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Commentary | JOHN BALZAR

Double-Standard Sports

Cal State reared up on its high horse about its female athletes after members of the men's baseball team went to the Flamingo Theater in Anaheim to party down.

July 06, 2001|JOHN BALZAR

I remember a few years back when I wrote about the University of Washington fielding a football team with five players who were wanted by the police for crimes.

I found this strange.

More recently, I've been reading about Cal State Fullerton barring a cross-country runner from the field because she works off-hours as a stripper.

This is really strange.

In the case of the UW's Rose Bowl-bound football team, a tight end was allowed to play even though he was wanted by authorities on charges of assault, resisting arrest and criminal trespass. Another faced a $1,500 bench warrant for driving without a license. The other players-on-the-lam were wanted for disregarding traffic tickets.

That's OK. Boys will be boys, you know. No need for the police to chase them down the field in front of 50,000 fans and a nationwide television audience just as they're headed for an undefeated season. Right?

But at Fullerton, Leilani Rios, who once placed 60 in a field of 80 at conference championships, is disqualified from sports for holding down a perfectly legal job.

Uh-oh, girls better not be anything but daddy's sweet girls, I guess.

Last year, Rios--who is 21, married and the first in her family to go to college--was presented a choice by born-again coach John Elders: Quit stripping or quit running. By way of justification, the university later circulated its code of conduct, which says that team players must "give everyone who sees them a positive image of Titan student athletes."

When Rios threatened to sue, the university retreated. After lengthy study of the obvious, a Cal State administrator grudgingly sent Rios a letter last month saying the Titans had no choice but to allow her to rejoin the team if she met other eligibility requirements--which, wouldn't you know, have now become a matter of doubt, either the result of Rios' preoccupation with her newfound celebrity or her anxiety about her treatment by the university. Apparently, her academic credits are in question even as she has become a hot property for the tabloid shows and for Playboy's Internet site.

It might be worth noting here that Cal State reared up on its high horse about its female athletes after members of the men's baseball team went to the Flamingo Theater in Anaheim to party down.

According to Rios' lawyer, the players wore their Titan team ball caps and stuffed cash into the bikini bottoms of the strippers. Naturally, they gossiped like mad when they got back, with university bluenoses eager to listen.

According to news accounts, the baseball coach confronted his team. Nobody confessed to going to the Flamingo, which I assume means that somebody lied. Nobody was thrown off the team, nor should they have been. What they did was legal too.

I don't regularly hang around NCAA athletic events or strip joints. But if I had to choose where to see a positive image, I think I'd rather go to the Flamingo Theater.

Friends, stripping is not a crime. The only time I ever met college coed strippers was at a club in Alaska where I was doing, ah, book research. They said they felt good about themselves. And dare we admit the human impulse: They said they felt sexy. I took their word for it. Seemed to me, at the least, that they were working for the right aim--an education.

By contrast, the high-powered world of the NCAA and college athletics seems too much like a billion-dollar boondoggle that sullies the purpose of higher education. The episode I recounted with the Huskies football team occurred a decade ago, but there have been a string of grubby exposes since. Just last week, the prestigious Knight Foundation Commission reported that college athletics were increasingly tarnished by academic fraud, commercialization and disregard for educational standards.

I don't mean to smear the thousands of devoted athletes who work and sacrifice just to play. They deserve university coaches, administrators and an athletic creed that weeds out not a stripper but those hot shots who are carrying arrest warrants along with their phony class loads, those who live high on slush money from fanatic alumni, those who bring down the wrath of the administration on any professor who dares judge them on their classroom work instead of their prowess on the field.

*

By the way: I erred on Wednesday. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress on July 4. It was not signed that day. The signing occurred in August.

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