Congratulations to John Underwood, for his excellent, penetrating analysis of The True Crisis (May 20) confronting the American sports scene. Such articles as this are necessary to arouse the public to the realization that sports must be anchored to the integrity of every individual participant, in the hope that "the American pastimes" do not become merely another facet of big business.
RONALD K. BENNINGTON
I appreciate your well-written article on the possibilities of ruining sports if the powers that be are not ever on the alert. Baseball survived because the magnates were smart enough to pick Judge Landis to supervise its activities. But when the magnates thought Old Mountain was getting too severe, they asked him to tone down. The judge replied that he would tear up his $50,000 contract and step out before he would be compromised. Result: the magnates took the hint.
Currently, Football Commissioner Pete Rozelle is in a similar predicament—the penalties he dealt Hornung and Karras appear very severe compared with the extent of the infractions, but were Rozelle to overlook this who knows what further liberties would be taken. My opinion is that Rozelle acted correctly.
WALTER (TUGBOAT) ANDERSON
Jackson Heights, N.Y.
Why supposedly good Americans would censure Mr. Rozelle for trying to protect and save the great game of football, I wouldn't know. I wish him all good things.
E. M. NESBITT, D.D.
June 2, 1963
I am 15 years old, and Paul Hornung is a hero to me. In no way has his brightness been dulled by the gambling incident. Gambling to me and other kids is not a crime that a person should be punished for. Kids make small bets on games (like a quarter), and when we grow up we'll probably still bet.
The question is: Is it wrong to bet on games? As far as I'm concerned, Paul Hornung played his best in every game and gave the fans their money's worth. Is this wrong? Of course not! The fans are the ones who are going to be punished by the decision forbidding him to play.
JAMES VAN BUSKIRK
•Jim, the question is: Is it wrong to bet on games when you have agreed to observe a rule against doing so?—ED.
Your loudest battle cry is "example to our youth," but how many children today really do worship their sports heroes? The adult fan, what of his worship? Mr. Underwood believes him to be a passionate, idealistic lover, whose tender sensibilities must be protected at all costs. I wonder if Mr. Underwood has ever sat in the middle of the standard group of sports snipers? We are little people, we members of the great god public, so little that most of us cannot really enjoy the success of anybody bigger than we. We draw up a list of rigid superhuman specifications for the playing performances of our athletes, and when they fail by a tiny margin to meet those specifications we abuse them mercilessly. We also set up similarly unrealistic moral specifications. When a man fails to meet those we pretend to be shocked and hurt, we may even believe we are, but I believe that secretly or subconsciously many of us are delighted, our own wretchedly imperfect egos never felt so good.
K. C. MACLEOD
Isn't there enough talk about point spreads, shaving points and all the rest of it without your idolizing a guy like Hornung?
My hat is off to Pete Rozelle. He is the one who should have made the cover.
THE LOCKER ROOM
One factor unmentioned in your piece is apparent week after week within the very covers of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED itself. There the playing of games for pay and/or pleasure is treated as some sort of solemn holy rite. The Greeks had a word for it—hubris, as I recall it, the defect of overwhelming pride, of "wanton arrogance" and the resultant "disregard of moral laws or restraints."
As one who has played football, semipro baseball and performed that highest form of masochistic exercise, cross-country running, there is not conveyed to me in your articles the genuine and memorable sweet-and-sour stenches of sport: the basic hostility of the locker room, the basic hostility of crowds to players and the ill temper, enviousness and destructiveness of most participants during moments of play.
A Nathanael West could have well set the climactic scene of his novel, The Day of the Locust, at any little league game. And in the essay collection, The Crack-up, F. Scott Fitzgerald discusses the progressive deterioration of Ring Lardner because he was a sensitive adult enmeshed in writing about grown men playing the sports of boys. "However deeply Ring might cut into it," wrote Scott, "his cake had exactly the diameter of Frank Chance's diamond."
A. WESLEY BARTHELMES JR.
In my opinion, you have begged the crucial question concerning college sports, namely, what should be the criteria for college entrance. If we admit that college exists for education and that purpose alone, and that this is the sole function for its existence, then any criteria for admission that doesn't relate to the scholastic ability of the applicant is irrelevant. If, on the other hand, we assert that college functions to train prospective players for the National Football League or to provide violinists for the concert stage, then scholastic ability becomes irrelevant and these other abilities become crucial. The attempt to establish a middle ground finds us in a morass of hypocrisy.
If we really mean to be honest in this mess, and a mess it is, then we must give an honest answer. The athlete or violinist or what have you who has scholastic ability warranting a scholarship should be given one, as a scholar. The athlete or otherwise talented individual who doesn't have such ability does not belong in college.
SHERMAN R. SLAVIN
The idea of an academic institution investing in subsidized, spectator sports is about as sensible as the Green Bay Packers hiring personnel for pure research in the humanities. The moral issue in sports (and other phases of living) seems to revolve about our unlimited capacity for self-deception.
John Underwood warns "the men at the top" that their conduct must be changed so their profits may continue, or conversely, he calls for higher standards or it will hit them in the all-important pocketbook. I'm glad I am no longer in Venezuela, where my copies of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED were so welcomed by Venezuelans who loved American sports and athletes, and where someone might ask for an explanation. You haven't left me any room to deny the charge that "Americans are only interested in the dollar!"
Mrs. RAYMOND ACEVEDO
Sport cannot be any less corrupt than the society of which it is a part. Our merchandising society has made money the national god. Therefore money is power, and its corrupting influence will continue to be a dominant feature of the American way of life, sports included.
New York City
Your fine essay on the easy morality of sport could be projected, it seems to me, onto an even larger screen. Sport today is only a reflection of all endeavor in this age of the "little lie." which almost makes a must of easy virtue. Hitler, Stalin and their propagandists were blamed for sapping public morals with the Big Lie, which is an easily recognizable device if anyone cares to examine it. Far more dangerous, in my view, is the little lie of Madison Avenue, which is designed to make "squares" of anyone who takes truth at its face value. The manufacturer swears on a stack of TV sets that his product is absolutely in every way the best there is, but he doesn't really want you to believe it. All he means is that you should try it. It is no worse, he is really saying, than any other. The popular politician insists absolutely and categorically that he is not a candidate for the highest office in the land—and everybody takes it for granted that he is lying through his teeth, and they love him for it.
Wendell Willkie was almost laughed out of politics when he excused something he had said with the alibi that it was only "campaign oratory." You just don't say those things, yet everyone knows that campaign talk is no more reliable than a double-your-money-back-if-not-absolutely-satisfied guarantee. Who of us today is absolutely satisfied?
In this age of hipster morality, perhaps the one cardinal, unforgivable sin is the sin of believing. What are you? Some kind of a square? No wonder sport has a hard time finding its way around.
As a wise man once said, "There are no degrees of honesty."
CHARLES H. DICKSON JR.
Park Forest, Ill.