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In the Crossfire

Do athletes owe fans good behavior?

(CNN) Texas Rangers pitcher John Rocker is in trouble again, this time for calling a gay couple "fruitcakes" in a Dallas restaurant on Sunday. Just as his off-the-field actions made headlines, so did those of Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson, who recently was accused of storming into his cousin's apartment with a gun and threatening two men while looking for his wife.

Is it fair to hold professional athletes to a high standard of behavior? Sports radio talk show host Steak Shapiro steps into the "Crossfire" with hosts Paul Begala and Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Here's what I don't understand. Maybe you do or maybe you don't. Allen Iverson is a great basketball player. He's not a good player, he's a great basketball player. And he just willed that team to the finals of the NBA playoffs a year ago. But he is not a nice guy. He spent a little time in prison. He's a difficult fellow. He has trouble with his coach. Why should we care what his personality is? Do you care what his personality is?

SHAPIRO: Well, here's the reality. If I lived in Philadelphia, I'd like the fact that he has the word Sixers on his uniform, and that's what I care about. Nice guy, not a nice guy, Allen Iverson -- and by the way, Mr. Novak, good basketball knowledge. You're right. He was MVP a couple of years ago, got his team to the finals, and his head coach, Larry Brown, is not a big fan.

But the reality is, hey, he decided that he doesn't want to get caught up in this high-society deal. He goes back to his roots, back to the 'hood if you will, and hangs out with those people. Does that not make him not a nice guy? Look, Allen Iverson is not going to win a popularity contest. But if it says Philadelphia on his uniform, Sixers fans are going to root for him. You know, you can't all have the great image of Magic Johnson, who, yes, has a few peccadilloes in his closet as well, so...

BEGALA: I cannot believe you are covering for these guys. I can't believe you are...

SHAPIRO: Hey, you know what...

BEGALA: ... sucking up to them.

Here in the Baltimore-Washington area, Scott Erickson, who is a terrific pitcher for the Orioles, has been on a bad streak. And a couple of weeks ago, pitches an eight-inning game, does a great job and the crowd is cheering and on their feet. And there's a lot of little kids out there cheering him. And he goes home with the first win he had had since April. And, apparently, a couple of days later, allegedly, puts his girlfriend in some kind of a wrestling lock and he's beating up on a girl.

Now, he's a role model in additional to a ball player. And, frankly, I don't think most moms and dads want their little kids looking up to a role model who beats up girls.

SHAPIRO: Well, what is the responsibility? Are we supposed to fire him? Are we supposed to make sure he doesn't...


SHAPIRO: Hey, look, that's the ownership. And the fact is if he goes and wins 15 or 20 games, then the ownership is going to take care of him. It's a parent's decision...

BEGALA: Do you think your radio station would keep you on if you beat the crap out of some girl?

SHAPIRO: Only -- I don't know about a girl. If I slapped around you and Robert a little bit, maybe it would be OK.

BEGALA: You know, Novak once bit off a piece of my ear. We had to edit it out. It was a horrible scene.

SHAPIRO: He's a monster. Novak is a monster. I wouldn't mess with him.

Hey, all I'm saying is, Paul, why are you so outraged? Why do you think this is so unbelievable? It just happens to be they're famous people screwing up. They screw up in every walk of life, if it's entertainment or movies. You know, because they're athletes, should we cut them more slack? No. But I don't think it's any different than what happened.

BEGALA: But you are. You are saying you're cutting them more slack. If some regular person had beat the hell out of their girlfriend, they wouldn't care.

NOVAK: How many guys do the things that Allen Iverson is alleged to do and never -- it doesn't even get a one-paragraph story in the paper.

SHAPIRO: Well, you know what? I don't think it happens too often because Glenn Robinson didn't get, you know, pushed under the rug. You heard about Scott Erickson.

NOVAK: No, I mean non-athletes. Non-athletes...

SHAPIRO: Oh, non-athletes. Hey, look, I don't have percentages. But I'd guess even there in the bastion of CNN or in the bastion of any other company, there are some guys behind the scenes doing some things they wouldn't be proud of. The fact is...

NOVAK: And, you know, I can't even vouch for Paul.




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