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Let's Not Be In Such A Rush To Forgive Jason Terry.

ONE OF MY favorite movies of all time is Breaking Away, the sweetly comic tale of coming of age in Middle America. Actually, it's more about a goofy white kid who rides bikes and thinks he's Italian, but it's still great.

In this one scene, the faux-wop, Dave Stohler, is walking along with his friend, Cyril (played with wonderful gangliness by Daniel Stern). Cyril is lamenting how his father just loves to be understanding when his son fails at anything. Says Cyril: "He just loves to say, 'Oh, that's all right, Cyril.' He even bought me the guitar because he knew I'd never learn to play it."

Then he adds, "I've been thinking about taking that college entrance exam and failing it; (my dad's) birthday is coming up."

While I truly believe that forgiveness is divine and that Americans are, by nature, a forgiving people, I'm becoming concerned as to where this whole forgiveness thing is going.

Just last week, former University of Arizona basketball star Jason Terry announced that at the end of his junior season with the Wildcats, he had accepted cash, airline tickets and other illegal stuff from not one, but two would-be sports agents in clear violation of NCAA policy. Because of his actions, the UA would have to forfeit the NCAA tournament game in which he played his senior season (the Cats were upset--what a shocker!--by Oklahoma anyway), the school would have to pay back its share of NCAA Tournament TV money (around 45 G's), and all the UA and Lute Olson haters got to come out from under their rocks and smirk for a full hour. On the personal side, Terry's jersey will never be retired (he had been National Player of the Year) and he will be forever ineligible for the UA Sports Hall of Fame.

I watched with great interest as the TV stations covered the story and was absolutely appalled by the Rush to Forgive on just about everybody's part, including Lute's. I'm sorry, I don't have perfect hair and impeccable manners; I don't know how he does it. If I'm Lute Olson, I'm pissed! I've spent my life building a reputation based on honor, hard work, discipline and ethical behavior, and now some little greedy sucker's gonna come along and open up my entire program to national ridicule because he wanted to dress nicely.

If I'm Lute, Jason and I are going to go a few rounds. And just like that fight scene in Happy Gilmore, the grey-haired gentleman will walk away triumphant.

What was amazing to me is that it only elicited a casual shrug from most observers. On Channel 9's team coverage, they showed the story, then went to reactions from students and fans. The general response was, "Wow, that's too bad. I always liked him. I wish he hadn't done that, but yeah, as a fan, I forgive him."

This sucks. As a fan, I want to slap him and ask why his mama didn't raise him right.

I'm sick and tired of tuning into the sports talk shows (especially the local one) and hearing the whining about the poor college students who bring so much money into the university and all they get in return is a scholarship. The scholarship is worth tens of thousands of dollars in real value, plus we've all read the stats about how a college degree can add hundreds of thousands of dollars in income over a lifetime.

But Terry's in the NBA, where hundreds of thousands of dollars is just hooker money and accountability is defined as how good the financial advisor is at keeping one from having to pay taxes.

Jason Terry got to go to one of the best universities in the country and got to play for one of the best basketball programs in the country. The UA paid for room and board, books, tuition, fees, tutors, some airfare and athletic gear. All he had to do was go to class, get a free education, play in front of thousands of adoring fans, then decide which female to grace with his presence after the game. I can see why he would need to take illegal money; his life was so empty.

I've heard all the excuses from the apologists.

· Everybody does it. That's simply not true. In fact, a vast majority of college athletes DON'T do anything illegal. That may not be interesting to some, but it's true.

· Poor college athletes don't have money to spend. And? A lot of college students don't have money to spend. That's part of the college experience. Those who do have money join sororities and put on cotillions. The rest of us go to the bargain matinee and use coupons that appear in The Wildcat. It's that whole Hungry Years thing that looks so good in retrospect.

Plus, college athletes can work summer jobs, and you know they're not going to have to work minimum-wage jobs. They can make five grand easy in the summer and spread it out over the school year.

Of course, if they spend their money wisely, they probably won't be able to dress like a pimp and drive an SUV.

· The temptations are so great. Again, and?! If you're put together well, with integrity and strength, no amount of money will entice you to do the wrong thing.

Jason Terry screwed up. He may well feel badly about it. But let's not be in such a rush to show how forgiving we are that he doesn't at least have to sweat a little while. I plan on going to America West when the Hawks play there next season and booing him. Maybe I'll make him a sign: "Having One's Jersey Retired: Priceless. In Jason Terry's Case, It's Worth $12,000."

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