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Why all fuss over stars?

Once upon a time, there was a president of the United States with a problem. There was this sordid sexual affair with a White House intern. Which followed a sordid sexual incident with a woman when he was governor of Arkansas. Which came after a sordid long-term affair with a former lounge singer.

Maybe you heard.

Did you also read about Michael Jackson's strange behavior? What about the man who allegedly sold the fingernails of cadavers? I won't even elaborate on the arrest this week of a Utah legislator for solicitation.

None of the above were especially uplifting stories, but you must admit, they were newsworthy. That's because we live in an information society. We have cell phones, pagers, voice mail and e-mail. We have the Internet, newspapers, magazines, television and films — all to keep us informed.

You might say we're in an information age. Along with eating too many calories, processing information is what we do best. We learn about the appalling, fantastic, interesting and weird. We discover embarrassing, intimate details about presidents and such.

So tell me again, why is everyone so upset over coverage of teenage basketball stars?

There has been considerable uproar surrounding a Kentucky eighth-grade sensation named O.J. Mayo. Young O.J. says he looks to older people as role models like Ohio prep star LeBron James, who is all of 18 himself. Mayo, 14, intends to surpass James, then become better than the prime-time Michael Jordan. Big plans for an eighth-grader. He might even do it. He's already ahead of MJ, who once got cut from his school team. Last year, as a seventh grader, Mayo was on a high school basketball team.

Mayo has his own web site and is already talking about which college he will attend. He says he might even skip right past college and head for the NBA. Imagine, an eighth-grader talking about career moves. When I was in the eighth grade, the toughest decision I had to make was whether to eat the cafeteria fish sticks or go hungry the rest of the afternoon.

Meanwhile, James, the projected No. 1 draft pick this year, is a senior at his high school. He has already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and had two games televised on ESPN. He has been constantly in the news for driving a $50,000 SUV and later accepting two replica sports jerseys from a clothing-store owner.

Wait. I'm just warming up. There's also Kendall Marshall, who has been noted in online recruiting publication HoopScoop as the nation's best sixth-grade basketball player.

This over-promotion of children has most of the nation's sports media up in arms. How could this happen? What have we become that we exploit kids in such a manner?

Nothing hideous I can think of.

Appalled because young King James was on TV? I missed the games, but I'd like to have seen them. If he really is the best high school player in the nation, good enough to play in the NBA today, I want a peek. Yeah, so maybe the kid gets a big head. This sort of kiddie "exploitation" has been going on for decades in the music and entertainment industries. Think LeAnn Rimes and Charlotte Church or Stevie Wonder and Donny Osmond.

For that matter, think Shirley Temple.

I'm not in favor of coaches recruiting an eighth-grader, but newspapers writing about him? I'm fine with that. I approve of such stories in the way I approve of those on teenage musicians in international piano competition or 13-year-old math whizzes who are already enrolled in college.

I like stories about child prodigies.

I'd rather be upset about bigger issues. What I am against is televised dating games where teenagers remove their clothes in the hot tub. I disapprove of gratuitous films about natural born killers, child prostitutes and pornographers. I'm against magazines and Web sites that tell how to make homemade bombs or terrorize others by stockpiling weapons. I'm against publications and films that encourage racism and hate.

But reports on a 14-year-old kid who can play basketball like a collegian?

Now that's a story.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com