drugs, the examples of Bias and Rogers might do some good. Those two are now scarecrows, hanging over the mass of available drugs, perhaps chasing off potential users. The message is clear: Take drugs, take a chance, take your life.
But those who have already drank or smoked or inhaled their way to addiction just wave away such scarecrows as casually as a driver might shrug off a freeway accident. It won't happen to me, man, they'll tell you. Besides, I'm already hooked. What can I do?
It is Duarte who can get through to these people. Yes, it can be done. Yes, there can be life after drugs and booze.
What Duarte has accomplished in boxing is amazing. To come back at age 31, lose 20 pounds and beat people 10 years his junior after leaving the ring for nearly five years is an incredible boxing story.
But to the junkie and the alcoholic, it's Duarte's victory over addicting substances that belongs on Amazing Stories. Nothing he does from here on--whether he wins the World Boxing Assn. or World Boxing Council title or both--would be as impressive.
Frankie Duarte has won his biggest fight. He has won the title of reformed addict. It's a title he'll be asked to defend for the rest of his life, every time he passes a bottle of booze or a gram of cocaine.
But it's a title worth talking about. Over and over. There's always somebody out there who missed the message.