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updated: 8/7/2013 10:57 PM

Mariano Rivera true beacon of hope for sports

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  • Yankees Mariano Rivera, left, and Alex Rodriguez provide such contrasts.

    Yankees Mariano Rivera, left, and Alex Rodriguez provide such contrasts.
    Associated Press

  • When it comes to a sports figure to look up to, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is a good choice.

    When it comes to a sports figure to look up to, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is a good choice.
    Associated Press


Fortunately, some Mariano Riveras remain in sports.

At least it appears to be fortunate.

Who ever knows for sure?

Because I confess to having voted for drug users on baseball's Hall of Fame ballot, purists challenge me to explain to their children why I don't want to punish the cheaters.

It's complicated. I have written the reasons for years. I will again. Not now, though.

A better topic for today is why kids should keep following sports despite all the disappointments.

After all, a Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver is dealing with having gone on a racist rant. Thirteen baseball players were suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner reportedly violated NCAA rules by selling his autograph.

Maybe the best antidote for all this is to show the young ones a photo of Rivera and then go for ice cream.

Personally, seriously, I'm not sure why sports continue to fascinate me despite having been as disappointed up close by sports figures as kids have been from afar.

•One of the most respectful phone conversations I ever had with an athlete was with O.J. Simpson. He's in prison now and two decades later still suspected of getting away with double homicide in another case.

•One of the lengthiest one-on-one baseball interviews I ever did occurred in Wrigley Field's first-base dugout with Pete Rose. He's banned from the game now.

•One of the most interesting series of round-table discussions about football was with Joe Paterno over decades of Big Ten media days. He died in disgrace after being taken down by the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

Juice was an idol, Charlie Hustle an icon, JoePa a god.

I thought about those guys this week as Alex Rodriguez was added to the list of ignominy.

In the Mariners' clubhouse 13 years ago A-Rod, a Seattle writer and I had a long talk about free agency. Rodriguez was baseball's golden boy. I tried to sell him on signing with the White Sox or the Cubs.

Thank goodness he didn't. This week Rodriguez appealed a 211-game suspension for allegedly using performance enhancers.

The best I can give you for remaining a sports fan is this: For every Alex Rodriguez there is a Mariano Rivera; perhaps there are dozens of Riveras; perhaps hundreds; thousands.

Often it's difficult to identify the Riveras from the A-Rods, difficult to tell who's who and what's what, difficult to tell whether even Rivera is who we think he is.

As someone once said about Charles Barkley, "There are bad guys who want you to think they're good guys; he's a good guy who wants you to think he's a bad guy."

A good guess is that Rivera really is a good guy. That's just a hunch. If he isn't, he's the best stage actor Panama ever produced.

As cynical as I have become I still can appreciate the way Rivera has performed on and off the field. If it's an act, all athletes should act this way and we should let them get away with it. He's dignified bordering on regal, and I'm a sucker for that.

I also still get excited when an emerging superstar such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper or Yasiel Puig comes to town. If he's artificially fueled he's artificially fueled. That's life, kiddies. Move on to the next young phenom and hope for better.

Mariano Rivera has had two decades to be exposed as a fraud but hasn't been. Now, a couple of months from retirement it sure looks like he'll get there with his reputation intact.

Tell your kids that some good ones are still out there.

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