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Patrick Hruby

How to be Good*

*Or at least stay out of trouble

News item: University of Arizona tight end Justin Levasseur was arrested on felony drug trafficking charges after he was stopped in Illinois recently with 87 pounds of marijuana in his car.


Enough with the arrests, the suspensions, the court dates. Enough with the headlines, the news conferences, the halfhearted public nonapologies that don't fool anybody, least of all the ace legal teams paid to write them.

Frankly, we don't want to hear it.

We're not sure when it happened - possibly when New York Mets pitcher Mark Corey suffered a cannabis-related seizure on a street next to Shea Stadium; probably when Green Bay running back Najeh Davenport was accused of breaking into a woman's apartment, then defecating in her laundry basket - but we've reached our saturation point when it comes to athletic malfeasance.

First we frowned; then we laughed; in the hazy wake of Levasseur's attempt to out-Nate Newton, er, Nate Newton, we're simply numb - and not from sitting in the back seat of Levasseur's ride with the windows up. As such, we're making a simple plea, a clarion call to athletes everywhere:

For the love of Orenthal James Simpson, stay out of trouble.

Or, at the very least, stop getting caught.

After all, it's one thing when your average, non-Florida State football-playing college student gets busted for shoplifting. Or when the friendly neighborhood Jeff Spicoli clone is picked up for pot. Bobby Bowden keeps on rolling. The Taco Bell night shift carries on.

But when a high-profile athlete is arrested or suspended - or both - the consequences are far more severe.

Organizations are embarrassed. Team chemistry is disrupted. Fans are disappointed. Point spreads are shot. Teammates are forced to post bail money. Minnesota Vikings games become even less palatable. And all because dolts like Portland's Damon Stoudamire and Rasheed Wallace aren't clever enough to keep their noses clean.

Look, we're not saying athletes should be saints. Not even the New Orleans Saints [especially not them, given where they live]. We're just saying they need to be a little smarter when it comes to sinning.

Think of it like this: Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin built an entire career - an oeuvre, really - out of getting stoned. Yet the duo responsible for both "Up in Smoke" and "Nice Dreams" never ran afoul of the real-life Man. Can't our athletes manage the same?

With that in mind, we present the following guide to staying out of hot water. If it helps, think of it as an athletic answer to the 10 Commandments - only whittled down to seven and without all the "thous" and "shalts":

I: Don't go out

Thirsting for a drink or three? Itching to fight your way through an exotic dancer double-team? Looking to load a bathtub-sized bong and smoke your way to the Dark Side of the Moon?

Then do yourself a favor: Stay home.

Look, there's just no privacy when you're out on the town. No matter the nightclub, no matter the strip club, no matter the street corner near Shea Stadium, other people are bound to see you. Some of them will have cameras. Others will have badges and possibly nightsticks.

Either way, the evening is bound to take a turn for the worse.

By contrast, ask yourself this: If Denver quarterback Brian Griese falls on his face and is knocked unconscious in his own living room - as opposed to a teammate's driveway - does it make a crunchy, pulpy sound?

Simply put, su casa is a safe haven. Suppose you're former NBA guard Isaiah Rider. Within the comfy confines of your black-lit, Frito-filled castle, you can toke up to your heart's content. No one in a uniform will be the wiser. Except maybe the pizza delivery guy. Who's probably baked himself.

Leave your abode, on the other hand, and you're cruisin' for a public relations brusin'. In 1996, Rider attempted to smoke reefer from a soda can while sitting in the back of a car. Police promptly broke up his impromptu Pepsi Challenge. This fall, Jennifer Capriati took off her shirt while singing karaoke in a Manhattan bar. An unflattering photo quickly popped up in papers around the world.

To put things another way: Defecating in your own laundry basket = kinky. Defecating in someone else's laundry basket = crime.

Besides, why would you want to go out in the first place? We've seen MTV's "Cribs." We've stood outside the cast-iron vanity gates of your palatial, Xanadu-shaming estates. If you can afford a private security force, a 600,000-gallon shark tank and an arena-quality stereo system, you certainly can spring for your own karaoke machine. Not to mention a hydrophonic greenhouse.

Remember: If you plan to refuse a meeting with President Clinton for ethical reasons and then end up drunk and seminude in a hot tub with your 17-year-old baby-sitter - a la former Packer Mark Chmura - do it in your own Jacuzzi. Not your neighbor's.

II: If you must go out, don't drive

Enlist a friend. Call a cab. Rent a limo. Or just hire a driver - even if you happen to be a driver, NASCAR or otherwise.

