THE TRUE CRISIS

Recently the climate of sport has been befouled by 'exposés' and charges of widespread corruption. Is sport crooked? No—but there is a creeping threat to basic values that must be recognized and fought
May 19, 1963

I think all of us in college athletics have gone far astray—in recruiting, in letting people leech on to us who are known to be of bad character. I think we are gutless not to clean up our own business. You cannot use my name, because I am as gutless as the rest.—ANONYMOUS COACH, SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE.

In the first four months of 1963 these incidents made important news in sport: Paul Hornung (see cover) of Green Bay, one of the best football players in the world, and Alex Karras of Detroit were suspended from the National Football League for betting on games. Six other Detroit players were fined for the same offense. Alabama Coach Bear Bryant and Georgia Athletic Director Wally Butts were accused of conspiring to affect the outcome of last fall's Alabama-Georgia football game. The University of Indiana and Purdue competed for a talented high school basketball player by offering scholarships to his girl friend. Jack Molinas, a former professional basketball player, was handed a 10-to-l5-year sentence for fixing college-basketball games from 1957 to 1961. Biggie Munn, athletic director at Michigan State, was found, embarrassingly, to be a stockholder in a management firm owned by a Chicago gangster, Frank (Big Frank) Buccieri. (Munn promptly said he got out as soon as he discovered who "that furniture man" really was.)

The doleful box score of the past few months, together with the basketball scandals of recent years and a Senate investigation that is soon to take place, have cast a nervous shadow over sport. Confused by the dispiriting succession of events, people are disturbed, and they are talking: the subject, articulated in various ways, is, simply, morality. Some Americans who were not so already have become cynical about sports, some fearful, some doubtful, some merely curious. To read all the signs, there is a crisis in U.S. sports. But is there?

In an important sense, unless it is a sin to enjoy oneself, there is no crisis. Pure sport ("that which diverts and makes mirth; pastime; diversion"), the sport of the participant, is healthier than ever in this pastiming nation of bowlers, boaters, golfers, skiers, snowshoe hikers, softball players and fishermen. Some 33.5 million Americans participate. So the concern is not with what people do, but with what they watch others do, the professionals and the heavily promoted college and amateur players of commercial sports. It is toward these performers that would-be moralists point a finger and say, "Yes, there is a crisis." Are they right?

On the surface, they are not. Sensational news to the contrary, there is less outright dishonesty today than there was in the "good old" days which, a dispassionate review would show, were not only not good but often sensationally crooked. In 1877, long before the Black Sox scandal of 1920, Louisville, then a major league club, expelled four players for throwing games. Owner John Morrissey in the same era used his Troy (N.Y.) Haymakers (forerunners of the New York Giants) like "loaded dice and marked cards." Seven members of the University of Michigan's 1893 football team were not even students at the university, and when Yale lured James Hogan, who later became an All-America tackle, to New Haven in 1902 it was by dint of free tuition, a suite in Vanderbilt Hall, a 10-day trip to Cuba and a monopoly on the sale of scorecards. Some of the old recruiters could make the present breed, with their payments under the table, seem like so many penny-ante poker players.

Today baseball, football and horse racing, the three biggest commercial sports, are more efficiently policed than they ever were in their not-so-innocent youths. Baseball in particular has been careful. In 1943 Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banished the Philadelphia Phillies' millionaire owner, William D. Cox, from baseball for life for betting on his own team. Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Leo Durocher in 1947 for "the accumulation of incidents detrimental to baseball" (he was friendly with a gambler). Similarly, the National Football League suspended Frank Filchock and Merle Hapes of the New York Giants for failing to report an attempted bribe. The league, emulating racing's Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, which has been relentless in keeping known gangsters away from tracks since its founding in 1946, has a staff of 17 detectives on call to check out all rumors concerning players and owners.

There is a good economic reason for such close surveillance. Franchises have become so expensive—and generally so profitable—that an owner would be committing financial suicide not to guard his investment. Too, the probing eye of catechistic news media has severely narrowed a man's chances of making a dishonest dollar. The glare of prolonged inquiry has made even boxing a cleaner sport, although one in dire need of further repair.

Yet beneath the surface of seeming morality there lurks a true crisis. It is far less spectacular than a Black Sox scandal or the case of a prizefighter deliberately taking a dive (as Jake LaMotta admitted doing in a bout with Blackjack Billy Fox 15 years ago). It is, instead, a subtle erosion of the quality of sport. This erosion affects the individual sports; it affects the people in them, the players, the coaches and managers, and the owners. E. Norman Gardiner, writing in Athletics of the Ancient World, said, "The very popularity of athletics was their undoing." This is not Greece, but the men who control sport in the U.S. today are courting the Greeks' same risk of failure to cope with success. For it is an excess of success that produces unfortunate cases such as Paul Hornung's.

