Within a few years, he was starring in commercials for Reebok and EA Sports, and now he owns a local barbecue joint, just as a good old Colt might have.

Sprewell followed a similar model. He never expressed much regret for choking coach P.J. Carlesimo in December 1997, certainly not enough for the writers who mercilessly ripped him during his 68-game suspension. But a trade to the New York Knicks gave him a fresh shot, and when his breakneck play led the team through an improbable run to the NBA Finals in 1999, he became the toast of America's biggest town.

The playing field might prove less of a haven for Palmeiro, because his scandal undermines the perception of his performance.

"It's going to be tough, because the issue is going to stir for a long time," Shapiro said.

One element for most of those athletes who were unable to come back from controversy was an inability to perform at the same level athletically.

Johnson, a Canadian sprinter known for his crazily bulging thighs, exploded past Carl Lewis to become the world's fastest human at the 1988 Olympics. Days later, he tested positive for stanozolol, the same steroid reportedly found in Palmeiro's system.

Johnson lost his gold medal and worldwide respect. Worse, when he returned to competition, he was a shadow of his former self, too slow to win preliminary heats, much less beat a new wave of sprinting greats.

Harding was considered America's leading skater in 1994, before the bizarre unraveling of a conspiracy involving her live-in ex-husband and three men who assaulted rival Nancy Kerrigan with a collapsible metal baton. Though Harding went on to skate at the Olympics, she stumbled and broke a bootlace on her way to eighth place. She never won a significant competition again.

Tyson had already slipped a few notches when he went to prison for rape in 1992, but many still considered him the most fearsome fighter in the world. He would recapture a version of the heavyweight title after leaving jail, but he couldn't beat his main rival, Evander Holyfield, and in his last title shot, he was reduced to a helpless, bleeding lump by Lennox Lewis.

The former boxing phenom bit a chunk from Holyfield's ear, blew his fortune on women, posse members and pet tigers, said he wanted to eat Lewis' children, got his face tattooed days before one bout and ... well, those are just some highlights.

The figure skater ended up on television, boxing Clinton antagonist Paula Jones (at least Harding won this time). That was only after she was evicted and worked in a graveyard as punishment for throwing a hubcap at her ex-husband's head.

No, Palmeiro's situation occupies the realm of the sad rather than the ridiculous. That poignancy is key, according to Davis, who said he learned from Clinton that when it comes to image repair, "It's almost never too late."