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SPORTS CHEATS SPOIL THE GAMES FOR US ALL

The yellow jersey of victory in the Tour de France now symbolizes a urine test for doping. The point spread in an NBA basketball game has become the number needed for a ref to cover his bets. In Major League Baseball, all eyes are on Barry Bonds to see which he'll break first - the all-time home run record or someone's neck in a fit of 'roid rage. As for the NFL, choose your felon, though no charge has revulsed people as much as quarterback Michael Vick's indictment for dogfighting.

The sports world is in a very sorry state indeed. For sheer volume of abuse, cycling takes the cake. On Wednesday, just after Danish rider Michael Rasmussen appeared to lock up the overall victory in this year's Tour de France, he was kicked out of the race. Already under suspicion because he had skipped three drug tests during training, Rasmussen joined a busload of cycling stars who were either denied entry into the race or ejected after it started over doping. And last year's winner, American Floyd Landis, still hasn't been cleared of a failed drug test that could cost him his yellow jersey.

Sports is supposed to divert us from our troubles, not add to them. Yet Bonds' assault on Hank Aaron's home-run record fills us with skepticism rather than hope. Showing his usual lack of class the other day, Bonds called sportscaster Bob Costas, who aired the latest steroid allegation, a "little midget man." Of course everyone's a midget to the beefed-up Bonds.

At least the NFL told Vick to forget showing up for training camp, a much milder fate than that suffered by losing dogs in fights on Vick's property. Federal prosecutors say those dogs were killed by gunshot, beating or even electrocution.

Yet none of that has shaken a sport to its very foundation as much as the revelation that NBA referee Tim Donaghy is being investigated by the FBI for betting on games he officiated, and that he may have influenced the outcome of some games. Now fans can't trust something so crucial to credibility as a referee's whistle.

Even golf isn't above suspicion. Golfing great Gary Player said recently that he knows of at least one golfer who uses performance-enhancing drugs, and he guessed that as many as 10 top pros do so. "We're dreaming if we think it's not going to come to golf," Player said.

So much for our fields of dreams. The proper response from real fans is to applaud every effort to clean up sports. Kick out all the riders in the Tour de France if need be and start making golfers pee in a cup. Cheating athletes and corrupt sports leagues deserve only our contempt.

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