Whatever you do, don't get behind the wheel. No matter the circumstances. Fact: Nothing good can come of it.

Indeed, it's no accident that the majority of high-profile athlete imbroglios take place on the open road. For one, you will speed. Inevitably. Invariably. Don't feel bad: We know you can't help it. If we had plasma televisions and PlayStation 2's built into our Lincoln Navigators, we'd probably ignore the speedometer, too.

Unfortunately, highway patrol officers aren't as charitable. Sooner or later, they're bound to pull you over for something silly. Like doing 120 mph in a 60 mph construction zone. Sillier still, they'll probably give you a ticket. Or even take away your license.

Fact No. 2: No license means no fun in your pricey new ride. Just ask Kwame Brown.
In addition, said police will notice if you are baked. Or drunk. Or both. Which is a strong possibility if you have any sort of social life, and a very strong possibility if you are Philadelphia forward Derrick Coleman. This is troublesome not only because it's dangerous, but also because it's illegal. As such, it will generally land you in jail - not the place to be if you're hoping to score a munchies-squelching sack of gorditas.

Moreover, a DUI charge tends to draw attention to other infractions on your record. Such as previous DUIs. Newspapers live for this, as do general managers looking to unload your hefty contract. The latter point is especially salient if, like Oakland defensive lineman Darrell Russell, you tally a DUI while awaiting a date rape trial and serving a one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Try not to push your luck.

Also note: Even if your high-priced attorney is able to get your double-digit breathalyzer result thrown out of court on a weaselly technicality, it still doesn't look good.

Third, and worse still, the cops will search your car. Ask yourself: Do I have any clue what they'll find? If you're like us, your back seat alone is a landfill-shaming mess, an overstuffed attic with leather seats. Some of that junk is bound to be incriminating, like a just-for-protection firearm that isn't registered to Chicago forward Marcus Fizer. Or 1,000 steroid pills that may or may not belong to Maine linebacker Stephen Cooper.

Take it from us: The whole ordeal is akin to playing that arcade game where the mechanical claw drops into a pile of prizes - only instead of grabbing a teddy bear, the claw comes up with a dime bag.

In short, driving yourself around just isn't worth the hassle. Besides, having two free hands opens up a host of entertainment options. Like pouring a drink. Continuing your virtual rampage through Vice City. Fondling someone. Or just flipping through the latest issue of High Times.

The choice is all yours.

III: Don't fight the law

We know, we know: Exceptionalism is in your genes. Literally. You've spent a lifetime beating the odds, silencing the naysayers, squashing the player haters. You are an elite athlete, fundamentally different from those of us who don't go to work in numbered pajamas.

As such, you may consider it advantageous to use the front bumper of your Lexus to push a traffic control officer who is attempting to prevent you from making an illegal turn. Not so. Even if your coach doesn't mind - and if you're Minnesota receiver Randy Moss, he probably won't - the officer in question likely will. Especially if you knock her to the ground.

Note: That should be avoided.

No matter the situation, there's really no upside to disobeying the Man. Unsure how to act? Here's a handy checklist:

*DO cooperate. If the cops pull you over and ask for your driver's license, give it to them. When they see that it reads Isiah Lord Thomas, they'll probably just ask for your autograph, anyway.

*DON'T resist. Like former Wizards forward Chris Webber, you could end up with a face full of mace. Also, running away is never advisable, even if your 40-yard-dash time is really, really fast.

*DO tell the truth. If you're former NFL player Leon Allen White and drunkenly ram your SUV into a bush, do not tell police that you were looking for bullfrogs and catfish in a nearby pond and crashed on your way home. Chances are, they won't believe you. And really - bullfrogs?

*DON'T lie. Especially not to a grand jury. Again, learn from Webber's example: Better to admit that you received illegal benefits while playing in college than to pretend otherwise. Federal attorneys will not be amused.

*DO show up for scheduled court dates. When cutting a plea deal that reduces three battery charges to five years of probation, make every effort to attend the hearing. Unless you want to upset the judge. Who probably won't care that you're former American League MVP Jose Canseco.

[FYI: Don't blame a late arrival on "stolen car keys." Leave that to Ozzie Canseco].

*DON'T blow said dates off. If you plan on contesting a $65 fine for racing your speedboat through a manatee zone in Biscayne Bay, you must enter your plea of not guilty by the specified deadline. Otherwise, don't be surprised to see the name Orenthal James Simpson on an arrest warrant. Again.

