Were there this many criminals and cheaters in sports when you were a kid?

I don’t care if you have to think back a decade or seven decades to remember when you were 12. Was the sports page just another police blotter, day after day? Were there continuous revelations of steroid and PED use? Were the feds going after this many professional football and baseball stars? Were NBA and NFL players getting busted on every month, even every week, on weapons or drug charges? Were college athletes in every conference getting arrested, kicked off their teams and off campus? Were the referees even getting in on the act.

No doubt, athletes were getting into trouble when we were putting bubblegum cards in our spokes. The media wasn’t so pervasive, and what media there was was certainly more willing to look the other way, so we heard about their transgressions less often. I’m willing to guess they got into just as many bar brawls, possibly more, although they at least had the sense to limit themselves to fists. They were also involved in things that were considered less taboo by society and maybe even ignored more by authorities than they are today, such as drunk driving and, yes, dogfighting. And people pretty much just laughed at cheaters.

Many of the idols of our youth were less than perfect gentlemen, but there weren’t this many of them posting bail or under indictment, were there? Outside of boxing, was any sport so rife with criminals that everyone – commissioners, owners, players – formally agreed that the worst among them had to be urged or forced to take a hike?

Some would suggest that sports is merely a reflection of society. Integrity is becoming more the exception than the rule in sports and society, I’ll buy that. But national crime numbers, while they have increased slightly the last few years, are still is as low as they’ve been since the government started collecting crime statistics in the 1970s. If society followed the trend in sports, we’d be invading Mexico right now and not the other way around.

I’m in no position to say whether integrity in sports is at an all-time low and crime is at an all-time high. I’ve read some histories on the baseball players of the late 1800s and early 1900s that make today’s players look like irascible Little Leaguers. All I know is, when I was a kid, there were very few athletes who could fill the back of their bubblegum card with their rap sheet.

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