If I could offer but one bit of advice to aspiring sports journalists, it would be this: Have yourselves Scotchgarded, for you know not where these athletes have been. Or rather, you do know where these athletes have been—to the Gold Club in Atlanta, which means that every time you shake the hands of Magic center Patrick Ewing or Braves outfielder Andruw Jones, you're not merely shaking their hands, you're also shaking the hands (and groping the booties) of every Amber, Angel and Ashlee who ever favored these men, before a live audience, with (in a coinage so familiar to them) "comped" stripper sex.
Children, use salad tongs when accepting an autograph from nearly anyone involved in professional basketball, for a former Gold Club stripper—when asked who else was present during one of Ewing's VIP-room escapades—replied, "The whole [expletive] NBA." Ladies, it is appropriate to wear white when attending your wedding to a professional football player, but only if it's the full fumigation getup worn by Bill Murray in Ghostbusters because further physical contact with your affianced may be hazardous to your health. (Gold Club strippers, if we can judge by their testimony, have serviced more Broncos than your local authorized Ford dealer.)
Among the patrons of the Gold Club—according to testimony at the current racketeering trial of the establishment's owner, Steve Kaplan, and six associates—were Falcons running back Jamal Anderson, Broncos running back Terrell Davis, Pacers guard Reggie Miller, Sixers center Dikembe Mutombo, Pistons forward Jerry Stackhouse and Jazz guard John Starks. Mentioned during opening statements were Donald Trump, Mick Jagger, Madonna and, as God is my witness, the king of Sweden. These last two, through representatives, deny having been to the Gold Club. To be fair, the king's hussy of choice has always been Minnie the Moodier, the "lowdown hoochie-coocher" made famous by Cab Calloway. ("She had a dream about the king of Sweden/He gave her things that she-eee was needin'.")
Of course, defense lawyers say the federal trial has less to do with Minnie than Mickey. " Mickey Mouse," one lawyer called the government's case, saying it was not so much a racketeering trial as a "Mouseketeering" trial. Granted, this was the same defense lawyer who stood on a table and mimed a jacket-swinging striptease for jurors. Still, he may have a point: Was anyone really shocked—shocked!—that the Gold Club arranged, according to one witness quoted by the New York Daily News, a m�nage � trois for Dennis Rodman? The (highly) offensive re-bounder, who has posed as a pirate, a biker and a bride, is, even when alone in his suite at Caesars, a self-contained orgy of one.
But never mind Caesar: The testimony at the Gold Club trial would have caused Caligula to blush. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jones happily recalled watching two women who were—in his memorable phrase—"doing lesbian action" in a room at the Hotel Nikko. The outfielder then joined the act, thus serving as the hypotenuse of a bizarre love triangle. All the while several men looked on, completing a M�bius strip of exploitation that has uncomfortable echoes of the sports arena. Indeed, before Ewing and a stripper were in flagrante delicto at the Gold Club, she was illuminated by the flashlights of onlookers in a scene that almost paralleled the searchlit introductions in darkened NBA arenas. The only thing missing was that song by the Alan Parsons Project that usually accompanies such spectacles. Naturally, the women prostituting themselves were paid by the Gold Club. The athletes were usually comped.
The lesson in all of this is—well, there is no lesson in all of this: not for Jones nor for Ewing. (There's no shame in airing your dirty laundry in public when you've already aired—quite literally—your dirty laundry in public.) There's certainly no lesson for sports fans, who don't seem all that bothered. Scant hours after Jones took the witness stand, he was playing at Turner Field, where a 40-year-old fan—whose 11-year-old son wore a Jones T-shirt—told the Journal-Constitution, "What he does on his own time, I don't think it matters. We're still big Andruw Jones fans."
Yet, just writing this column, I feel somehow slimed. Oh, I'm still a big fan of Andruw Jones and Patrick Ewing. From now on, though—when sitting courtside in an NBA arena or behind home plate in a major league ballpark—I will watch my heroes from beneath a transparent sheet of plastic. From now on, I treat every game like a Gallagher performance.