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CULTURE DIGEST: 24 Olympians & pro athletes endorse Bush

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Gymnast Mary Lou Retton, golfer Jack Nicklaus and quarterback John Elway are among 24 Olympians and professional athletes who have jointly endorsed President Bush in an open letter supporting his re-election.

“With years of training and exhaustive competition beneath our belts, we have identified the values necessary to compete and win — values like personal strength, determination, a sense of fair play and faith,” the letter said.

The athletes noted that the same qualities that make an athlete great make a president great, qualities such as the determination to do what is right, the personal strength to bear the weight of the nation on one’s shoulders and “the faith that a higher power will direct the actions of good people.” They said they see those qualities in Bush.

Though the U.S. economy was rocked by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and by “the reckless disregard of the rules by a few rogue executives,” the athletes said Bush’s “decisive, principled leadership has moved America forward.”

“In these critical times, our president has had the courage to stand up and do what’s right,” the letter said. “… He is a leader we can depend on to make the tough decisions and the right decisions. Please join us in supporting a candidate of courage, President Bush — a leader who backs our troops defending our nation and shares our values.”

Additional athletes who signed the letter include MLB All-Star Carlos Beltran, NBA All-Star Karl Malone, NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, MLB Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan and Olympic gold medalist Kerri Strug.

USF PLAYER RETURNS TO CHRISTIANITY — Andrea Armstrong created quite a stir when she petitioned the University of South Florida to allow her to wear Islamic garb while playing basketball for the school. After winning her appeal, she has quit the team and told her hometown newspaper she has recognized the error of her ways and has returned to Christianity.

“It was my loneliness and forgetfulness of my past teachings that caused me to convert to Islam,” she wrote in an Oct. 6 e-mail to the editor of The Oregonian, according to the Associated Press. “I know that my actions caused great controversy over the past few weeks. I had no idea that a decision that I thought I was making for myself would reach out so far beyond myself and affect so many.”

USF’s coach originally told Armstrong she could not wear the Islamic garb — long pants, a top with sleeves and a scarf — during practice or games. But after a meeting between university officials and a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Armstrong was permitted to wear the attire.

A week later, Armstrong quit the team and moved home to Oregon.

“At the time, I thought Florida was what I wanted,” she wrote. “I did not realize that with this move I was slowly distancing myself from God, my family and friends. Had I recognized the emptiness that I felt for what it was — a homesickness for my family, friends and hometown — I would not have tried so hard to fill it with an unfamiliar religion. I take full responsibility for my actions and live in the certainty that God will forgive me.”

GAMBLING TAKES ALL FROM CECIL FIELDER — In the early 1990s, Cecil Fielder was a notable slugger for the Detroit Tigers and also was known as a family man for the good treatment of his wife, Stacey, son, Prince, and daughter, Ceclynn.

Fielder was traded to the New York Yankees and retired with career earnings of $47 million in salary alone, according to The Detroit News, and moved his family to a 50-room mansion in Melbourne, Fla.

But then he got hooked on gambling and lost everything.

“Gambling caused Cecil Fielder’s empire to collapse,” Al Arostegui, the realtor who sold the Fielders their home, told The News. “This isn’t a story of a hero who went bad but a hero who got sick. For Cecil, gambling is a disease; it’s like a cancer of some sort that ate away his wealth.”

And Donald Trump’s empire played a key role in Fielder’s losses. In February 1999, the Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City initially gave Fielder a $25,000 line of credit, and as Fielder gambled it all away, the casino kept extending his credit until he owed them $580,000 for a 40-hour period of play.

Fielder entered a financial spiral of manipulating banks in order to pay the bill. But in the end, Fielder lost his mansion and everything attached to it. His wife was not aware of his gambling problem until their home was foreclosed.

“I never saw any of this coming,” she told The News. “I never knew he even gambled.”

The couple is currently in a bitter divorce, and Fielder has gone into hiding, The News reported. Stacey and Ceclynn receive no money from him, and they even have no medical insurance.

WAL-MART REJECTS JON STEWART’S BOOK — In another effort to remain family friendly, Wal-Mart is refusing to sell copies of a comedy book containing nudity in its stores.

“America (The Book)” by Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” mocks the American government and includes a photo of nine naked, aged bodies, each with the superimposed head of a Supreme Court justice, according to the Associated Press. The book also includes cutouts of the justices’ robes and a caption instructing readers to “restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe.”

Wal-Mart officials recognized the content might offend some of their shoppers, so they canceled their order for the book.

“We were not aware of the image that was in the book [when Wal-Mart ordered it] and we felt the majority of our customers would not be comfortable with it,” Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokeswoman Karen Burk told the AP. “We offer what we think our customers want to buy. That just makes good business sense.”

Though not in stores, the book is available on Wal-Mart’s website, which the chain said serves a “different audience.”

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  • Erin Curry