*DO obey the terms of your probation. Take it from Portland forward Ruben Patterson: Alleged domestic assault + previous guilty plea for the attempted rape of your family's nanny = parole violation hearing.

*DON'T violate them. Trading baseballs for cigarettes and having sex with other patients at your drug rehabilitation center usually equals prison time, particularly if you were originally busted on drug and prostitution charges.

Listen: If Darryl Strawberry couldn't get away with it, neither will you.

IV: Stay away from guns

Sure, they're sexy, steely and make you feel like a big man. But beyond that, firearms are nothing but trouble.

Best case scenario? You spend thousands of dollars on a piece of equipment you'll never have to use. Worst case scenario? You shoot someone. Such as your limo driver. Which not only defeats the purpose of Rule II, but also makes you a murderer - thereby condemning you to a life of municipal golf, searching for the real killers and cutting a dangerously wide swath though manatee zones.

Also, you can pretty much rule out a contract extension.

Like Fizer, you may believe that your personal safety mandates the purchase of a Tec-9. Maybe so, but consider: Who, exactly, are you worried about? The other millionaires living in your private community? East Coast-West Coast rap combatants? Granted, a .44 Magnum might come in handy the next time a shirtless fan and his son attempt to pummel you like a pinata. But in the meantime, you can't exactly stuff a Glock in your waistband. Even if you're Allen Iverson.

Trust us: If protection is what you're after, you'd be better off investing in a Val-U pack of Trojans. Just ask Shawn Kemp. Besides, there are other ways to stay safe. A bodyguard, for example, can carry the gun for you. Better still, he can make you look very, very important when you go out in public. Even if you're Fizer.

Firearms also invite hassle. Tote your Bushmaster assault rife and 260 rounds of ammunition to Giants Stadium - like Jets safety Damien Robinson - and building security is bound to take an interest. Which means less time for film study. Toss a loaded, unlicensed .38 revolver into your carry-on bag, Barry Switzer-style, and you may even miss your flight - not good if you need to be somewhere.

Like, for instance, court.

V: Find some new friends

But first, dump your old ones. They just aren't reliable. Lend them the keys to your ride - assuming you can find them, unlike Ozzie Canseco - and the next thing you know, there's weed under the seat. Or a revolver in the glove compartment. Or both, if you happen to be Iverson.

Likewise, you can't exactly take your buddies to a Super Bowl party. Especially if you're Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis. For one, you'll probably end up on Court TV. Secondly, you risk getting blood on your full-length white fur coat. Which is murder to get out.

And as for women? More of the same. Strike them after arguing over your son's french fries, a la Jason Kidd, and you may as well purchase a one-way ticket to New Jersey. Give them $250,000 to keep quiet about an old relationship, like Michael Jordan, and they'll try to milk you for $5 million more.

Do the math: Even if you can afford to sink millions into, that's still a bad investment.

VI: Play within yourself

Always ask: If I am former Michigan basketball players Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, do I really need to steal beer from a campus convenience store? Especially when 95 percent of my fellow students would be happy to buy me a pitcher?

Note: The answer to both questions is "no."

Like a power pitcher who relies on fastballs, the conscientious athlete restricts his malfeasance to what he can get away with. Ruben Rivera, for instance, was booted from the New York Yankees after stealing and selling a teammate's glove. His mistake?

Failing to stick to something simple. Like corking his bat.

Similarly, ferrying large quantities of pot across state and county lines is a task better left to the kind of guys who would be listed in the credits of Miami Vice as "Mendoza's henchman" and "Colombian cartel member #4." In other words, mules. You're better than that. A role model, even. So try to act like one. Limit yourself to a few joints or at most a fat blunt.

To put it another way: You don't see Woody Harrelson loading up his SUV with cinder block-sized bricks of hash, do you?

Oh, and don't say you need the money. Pro athletes have contracts. College athletes have boosters. There's enough cash to get by. Or to make a buy, depending on the circumstances.

VII: Recall the Golden Rule

And then do the opposite. In other words, do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you feel like slugging a fan, then turn the other cheek. If you feel like having sex with your nanny, then look for alternative day care. If you feel like stashing 1,000 steroid pills in your trunk, then only take 50.

Gotta take a No. 2 break? Right now? Even though you're trespassing in someone else's apartment? Resist the temptation. Skip the laundry basket. Shoot for the toilet. Or, at the very least, the sink.

Of course, you also could refrain from breaking, entering and defecating altogether. But far be it from us to suggest something so bizarre.

This article originally appeared in The Washington Times