Did you see the front-page story on the Mitchell report today?

That's because there isn't one.

After the first couple of days, stories about the findings of the lengthy steroid investigation, which named 85 players who had used performance-enhancing drugs, drifted to the back pages.

Arguably the biggest scandal in the history of American sports quickly drew yawns.

Which is about right, when you think about it. Maybe it's time we stopped being shocked about cheating in sports, no matter what form it takes.

Why have we been so surprised that athletes take drugs or cheat? Or maybe the question is why are we more surprised when athletes cheat than when politicians, businessmen or the secretary in the school district office cheat?

Athletes come from the same population that produces greedy, ethically challenged CEOs, stockbrokers and politicians who work and cheat in an equally competitive environment.

Just in the past few months, we've seen Enron executives sentenced for lying about profits to keep stock prices high, and a newspaper publisher punished for stealing millions from shareholders, and a Qwest CEO going to jail for making $52 million in illegal stock sales, and a Wal-Mart exec being sentenced for fraud, and Adelphia cable TV execs going to jail for fraud, and Apple execs facing fraud charges, and on and on it goes.

They were all driven by such extreme greed that seven-figure salaries weren't enough; they wanted eight figures and more. Some of them actually reasoned aloud in court, as part of their defense, that everyone was doing it, as if this were a mitigating factor.

Somehow we thought athletes were immune to all this, as if playing a child's game carried with it some sort of immunity and innocence. But it was nothing but greed, competitiveness and the "everyone's-doing-it" attitude that caused them to cheat by taking steroids, even at the risk of their health or public embarrassment.

Those players weren't content with salaries that averaged between $2 million and $3 million a year, or merely to earn a living by playing baseball in the national spotlight. They were driven by the need for more money and/or more acclaim.

Just as it is easy for CEOs to rationalize their own scams, it was easy for athletes to rationalize drug use. With a little synthetic hormone boost, they could hit 10-15 more home runs in a season and double their salaries and increase their fame and maybe their endorsement opportunities.

For older athletes, it was even easier to rationalize. Well before they reach their 30th birthday, human beings begin to lose muscle mass at a rate of 3 to 5 percent per decade, and that rate accelerates as the years pass. Most people don't notice its effects early on, but athletes do. As they near their mid-30s, they experience a loss of speed, power and durability, and it takes longer to recover from hard work and soreness.

Steroids or human growth hormone can turn back the clock. They can replace the lost muscle and then some, reversing or minimizing the side effects of aging and allowing older athletes to prolong their careers and their earnings.

From the athlete's perspective, the risks are minimal. Drug tests? Oh, please. Marion Jones took 160 drug tests and passed them all. Health risks? That was not an immediate threat. There were plenty of others doing it and they appeared to be fine.

Athletes are competitive people. In the competitive arena many of them will do almost anything to gain a competitive edge. This was that edge.

If greed and competitiveness and ego drove the players to such lengths, it drove their overseers as well. It was greed that caused Major League Baseball stall for a decade before it enacted real drug testing and punishment protocols. Who wanted to rock the boat when baseball was making record profits with their record-breaking home-run assault? Ironically, drugs saved the game at a time when national interest was waning.

It was greed and selfishness that for years caused the players union to resist any effort to test players for drugs and punish them.

The bottoml ine: Under baseball's don't-ask-don't-tell regime, athletes had plenty to gain from steroids (performance, money, fame) and little to lose.

And now it has all caught up with them. Spurred by the Mitchell report, Congress is delving into the matter, and baseball is trying to decide what to do next. But will any of the revelations really matter? It remains to be seen if fans care anymore whether athletes play by the rules and compete on a level playing field. They've probably learned to expect a lot less of athletes than they once did.

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