Scandals of '07 in rearview mirror

The Baltimore Sun

Looking back on 2007, it's pretty clear that we couldn't wait to move forward.

In fact, I had planned to share today's revelation with you a week later, but the reflection and introspection was dragging. It's past time that we get on with the new year and put this old one behind us.

Besides, it doesn't really matter what happens in the few remaining days of 2007, this year officially goes down as the one in which the sports world spent most of its time moving forward, moving on, looking ahead and plotting a new course for the future.

Don't believe me? Just scan back over the past 12 months and all of the controversies that dotted our landscape.

Remember Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots' coach who dabbles in film production? He couldn't wait for us to forget about the past. "I know there is a lot of interest here on the situation and decision last night," Belichick said after he was busted for violating NFL rules by videotaping opponents. "But as I stated, it's over and we're moving on."

Apparently, the sentiment was pretty convincing. The NFL immediately swept it under the rug, and the whole world took several steps forward, like a giant country line dance.

"I accept his apology and look forward to working with him as we move forward," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said.

In 2007, this was by far the most fashionable way to address unsavory news. It's a diversionary tactic in which the subject tackles the topic by essentially ignoring the topic. Hey, I've already forgotten what we're talking about. Maybe you should, too.

How about Michael Vick? He was the quarterback who dabbled in dog training, er, dogfighting. Perhaps more than anyone else, he was especially eager to let the past be the past.

"I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player," Vick said in August when he agreed to a plea bargain.

And what exactly does a criminal "move forward" to? Well, sentencing, of course.

He addressed the judge at his sentence hearing a couple of weeks ago and said, "I hope I can move forward in my life and make better decisions."

How about Bobby Petrino, the new Arkansas coach who flirts with any school or team within earshot? He has become the coaching-world equivalent of the girl in high school who other girls whispered about and all the guys took on just one date.

"I'm very excited about moving forward," he said after bailing on the Atlanta Falcons midseason and returning to the college ranks. "I think we put all that behind me. I think we put all that has happened with the university before and we move forward with the state of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas."

It reached the NBA, too. You'll recall a slight scandal in which an NBA referee was found to have gambled on games.

"An unfortunate situation has taken place," New Jersey Nets guard Jason Kidd said. "But I think the NBA will definitely learn from this but move forward."

And "Pacman" Jones and Chris Henry? They were handed hefty suspensions in May. Even though it was the offseason, there wasn't much time to delve into their past troubles. "While we regret the circumstances that called for it, it's good for both Chris and the Bengals to have the matter resolved," Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. "Our team will move forward ... "

Of course it will.

The trend was hardly confined to the sports pages. It's a spin tactic that has caused countless rotator cuff injuries for lawyers and publicists who pat themselves on the back too hard. The president uses it. Congress uses it. Celebrities use it. ("The past month has inspired me to move forward with some exciting new projects," Paris Hilton posted on her MySpace.com page a week after her release from jail.)

But though we undoubtedly loved this handy little device in 2007, here's the question that lingers as we head into 2008: Does it actually work?

The move-it-forward card is played primarily by someone who has an interest in moving beyond whatever infraction/crime/controversy/sex scandal leading to a police chase leading investigators to an abandoned barn at the end of a county road/hullabaloo that's prompted embarrassing headlines. It's in their interest that we all drive past the freeway pileup and keep our eyes focused on the road ahead.

But it only works that way if we agree to it.

Just because Belichick is done pondering his misdeeds doesn't mean we are. And just because Vick is eager to be a new person doesn't mean we're going to accept his transformation on his timetable.

There was no better example than the last couple of weeks of 2007, when former Sen. George Mitchell released his much-anticipated report on steroids in baseball. Just about everyone in the game - especially those who wear business suits - stuck to the same talking points.

"A principal goal of this investigation is to bring to a close this troubling chapter in baseball's history and to use the lessons learned from the past to prevent the future use of some substances," Mitchell said. "While that requires us to look back, as this report necessarily does, all efforts should now be directed to the future."

Bud Selig, Major League Baseball's commissioner, told us: "This document should act as a road map not only for us, but for the people that come after us. What we all need to do is move forward now."

And immediately, a nation of sports fans slammed on their brakes. No one moved forward, and no one looked ahead. In fact, we put the car in reverse so we could study the roadside carnage in more detail. Is that Barry Bonds' head? Are those Roger Clemens' buttocks? Oh my goodness, what's Larry Bigbie doing here?

We come to terms with transgression at our own pace. Some are capable of forgiving themselves with incredible precision and timeliness. But they can't expect us to blindly follow suit. We want facts, details and explanations. By telling us to move forward in lieu of discussing the past, they're actually hindering our progress.

Just because they can forgive doesn't mean we can forget. And just because they're focused on the future doesn't mean the rest of us have come to terms with the past.

The sporting world prepares to move forward to 2008 - because the calendar tells us to, not because an embattled coach or accused athlete does. Here's to the prospects of enjoying a new year in sports, and not being forced to rush into 2009 too soon.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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