Dear Greg Couch:

After reading your article, I was struck by the "media darling" aspects that are so prevalent ("Wheeler's mom fighting a lonely battle," July 14). However, as an informed observer, I am loath to view Northwestern University and its football team as the murderous football factory that it is made out to be in your piece. Let's review the facts:

First, there was nothing illegal about holding the practice or even taping the event. No coaches were present, and it was supervised by the strength and conditioning coach. The only violation is that the tape was ever shown to the NU coaches, which is a small violation in its own right. Most important, nothing concerning the practice's legality" is admissible in court because there are internal rules for NCAA members.

Second, Northwestern cannot formally apologize for the event while the matter is still in court because it amounts to an admission of guilt and shoots their case before it even starts. Any lawyer would tell you that this is a terrible idea.

Third, your piece paints Northwestern as the only school with substance-abuse problems. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, according to a 2001 survey conducted by the NCAA, almost 60 percent of college athletes said they used nutritional supplements that might have contained a banned substance, which include everything from ephedrine to steroids to amphetamines. Specifically, ephedrine (which was found in Wheeler's body) is banned for its potential effects on the heart. When combined with his asthmatic condition, Wheeler was setting himself up for disaster by taking these substances.

This last point, at once the most crucial and most overlooked, is of extreme importance: In none of the articles I have read is any blame placed on Wheeler. He was a known asthmatic who took banned substances and did not have his inhaler in hand for what he knew would be a strenuous test. I am not discounting the tragedy, for that is exactly what it was, but blame must be shared at least in part by Wheeler himself.

David Reitz, Wilmette

The public needs to know how unfair the legal system is when it's "deep pockets vs. the devastated family member." Do you understand that it's $16 million minus the 30 percent, plus expenses, her lawyers receive (NU lawyers are on retainer and get paid regardless, I'm certain)? Then taxes. Then all medical bills are paid back out of that settlement. If she received $2 million out of the $16 million, I'd be shocked.

My wife was horribly injured in a work accident almost five years ago. Since then, besides trying to recover and walk again, she has had to endure lying, arrogant attorneys (including her own), five- hour depositions, endless continuances and every attempt to place blame on her for something that was not her fault. She hasn't received one call from the company asking about her recovery or if it could help. It's also a big company, so it has endless resources to "wear the victim down."

Stay the course, Linda Will. Expose the truth to save other children and families from a similar fate.

We all deserve a jury of our peers, not a gaggle of high-powered attorneys whose motivation tends to get tainted by their own interests -- not the victim's -- to determine what a middle-class life is worth.

Fred Vanderhyden, Crestwood

I have to disagree with your statement in your July 12 article ("Plenty to learn from All-Stars Clement, Alou") that chances were taken during the offseason for a team that was built to win now and that "for some reason Cubs fans have accepted that."

I don't know what Cubs fans you gathered that information from, but speaking for me and the Cubs fans I know and talk to, we are not at all happy with what happened or, more appropriately, what did not happen during the offseason. I think the only reason it may appear that it has been accepted is because there's nothing we can do about it.

Whoever said the other day in this paper that the blame for this team this season lies at the feet of Jim Hendry was right. I've been saying that since February.

If they really wanted to get rid of Sammy Sosa, fine. But they dumped almost 80 home runs and 200 RBI when they let Moises Alou go, too. I like what Jeromy Burnitz has brought to the team, but he's not going to replace the numbers Sosa and Alou put up. I never will understand how he let Matt Clement go, given Mark Prior's health problems last season and Kerry Wood's health problems for his whole career. I didn't see the Braves breaking up their rotation when it was in its heyday.

The bullpen is questionable at best, but they let a decent lefty reliever in Kent Mercker get away because he didn't get along with the announcers -- announcers that aren't even here anymore.

Truth be told, your rival newspaper that owns the team stinks.

Accepted the offseason? No way. You're dead wrong.

Mike Noto, Chicago

Dear Jay Mariotti:

Let's get serious, Jay ("Blame for Cubs' ills lies with Hendry," July 10). Corey Patterson needed to get demoted. He's terrible. I'm not sure he has any knowledge of the game. He can't play the field that well, doesn't know how or when to steal bases and sure as heck can't bat.

Jim Hendry didn't do a very good job, obviously. But sending down Patterson wasn't to make him a scapegoat; it was to get him off the team. He has no reason to be on a major-league field.

When people (writers, critics, fans, etc.) defend Dusty Baker and/ or praise him for the work that he does, why do they never acknowledge that we've given him more talent, more payroll and more leeway than any other manager we've had -- and more than most other managers in the league? Anybody could have taken that '03 team to the playoffs. I can remember when Jim Riggleman, a manager who actually knew how to coach, took a meager group of players to the playoffs, without getting a whole lot of praise. Actually, on that team, I think Corey would've been a star.

Dan Blankenship, Peoria

I agree with Jay Mariotti. The blame for the Cubs' ills lies with Jim Hendry. Fire Jim and bring back Larry Himes.

Good old Larry gave Shawon Dunston -- the right-handed Corey Patterson of another day and a better comparison than Lou Brock -- $13 million. At the same time, he let Greg Maddux get out of town over $50,000 and a phone call. You know-it-all media types forgot Dunston got the $13 million while Himes was penny-pinching a soon- to-be four-time Cy Young winner. But the media never presented it that way. It was a given that Dunston would eventually "find himself" -- sound familiar? -- and, of course, he did: 13 years of mediocrity, complete with erratic throws to first base.

The biggest mistake Hendry made was that he didn't send Patterson to the minors when training camp broke. And for all of this stuff about him not going after a closer and a leadoff man during the offseason, there wasn't a decent one available to throw money at.

D. C. James, Marcellus, Mich.

In response to Jay Mariotti's article about Jim Hendry's failures, please realize that Jim did a pretty good job with what he had to work with and that Dusty Baker is mostly to blame for the Cubs' woes this season. How does it take 80 games to realize that Todd Walker and his above-average on-base percentage should be in the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the lineup? How does it take 80 games to realize that Corey Patterson is not and never will be a leadoff man? How does it take 80 games to realize that your second-best bat in the lineup should bat fourth instead of fifth? How does it take three years to realize that Mike Remlinger cannot get left-handers out?

Sure, the Cubs could use Moises Alou and Matt Clement. But if Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Nomar Garciaparra had not suffered injuries, neither one would have been necessary.

Adam Johnson, Austin, Texas

Dear Carol Slezak:

I appreciate the Michael Owen spread ("Real Madrid fighting same old fight in U.S.," July 12). It's good to see my favorite sport get some ink. I remember Owen's 1998 World Cup moment." He picked up a ball at midfield and took it through about four defenders to score a goal -- all by himself. He was 18.

I do want to correct one thing. Carol characterizes soccer as the sport "we're not so good at." That may have been accurate in 1998, when Owen scored that memorable goal. Today, though, the U.S. men's team has a FIFA ranking of 10 -- ahead of Italy, if you can believe it. Spain is No. 9, and England is No. 7. We are almost certain to qualify for the next World Cup, in Germany in 2006, and are expected to be quite competitive.

And our 20-and-under team recently beat Argentina at a youth tournament in the Netherlands. Argentina went on to win the tournament.

Tom Sullivan, Western Springs

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