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Commentary: Integrity biggest loss in baseball scandal

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  • Mitchell Report a direct hit on integrity of baseball players, Roland S. Martin says
  • Martin: Love of game has turned into lust for fame, money and glory
  • Word of players has been wounded, perhaps forever, columnist says
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN contributor
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Watch Roland S. Martin on "Sound Off" on CNN.com Live at 11:10 a.m. ET Wednesday.

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Roland S. Martin says the public musn't worship athletes as gods but view them as humans who make mistakes.

(CNN) -- As Max Robinson stood before a group of Howard University students and alumni in 1988, he implored them to never, ever lose their credibility and integrity because as a journalist, he said, "In the end, that's all you've got."

Those are words that I've used over and over in speeches to various groups as well as in my own life. They don't apply only to journalists, but to each one of us.

And they are words that should be pinned on the locker of every baseball player today.

The game of baseball, as well as many of its top stars, took a major hit on Thursday with the release of the long-awaited report by former Sen. George Mitchell about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the nation's pastime.

For two years, we all have had to deal with the repeated stories of Barry Bonds and his reported use of steroids as well as his ongoing denials that he ever knowingly took them. Even when he passed Hank Aaron for the home run record, the guy who bought the ball asked fans whether they wanted an asterisk to be put on it to represent the authenticity (or lack thereof) of the record.

Now Bonds gets some company in the form of future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens and nearly 80 other star players who were named in Mitchell's report, which is available online.

Mitchell blamed a number of people in baseball for the debacle, from league officials to general managers, trainers and the players themselves.

It is sad because we want to know that our sports heroes accomplished their feats by doing it with God-given talents. We often hear people talk about the love of the game, but it's clear that that love has turned into lust.

Lust for fame. Lust for glory. Lust for more Benjamins.

While doing "Tell Me More," Michel Martin's National Public Radio show, I was asked, "So what do we tell our young kids who look up to these guys as role models?"

I say we tell them that anyone can make bad decisions that put his word into doubt. We also must not worship athletes as gods; we should view them as men and women who are human and make terrible decisions.

But we also can't sugarcoat it and tell them that doing the right thing -- the right way -- is the appropriate conduct in life. Our word, honor and integrity are most important. Even when they're unpopular.

So many people compare guys such as Bonds and Clemens to greats of old, and we treat them as such. And no matter how long they can deny using steroids, the evidence presented by Mitchell, no matter how flimsy or circumstantial, is a direct hit on their integrity.

What these men tell us, frankly, doesn't matter. It's what they tell their children, the folks who are supposed to see them as role models.

So in the end, what's truly been lost? Home run and strikeout records? Memorabilia earned through less than truthful means? No. Their word; the one thing that we all should count on and that which is more important in life.

Baseball and the players involved in this sordid scandal have lost that. It can't be bought back. It can't be bartered. And it can't be injected.

It's gone. Maybe time will heal. But the wound always will be there. Forever.

Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and he is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at www.rolandsmartin.com.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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