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About Utah: BYU law professor fighting ALS

There are times, Michael Goldsmith laughs, when his students at Brigham Young University's law school are sure he is hiding in the witness protection program.

How else to explain a tough-talking Jewish lawyer from Queens, N.Y., at the mostly all-Mormon school in Provo, Utah?

"I think they were sure of it when I went back east to testify against John Gotti," says Goldsmith, who prior to coming to Utah had served as legal counsel to the New York State Organized Crime Task Force.

As is usually the case, the real story is less exotic: In 1985, looking for wide-open spaces and a home on the range, Goldsmith purposely — and without any nudges from the mob — looked to relocate to the West for "lifestyle reasons." A lawyer with experience not only in dealing with organized crime, but as a federal prosecutor and as a legal counsel to the United States Congress, he contacted both the University of Utah and BYU about teaching positions.

BYU, it turned out, had an opening — and Goldsmith's students have been buzzing about his background ever since.

But if there were any truth to the rumor, the law professor definitely blew his cover this week.

Turn to page 22 in the current edition of Newsweek magazine, and there, sandwiched between the historic news of Barack Obama's presidential victory, is a photograph of Goldsmith in a baseball uniform next to a bylined article by Michael Goldsmith of Heber City.

In the accompanying essay, Goldsmith reveals that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS for short — known to most of us as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The lawyer makes an appeal to America, and to organized baseball in particular, to find a cure for the progressively paralyzing neuromuscular disorder that leaves no survivors.

Our next Independence Day, he points out, will mark the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, where the baseball great told of the illness he was suffering from that would subsequently take both his life and his name.

Since then, Goldsmith points out, "More than 600,000 Americans have shared Gehrig's fate, as medical science has made virtually no progress toward finding a cure.

"Why not make July 4, 2009, ALS-Lou Gehrig Day?" he asks. "Dedicate this grim anniversary to funding research for a cure; every major- and minor-league stadium might project the video of Gehrig's farewell, and teams, players and fans could contribute to this cause. An event of this magnitude has the potential to raise millions."

Goldsmith writes eloquently of his affection for baseball, a game he played "every day of every summer growing up." He explains how in the early stages of his disease — he was diagnosed in 2006 and was told he'd had ALS for as many as two years prior to that — his wife encouraged him to take time off work "while I could still hold a bat" and attend an adult fantasy baseball camp hosted in Florida by the Baltimore Orioles.

"If Little League makes men out of boys," he writes, "Orioles camp makes boys out of men. The games were highly competitive, but they were also marked by youthful enthusiasm, pure joy and moments of compassion. When my teammates saw me struggling to swing a standard bat, they bought me a lighter one that could still generate power (this helped, but often I just missed the pitch faster)."

Goldsmith concludes his Newsweek article with this plea: "I now look to the game of my youth to help give me and others like me a chance for life."

"I'm the healthiest ALS patient I know," says Goldsmith, 57, who is still managing to hold down a full teaching schedule at BYU, where he says, "I have been supported beyond my ability to describe."

But he knows his days are numbered, unless ...

"This is a high, inside slider," he says, sticking with the baseball metaphors. "Research is desperately needed. I really want to see Major League Baseball get involved. We can beat this."

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 801-237-2527.