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Young, rich sportsmen what's new?

Byline: Oliver Holt

THERE is a chapter in Jose Canseco's book, Juiced, called Imports, Road Beef and Extra Cell Phones.

It's a little difficult to guess from that what the author, one of the great baseball superstars of the 1990s, is talking about so, helpfully, he includes a glossary.

Road Beef: "This one is pretty simple," Canseco writes. "Any girl you met on the road and had sex with was called road beef.

"It just meant a piece of meat, a piece of ass for the player to enjoy while he was away from home. Just about every player I ever knew used that term."

Import: "Let's say you get a hankering for your favourite road beef, one of your quality girls," Canseco muses. "If you decide you want to see her before you're scheduled to be in her town, you just pay for a plane ticket and fly her in.

"That's why most baseball organisations have forbidden girlfriends from flying on family charters. They don't want to be in the adultery shuttle-bus business."

Slump Buster: "Players who are struggling on the field start talking about how they need to go and find something to break their slump," Canseco says. "So you get the fattest, gnarliest chick you can uncover and lay the wood to her.

"It could mean different things to different players. It could mean the woman was big or ugly or a combination of both.

A lot of players believed in the power of the slump buster."

That was life with the Oakland A's 20 years ago. There's another book, Boys Will Be Boys, which charts the on and off-the-field escapades of the brilliant Dallas Cowboys NFL team in roughly the same period.

The players were besieged by wannabe groupies and once several of the stars bought a property near the training facility in an attempt to conduct their liaisons away from prying eyes. They called it The White House.

"Any hope of keeping things hush-hush," author Jeff Pearlman writes, "was obliterated when residents of the exclusively white, low-key community noticed their new 6-foot-4, 300 pound, African-American neighbours escorting an endless conveyor belt of large-breasted, blond-haired women in miniskirts to the house."

Most NFL teams, the book insists, had places like the White House. Sorry if all that makes you feel a little queasy but it makes a point about the furore surrounding Ashley Cole and his charming wife, Cheryl.

Which is that if you're looking for chastity and fidelity, don't go searching for it in the ranks of lavishly paid, supremely fit, young professional sportsmen who have a lot of spare time on their hands and are away from home a lot in an age where celebrity is the ultimate aphrodisiac for hordes of impressionable young women.

Because it's going to be a while before you find it.

I'm not defending Cole's fondness for road beef or imports.

But he's a Premier League footballer, for heaven's sake. He thinks he can play by different rules. He goes away with a group of his mates every other week and spends hours alone in a hotel room. There's a lot of testosterone flying around, a lot of boredom, a lot of temptation. Plenty of footballers resist temptation. Plenty don't.

It's what professional sportsmen have always done. That doesn't make it right but it does make the outpouring of shock and horror at the sexual habits of our finest footballers a little puzzling.

Where have these people been the last 50 years. Do they think rock stars go to bed before 10pm every night, too? Remember what Tiger Woods said last week: "I knew my actions were wrong but I convinced myself normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting.

"I thought only about myself and thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I ran straight through the boundaries a married couple should live by.

"I felt I had worked hard and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have to go far to find them."

There are some double standards at work here, too. Some of the people who would like Cole flayed alive now still lionise Muhammad Ali for the sexual stamina he had when he was world heavyweight champion and chuckle at the memory of how he would have several partners in an afternoon.

He was married at the time, of course. But still, what a guy.

Professional sportsmen like Cole, Woods, Canseco and the Cowboys live in a bubble.

When that bubble bursts, they realise the pain they've caused but when they're in their prime, adored by millions, hooked on adrenaline, they feel like masters of the universe, powerful, magnificent and untouchable.

It can happen to the best. In Madmen's Ball, a book about the LA Lakers, author Mark Heisler relates a story about James Worthy, one of the team's stars of the Eighties, who was busted by two undercover vice cops in Houston for soliciting sex hours before a game.

"Worthy was a small-time guy from Gastonia, North Carolina, the son of a deacon and the nicest, most down-to-earth, nonpartying-looking man you ever saw," Heisler wrote. "If even he was living la vida loca, you could extrapolate from there."


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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 24, 2010
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