Are you as tired as i am of how the media demonizes people?

For example, take the case of Mark Downs, the T-ball coach in Uniontown, Pa., who is charged with having promised to pay an 8-year-old kid $25 if he hit a 9-year-old kid in the head with a ball. Now the whole country thinks this is a bad guy.

I admit it looks bad, but when you investigate the case further, you learn that the kid on whom the coach allegedly ordered the hit was autistic, and a little mentally retarded, and lacked the physical skills to duck out of the way of a thrown ball.

Okay, okay, still not so great. But, see, that's not the whole story. It turns out that when the thrower only managed to hit the mentally handicapped kid in the groin, the coach allegedly ordered him to try again, and go for the head, and to throw harder this time, dagnabbit. And the kid did, whacking the other kid in the ear.

Yes, it still sounds bad. But that is why the press gets the reputation it does. No one ever asks why someone might twice order a kid to bean a physically and mentally handicapped child with a baseball for a fee of $25.

Well, I found out there was a reason, thank you very much: The coach allegedly wanted to win the game and felt the disabled kid was a loser.

Now, here is what distinguishes me from the average guilty-before-being-proven-innocent reporter, who will just blindly go with these seemingly damaging facts. Knowing that there must be another side to the story, I telephoned the alleged skunk's lawyer for a full-bodied defense.

Me: As far as the world is concerned, your client is evil incarnate. Is he evil incarnate?

Tom Shaffer: No, he is not evil incarnate. He is a family man who works three jobs.

Me: Now, you have been quoted saying that this was all some sort of misunderstanding . . .

Tom: Yes.

Me: . . . Even though the beaner testified at a pretrial hearing that the coach told him to hit the handicapped kid, and the

beaner's father testified that, after the beaning, your client admitted to him, directly, that he had ordered it.

Tom: Yeah, well, the father also said his son was the best player on the team. But the statistics say he was not.

Me: Oh.

Tom: And the mother of the boy who was hit testified that her son was bleeding from the ear. So I asked, "When did you take him to the hospital?" And it was five days later! After the game, she took her son for ice cream, along with the boy who threw the ball. See, her son wasn't really hurt.

Me: Is that really the point? Isn't the point whether the coach ordered the hit?

Tom: I'm not going to present my case in the newspaper. I'm not saying this is the case, but let's say that the coach said, "If you throw this ball at this kid, I will pay you $25"? The question is, doesn't that fall under the category of free speech? In a 1960s case, a Black Panther said, "If you make me put a gun in my hand, the first SOB I'm gonna shoot is LBJ." The Supreme Court ruled that was protected speech.

Me: Because it was conditional?

Tom: Right. But the problem with arguing the First Amendment is that you lose jurors; you can't make these highly technical arguments they can't understand. And I'm not going to have the other side's lawyers play on the feelings and the compassion of the jurors. So I am going to ask for a bench trial, before a judge.

Me: You are Mr. Downs's attorney, trying to spin the best possible case for him, right?

Tom: Right.

Me: Okay, just checking.

Tom: There was a sports story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently about a situation just like this.

Me: [After reading it] It had a line about Ernie Banks offering anyone $100 to hit a certain player. It's from 1961, and everyone involved was a professional athlete.

Tom: Same issue.

Me: You are a toughie, aren't you?

Tom: I played rugby for 20 years, and my father was a boxer, so maybe I am. I have to go out now to run five miles in the heat.

Me, too. I gotta go. I hope youse all learned your lesson about judging people without first getting the whole story. And if you haven't, I'll come over there and bash your head in.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is

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