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These guys didn’t just drop the ball

The sports world and those who follow it religiously are again confused about a fairly simple concept:

One is an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong.

The other is an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.

One is a mistake.

The other is a choice.

We teach children how important it is to differentiate the two, that while one might be a simple error in judgment, the other is a mental commitment to a specific behavior.

Missing a problem on the big math test is a mistake.

Cheating on the big math test is a choice.

Watching an episode of “The Real Housewives of (Anywhere)” is a mistake.

Returning for seconds to such mind-numbing nonsense is a choice.

Why, then, is it so hard for adults to comprehend the difference?

It’s a sad but obvious truth: Many fans love their favorite team and its star athletes so much that they find it easy to rationalize what are otherwise despicable or deceitful acts as a mere miscalculation of reasoning.

They are blinded by an extremist desire to support a winner.

They watch a video of an NFL running back knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator and conclude that while Ray Rice probably shouldn’t have taken things so far, he’s still a good person and, lest we forget, a great player.

They continue to wear Rice’s jersey and cheer his name.

Women continue to wear his jersey.

They see week-old pictures of the 4-year-old son of NFL running back Adrian Peterson, the child’s body still fresh with bruises and welts and scratches and bloody cuts from the beating his father gave him, and justify the abuse as the right of a parent to discipline his son, that they also endured harsh punishment growing up and are no worse for it.

They hear the news of Baltimore Orioles infielder Chris Davis being suspended for 25 games for testing positive for amphetamines down the stretch of his team’s run to the American League playoffs and openly accept his excuse that while he had been granted a temporary use exemption (for Adderall in the past), he simply didn’t have one for this season.

Forget those teammates in the locker room and clubhouse, strange, almost sect-like caverns of blind trust and steadfast acceptance of any and all acts, criminal or not.

No group identifies with and supports the us-against-the-world slogan better than athletes. They’re a living, breathing, protect-each-other’s-back-to-the-end Coldplay song.

But shouldn’t it be different for those on the outside looking in?

A friend made a terrific comparison Tuesday when it comes to fans and their willingness to look beyond the sins of athletes: That in many ways we root for them as we did Walter White, the fictional character in the TV drama “Breaking Bad.”

That no matter how much methamphetamine he manufactured and sold, White emerged over the life of the series as a morally reprehensible soul that many still saw as some compelling, sympathetic man. We wanted him to succeed and secure a financial future for his family. We wanted him to live.

Rice punched a woman and did so in such a casual and easy-mannered way that it’s impossible to believe it’s the first time he raised his hand to another. Peterson beat his 4-year-old son, released an emotional statement about having never intended to harm the boy, and then news broke that he faced a similar accusation of abuse last year against another son who was 4.

We know Davis tested positive for a second time, given that a first positive for a major league player brings only a warning and additional testing. Davis knew the risk. He cheated anyway. We’ve heard that story before.

(On a side note, I would suggest we all open up our bank accounts and buy stock in Shire Plc, the world’s largest maker of drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. When you consider the joke that is the number of athletes who have TUEs for Adderall — 119 major leaguers alone in 2013 — you’d have to believe it a sound investment.)

Lou DeRienzo, Rice’s high school football coach: “He made a very terrible mistake.”

Nick Markakis, teammate of Davis: “Everybody makes mistakes, and you’ve just got to be careful when you make your mistakes. Now is not a good time to make a mistake.”

Charles Barkley on the Rice and Peterson cases: “It just bothers me how everybody who gets in the media and these idiots in the public, they act like they ain’t ever made a mistake.”

Not so. Everyone makes mistakes. I used the wrong form of a word in a column last week and a former teacher emailed to point out my error. My mistake. I didn’t choose to be wrong.

Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and Chris Davis and Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers and all others charged or convicted with wrongdoings in their sport made choices.

There is a big difference.

Sadly, many refuse to accept it.

Or just don’t want to.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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