The more public relations men try to sugarcoat a bitter pill, the more noticeable its bitterness becomes. Case in point: a soccer player.

His name is Andranik Eskandarian. He is a defenseman for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. David Tucker of Alexandria noticed Eskandarian's biographical sketch as he was reading the official program, Kicks Magazine, before the Cosmos' June 17 game against the Washington Diplomats at RFK Stadium.

According to Kicks, Eskandarian wears jersey No. 2. He is 29 years old, 5 feet 7 and 155 pounds.

And under "Citizenship," he is listed as "Armenian."

Translation: Iranian.

This has not been the year to claim any attachment to that horribly troubled country, to put it mildly. Still, why did The Soccer Truth Squad think it needed to "clean up" Eskandarian's birthplace?

Right above his name on the roster appears a West German goalie. Three nothces below is a Paraguayan midfielder. Have either of those nations been blameless off the soccer field?

Explain yourselves, Cosmos.

"We definitely did it as a reaction to the hostage problem," said Mark Brickley, the team's public relations director.

Eskandarian requested it. He is a Christian. He considers himself an Armenian. He and our general manager, Krikor Yepremian, who is Armenian, too, requested it."

Was there any reason for this besides public relations?

"Well, we did have an incident in April of 1980 down in Fort Lauderdale. A fan came on the field near the end of a game and tried to choke him. By and large, we just felt it was better all the way around not to present him as a target in case someone else was tempted to do the same thing."

Hogwash, I say, They pay policemen to keep would-be stranglers off the field. The truth of the matter is that the Cosmos -- and probably the Diplomats, too -- were thinking bucks on June 17. They were afraid that publishing the perhaps unsavory truth about one soccer player's history might reduce the number of paying customers.

But sports history argues loudly in the other direction. Thousands of boxing fans paid to watch heavyweight Sonny Liston -- knowing full well that he was a ex-convict and ex-drug addict. Even more basketball fans paid to watch Bill Walton, although he publicly disagreed with the official American stance on Vietnam and openly lived with a woman he hadn't bothered to marry.

Let's not call a spade a heart. Andranik Eskandarian may not live in Iran any more. He may not want to live in Iran any more. He may not ever live in Iran again.But he is inescapably Iranian. The New York Cosmos should trust American fans with the knowledge.