Paul Hornung is a fun-loving fellow who stands to lose 550,000 in the next year for being untidy in choosing his fun. Hornung gambled on football games, including some in which he played as a star halfback for the Packers. The consequence was that Commissioner Pete Rozelle of the NFL suspended Hornung for a year—which, besides loss of salary, sharply reduced Hornung's chances to endorse products in advertisements, which provided him with upward of $ 15,000 a year in pocket money. When the decision went out, and Hornung went out to see what people thought, it might as well have been spring. Cab drivers and sportswriters and fellow athletes and ladies in elevators hailed him and told him how Pete Rozelle ought to be strung up by his strait laces. (Others were just as convinced that Rozelle was justified, but Hornung did not hear much of that.) At a banquet in Worcester, Mass. he was given a hero's ovation. "Everywhere I went the people were behind me," said Hornung, understandably relieved. The crime obviously had not fit the punishment. Why, pshaw—there was hardly any crime at all.

But of course there was. Hornung himself is not a criminal; his football play is unassailable, and he has not thrown a game, taken a bribe or sold his soul to Frankie Carbo. He is a generous young man, good to his mother in Louisville and, as a practicing Catholic, he meticulously orders clam chowder on Fridays. No, indeed. Hornung's mistake was not a criminal act, it was an irresponsible one. Naively, and perhaps unwittingly, he destroyed a portion of faith in the integrity of the game that pays his way. One day he was merely the pal of Gambler-Businessman Barney Shapiro. The next day, "scarcely before I realized it," he says, Shapiro was his betting agent and confidant. He had no idea of the consequences of his actions when he placed his first SI00 bet. Anybody old enough to chew bubble gum can fathom what suspicions this association aroused.

Encouragingly, Paul Hornung was quick to realize his error. Unlike the recalcitrant Alex Karras, who thought himself railroaded, Hornung has been contrite and has tried to say all the right things. He says if he had it to do over again he would still "tell all" to Commissioner Rozelle. "Hell, yes, I would. I broke the rule. I'm guilty. And what anybody else might have been doing wrong is no matter to me." Hornung admits he is not sure of all the implications of the rule he violated, and he does not consider his action "immoral," but he knows for sure his conduct "wasn't kosher."

Still to be determined is what sorcery could make a Paul Hornung risk his handsome neck and handsome way of living by assaulting, as he did, a rule he can read on every locker room wall in the National Football League. The answer is not too hard to find. In a sense, Paul Hornung was indoctrinated to excess at age 17 with the coming of the first high-pressure college recruiter ("I wasn't offered a car or anything big like that," he recalls, "but in some cases I was promised extra money"). So sought after was he that Paul (Bear) Bryant, now at Alabama but then coach at the University of Kentucky, brought the governor of Kentucky to the modest Hornung apartment in Louisville to help charm Hornung into accepting a scholarship in 1953. Bryant has since said he would have stayed at Kentucky three more years had he landed Hornung. He did not get Hornung, however, principally because of Hornung's mother, whose abiding dream was for her son to go to Notre Dame. Hornung was asleep in another room when the governor came to call, and Mrs. Hornung did not bother to wake him up.

As a Notre Dame man, Hornung found that he could rationalize the firing of his former coach, Terry Brennan, for being "too young," even though Brennan had been hired five years earlier when he was five years younger. Hornung called it part of the game. Used to special treatment as a pro star, it seemed natural to Hornung that the U.S. Army obligingly gave him weekends off so that he might continue his career with the Packers. He had found he could scarcely get out of the way of people wanting to do him favors and give him money. It was by this time quite easy to take lightly "a simple little wager" of $100 or $200. The money didn't mean much to him, why should the rule? After all, he said, "I'm just another one of the vehicles in this business."

The point about Paul Hornung, of course, is that he is not unique among American athletes. Commercial sport is a business. The people who run it—whether they be college presidents or owners of big league ball clubs—want to be successful. They are successful if they win, and they win when they have the best players. But this drive to excel puts terrifying, almost unreasonable pressure on good athletes such as Hornung. Small wonder that the values of such gifted athletes become relative and that rules become playthings to be toyed with. The young men often develop what ex-West Point Coach Earl Blaik calls a what-the-hell attitude.

They also take their confusion into adult life. Wes Santee, the former star miler, who now sells insurance in Lawrence, Kans., was banned from amateur running for life for accepting $1,500 in "extra" expense money. He reserves the right to be especially critical of promoters who run amateur meets, and he blames them for his downfall. "If a track meet promoter or official tells a boy, 'The present rule on expenses is antiquated. Here's two or three times what you are legitimately supposed to get,' why expect the kid to be simon-pure? I remember when I first began running well. This promoter called to ask if I'd compete in his meet. 'How much expenses do you want?' he said. I didn't know what to say. I was a greenhorn. He said, "Would $800 be enough?' My eyes almost popped out. I was green as a young runner, then, but I became a pro real quick."

