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May 28, 2004
They smoked. They inhaled. But they still get to play basketball.
The case of the Superior Basketball League (SBL) versus the Mayaguez Indios was settled out of court last week. That means the two players who tested positive for marijuana, Alejandro "Bimbo" Carmona and Lee Benson, can get back in the game.
The SBL bungled the drug testing. By the time SBL president Henry Neumann realized his league hadn't followed the correct procedure, the Indios and their two players in question had already filed suit in San Juan superior court for violation of their constitutional rights.
Neumann said he settled for two reasons. One, he realized the SBL was not going to win the case. Two, allowing the case to go to trial in the public court system was in Neumann's estimation a threat to sports sovereignty. He felt it could set a dangerous precedent for future litigation that has historically been tried in the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee's (PROC) system exclusively for sports cases (TAAD by its Spanish acronym).
Sports sovereignty is just another hundred-dollar word for control. The PROC and Hetin Reyes over at the Basketball Federation pressured Neumann to settle out of court. It was Neumann's best option given the technical blunders in the testing process. But to steer clear of the island's legal system is ridiculous. The SBL is a professional sports league and this sports sovereignty smokescreen is just an excuse the PROC uses to protect its kingdom. Allowing the PROC to maintain a parallel judicial system exclusively for sports is a monstrous duplication of time and effort.
Finally, Carmona and Benson are at the end of a long line of athletes who have been exonerated from positive drug tests due to testing procedural errors. This SBL case is particularly unfortunate because it sends a clear message to young basketball fans: You can smoke pot in the SBL and get away with it.
The best damage control the league could do in the post-season is an anti-drug public service campaign. Basketball is part of Puerto Rico's hip-hop culture and so is getting high. Two weeks ago in Arecibo, 10,000 fans showed up to watch a halftime concert by Hector y Tito, two rappers.
Let the players and the rappers tell the kids how marijuana impairs your ability to make decisions, slows down your reaction time and diminishes your lung capacity, thus making it tough to run up and down the court.
Speaking of being winded, that's how San Juan mayor Jorge Santini must be feeling this weekend after losing in the second half to promoter Angelo Medina in their court battle over the use of the city's Roberto Clemente Coliseum.
As expected, judge Carlos Davila ruled in favor of Medina, who owns the SBL's Santurce Cangrejeros. Santini had tried three weeks ago to cancel Medina's contract (valid through 2006) to use the coliseum.
While the basketball season was played out in a different kind of court last week, the game saw more action than did baseball and soccer. The Montreal Expos played through interminable rain delays against both the Brewers and the Giants. The final Expos-Giants game was canceled due to rain and the fans were the real losers because the game won't be made up in San Juan. Fans can trade in their unused tickets from the rained-out game for any of the games scheduled between July 2-11 (Toronto, Atlanta or Pittsburgh). The rain definitely affected the gate. The Expos are thus far this year averaging 11,842 fans per game.
The rain also forced the cancellation of the Puerto Rico Islanders versus Charleston Battery match and postponed the pro coaching debut of Hugo Maradona in Puerto Rico until June 15.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.