Pro Ball, Pro-Life

Two Redbirds and a bunch of other big-leaguers throw the sports-activism debate a curveball

Battin' 1000 chair Bando feels much the same way. "I think if you believe strongly enough in something, political ramifications are unimportant," Bando argues, although he concedes that some of the athletes involved in the Battin' 1000 campaign might not understand the hard-line extent of the Virginia-based organization's philosophies, which are rooted in Catholicism and, according to the group's literature, "absolute Truth."

"Many of the players are probably unaware of the stances of ALL," Bando acknowledges. "What they are aware of is right-to-life. We probably have some differences on specifics. My prayer would be that if a woman were pregnant through rape or incest that she would deliver the baby. But I do understand the dilemma."

Paula Gianino, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, was livid when informed about the athletes' anti-abortion activism. "It's America -- it's baseball," protests Gianino. "To try and bring into it a divisive but deeply personal subject is manipulative."

So Planned Parenthood wouldn't invite pro baseball players to work toward building a pro-choice education center in St. Louis? "We might," Gianino hedges. "I don't fault them [ALL] for doing that." But there's a critical difference, Gianino insists: "Abortion is legal in this country," she argues. "Their primary purpose is to take away women's reproductive freedom."

Although tennis stars Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova have pitched in on its behalf, Planned Parenthood typically relies on artists and entertainment-industry stars to further its agenda -- from Maya Angelou to Christina Ricci, Spike Lee and Sheryl Crow. If Williams, Matheny and their Battin' 1000 roster mates make good on their goal, it could set up an interesting showdown between athletes and actors.

Or, as Sal Bando sees it, they might just agree to disagree -- with American's fixation on sport and celebrity trumping all other considerations. Noting Hollywood's current anti-war activism, Bando observes: "I agree with President Bush: I see a lot of these entertainers that I disagree with personally, but I'll probably still see their movies."

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