A question of right

"Did I do wrong to accept these fees? I still don't know. I do know they never stop. After I had got the temporary court order to permit me to keep running, I went to Boston for a meet. I was in trouble. You would think everyone would have been extremely careful. But after the meet one of the officials handed me a program, saying, 'Here's a souvenir for you.' When I opened it there was a $50 bill stuck inside."

This, as anybody who has followed sport even indifferently knows, is minor league stuff compared with what goes on at some colleges where local, state and alumni pride often are motivating factors as powerful as profit in building winning teams. Since 1952, when the National Collegiate Athletic Association took on police powers, it has had enough evidence of recruiting violations to have taken action against schools in 86 cases. Some did not learn their lesson and had to be punished a second time. Auburn lived in the NCAA doghouse for six years. Indiana has been in for three.

Head coaches, either ambitious for better jobs or fretful that the ax will soon fell them, continue to cut recruiting corners despite the threat of penalty. And many feel it would be a mistake to become sentimental about their players. The stringent policies of Coach Charlie Bradshaw resulted in 53 University of Kentucky players abandoning the team by last September. One assistant at another southern school quit his job recently when he became sickened by the ruthless measures his superior was using to get scholarships back from boys who had not succeeded on the football field. What happens to allegiance to the sport and the school then? In prosecuting the college basketball scandals of 1961 an assistant New York district attorney, Peter D. Andreoli, said that one pertinent thread ran through all the players' testimony: none of them had any loyalty to his school.

A. Whitney Griswold, the late president of Yale, so disliked athletic scholarships that he termed them the "greatest swindle ever perpetrated on American youth." In his book, Campus U.S.A., David Boroff said that college football players had become so "seriously devalued in recent years [that] they are Saturday's children, neglected the rest of the week. No longer heroes, they are just hulking mercenaries to many students." Sociologist Reuel Denney of the University of Hawaii, a collaborator with David Riesman on The Lonely Crowd, says that in the commercialized sports environment the athlete "is first turned into a robot, and then sometimes the robot becomes a burglar. I think the first stage, when the human being is turned into a robot, is worse."

These views are extreme. Sport remains a major assimilating force on the college campus, and there are as many legitimate reasons for letting the superior athlete play his way through an education as for supporting a brilliant violinist. It would be a mistake to kill the athlete's chances of going to college. Better curb the excesses of his elders.

But if some college authorities persist in sidestepping rules, then, alas, the athletes, their parents and friends will have to set a higher tone. For it is important that the man on the field be ethically straight and that his play be right and not merely entertaining. Sport will retain its character, its unique quality as sport, only so long as the player and the fan and the kid who stands three hours in the rain to get Willie Mays's name on a crumpled program believe in its sacrosanctity.

William Saroyan said that baseball is "caring." The obligation of the athlete is clear: he must care. There is an almost spiritual quality to sport. Man and boy identify with the sports hero; the hero must therefore be the quintessence of his sport. "I suspect," says Sociologist Max Kaplan, "that the fan rather enjoys scandal—but only so long as it does not touch or destroy his heroes. That is to say, himself."

It would be absurd to expect unqualifiedly good deportment from an athlete. His world is often a roiling place, and rebellion is never far below the surface. Roger Maris was an impossible character the year he hit 61 home runs. Bo Belinsky likes nightclubs and Tommy Bolt hurls golf clubs. Big Daddy Lipscomb, the Pittsburgh Steelers' giant All-Pro tackle, died in tawdry circumstances last week, possibly of a combination of dope and liquor.

But it is not too much to expect the athlete-celebrity to at least try for good conduct, since where he goes, what he does and who he does it with take on a measure of importance that reflects on his sport. Paul Hornung found out too late that "you just can't be like other people."

If college and amateur leaders have contributed to the moral crisis of sport in their own spheres, so have the professionals. These prosperous days the major sports deal in very large amounts. Walter O'Malley's new ball park in Los Angeles is a $22 million showcase. Racetracks in this country handle $2.5 billion a year, and pro football is a $20 million operation. Naturally, the athlete becomes a principal beneficiary. Big league baseball teams cascade hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses on big-eyed, little-tried talent (recent examples: $175,000 for Bob Bailey of Pittsburgh, $130,000 to $150,000 for Bob Garibaldi of San Francisco).

This is not exceptionable. Commercial sport is a business, a part of the free-enterprise system, and the people who run it quite rightly should take as much money out of it as they can. But eventually it will be to their advantage to remember that sport is not a fast-buck business, a get-away-quick racket. There must be a degree of dedication to the game, for hard-nosed business reasons as well as idealistic ones. The purpose of sport is to offer recreation, to lift men out of their humdrum experience and offer them an exultation they cannot find in other pursuits. When profits become the only objective, sport dies. The name is retained, but it is a mockery. In death, it kills more important things than itself.

