Poll less taken: Where do they stand on sports?

November 03, 2006|By RICK MAESE

If only this were as simple as picking the starting quarterback for your fantasy league team.

When you hit the polls Tuesday, charged with the task of choosing Maryland's next governor, there should be a laundry list of issues that concern you.

And once you've considered who will improve our schools and who will ensure our safety and who will lure new business to the state, then I think it's probably OK to pose the question you're really wondering about: Which candidate can guarantee the Ravens another Super Bowl?

It's a tricky one. The incumbent, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and his challenger, Mayor Martin O'Malley, held important leadership positions the last time the Ravens captured the Lombardi Trophy - O'Malley running the city and Ehrlich in the middle of an eight-year run in Congress - so it's difficult to say who really was responsible and whom we can trust to make the Ravens' offensive line a priority during the next four years.

To get a better idea of where both men stand on the state's important sports issues, they agreed to answer a series of questions.

The candidates were interviewed separately, were posed the same questions and were asked to adhere to a temporary cease-fire on negative campaigning. (In the Sports section, the columnist is responsible for all negativity, thank you very much.)

Ehrlich was a football captain at Gilman School and later a co-captain at Princeton. And O'Malley, who played high school football at Gonzaga College High in Washington, is a regular at sporting events. Like them or not, it's clear that each at least seems to recognize sports as an important and cherished part of the state's fabric.

Your record

What's your fondest sports memory?

Ehrlich: Well, personally, obviously all of the little league games, like any other kid. Great experiences and memories. ... College, I remember a great sense of excitement returning to College Park, UCLA-East and all of that. Coach [Jerry] Claiborne, Randy White, I think that had an impact on a lot of kids my age. ... When you look back, Randy White really revolutionized collegiate and professional football. As for professional sports, 1966 obviously with the Orioles, then the World Series in '70.

O'Malley: Certainly when the Ravens won the Super Bowl, that's something that will always stick with me. As cynical as we get about some things and about professional sports, there was nothing like the lift that gave to the Baltimore psyche, that sense of triumph and togetherness it gave to us. That was a great memory and the whole lead-up to it, with every playoff game everything in town was purple. It was special.

Economy

With the local horse industry hurting so much, are we close to seeing slots at tracks?

Ehrlich: It has to happen. For the breeding operations, tracks and Preakness, it has to happen. If it doesn't, I think it will just accelerate this long-term downward trend. With the passage of slots, I think we can stop that trend. It's not just slots; equally important is a major marketing campaign targeted at younger people particularly. My parents' generation grew up in a horse racing era. The major American sports were baseball, boxing, horse racing. The great sportswriters all covered those sports. Today, you have horse racing as a second- or third-tier sport - boxing, too. I'm interested in obviously saving the industry in the state.

O'Malley: Something has to happen or we lose racing and 18,000 jobs associated with it. I'm for the limited number of slots at the track for the limited purpose of keeping the industry in Maryland. It's an important part of our economy and important part of cultural tourism. Having the Preakness is like having the Super Bowl every year, and we don't have to lobby for it. I'm willing to accept that compromise to keep racing in Maryland.

Education

Steroids has obviously been a hot-button topic in sports. Is there any responsibility that the local and state governments could assume?

Ehrlich: As a former athlete, as a father, as a fan, as an opinion leader who kids may listen to, this is something that is the new issue in sports. When I was in school playing, high school and college, it was hard drugs, cocaine, marijuana, whatever. Today, it's steroids. The growth, part of the '80s and '90s, Lyle Alzado that whole era - now we clearly understand that any use of these products is inappropriate and that message needs to get out to the kids. These kids have this pressure these days - and parents are partly to blame, "Scholarship, scholarship, scholarship" - part of that syndrome leads to this sort of abuse. If I can take my bully pulpit and talk to younger athletes, I think I will have done something very worthwhile.

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