Baseball has not had a scandal in years. Salaries are way up. There is a sound pension plan, and the players have representation. But the players also have a game reduced in significance by continuous capital-gains maneuvers. Franchises are moved from city to city like show troupes. Many owners are wheelers and dealers. Arnold Johnson of Kansas City was involved in so many deals with the New York Yankees—including the sale of Yankee Stadium—that his reckless player-peddling became a national joke. Adulterating the game, management moves the fences in and out to suit the power of their teams. Up goes the number of league games and night games—a staggering 849 in 1963 as compared with 248 in 1945—and along comes a meaningless second All-Star Game. Irresponsible telecasting and player-juggling between the minors and majors have meant slow death for the minor leagues. Cumulative result: the players become technicians—happy, solvent automatons—and they admit it.

Professional football has handled itself well, though its huge popularity is only a recent thing. Players' salaries are not quite as good as those in major league baseball, but the season is measurably shorter and there are now two leagues (and a third in Canada) to vie for a man's services. This is to the player's (and public's) benefit. The player draft has been handled sensibly, and bonuses have not skyrocketed out of proportion. Even so, the money drive has made some pro football managements forget the lower-income fan, who was the game's principal supporter in the formative years but is now shunted aside by season ticket sales (in New York, Detroit and many other cities) that eliminate the best 40,000 seats from the range of the small man's pocketbook. Nor is pro football above gimmicky sideshows: the Playoff Bowl takes its place alongside the second baseball All-Star Game, though neither is as blatantly commercial as the half dozen or so meaningless college bowl games that have been appended to the season in the last few years.

Voracious suicide

Professional boxing could not resist strangling itself. It tried to swallow three TV fights a week. There were not enough good fighters to sustain public interest. TV audiences became weary of the same old faces. Meanwhile, the small fight clubs—St. Nicholas and Eastern Parkway arenas in New York and Marigold Arena in Chicago—began to founder, and with them went a good portion of the lifeblood of boxing: the young talent. Of no help were the monopolizing influence of the International Boxing Club and the hoodlum influence of Carbo. As the result of almost universal concern and pressure, the sport now appears to be in reasonably good order, but there is still a disregard of the boxers' safety, and whenever there is a close fight someone is sure to holler fix. Public faith has been shaken.

The finances of pro basketball and pro hockey are now dependent on an interminable league schedule—the hockey season begins in October and ends in April. Pro basketball teams play a minimum of 80 games apiece—and then, as if all that did not mean a thing, they engage in a series of playoffs involving a total of six of the nine teams. "That's not basketball," said a weary Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics after logging 60,000 miles and playing himself into exhaustion in 1961. "That's vaudeville."

Professional golfers, also enjoying a new boom of interest, do little for their brotherhood by abandoning the tour to take part in big-money but trumped-up "specials." Stars like Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, among many others, have admitted to splitting purses before playoff matches, thereby lessening the professional significance of the match. The end result is a cheated fan.

The horse racing industry, possibly the most self-consciously honest because of its great attraction to the fast-buck crowd, is so well guarded by security measures and is such a cheerful tax supporter of state governments that it has become almost as respectable as living in Darien, Conn. Ex-FBI men are everywhere. So are pastel-colored ticket windows. But the sport's last pretense of esthetic quality—"the betterment of the breed"—is being undermined by an unstinting devotion to The Handle. An Aqueduct, with easier, more mechanical racing and a longer line of ticket windows, thrives, while lovely old Belmont dies on the vine.

There is nothing starry-eyed in believing that the men who manage or take part in the most commercial of sports should combine with their business ambition a dedication to, or at least a real respect for, their sport and all that it stands for. After all, there are millions of ordinary Americans who love their jobs and respect their professions. One would like to think that in the top echelons—which is where the top pro sportsmen belong—the proportion of Americans feeling that way is high.

This magazine will always be on the side of those who remember that a sport does not cease to be a sport when it also becomes a business. It is good to hear Paul Hornung say he would "play for the Packers this year for nothing," but that should not be necessary.

When one mixes young men already made cynical by their college experiences with others whose sole concern is to make money, trouble is to be expected. The change in viewpoint must begin with the people at the top, both in college and in professional circles. When Dr. F. C. (Phog) Allen went to an official of the University of Kansas to urge that college presidents take the lead in cleaning up sports, he says the official replied, "We've got too damned many other things to do that are more important." If this gutless attitude continues to prevail, the "excess" that ruined athletics in Greece will ruin them here. But it does not have to happen.

PHOTO

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