The decision taken last week by the International Lawn Tennis Federation to recognize and promote open tennis is revolutionary and commendable. But ridding tennis of shamateurism is not going to immediately solve all of the sport's problems.
One troop of barnstorming pro players, backed by Texas money and fitted out in razzle-dazzle colors, has been a notable failure. Trouble is, the color has been superficially imposed. What American tennis desperately needs is a tennis hero, an Arnold Palmer or a John Unitas, to evoke a new enthusiasm. It needs the excitement of personal duels and conflicts, the kind that flared for a moment in the Billie Jean King-Nancy Richey grudge match last week (page 83). And sad to say, it probably needs better young athletes—the kind that take up football, baseball and golf because they offer more money. Open tennis is a step toward the revival of the sport, but just a step.
SON OF WHOOSHMOBILE
April 8, 1968
It happens that sport spectacles often fail to live up to their billing. But if ever a coming event shaped up as a high-winding dandy it is this year's Indianapolis 500. Already, passions are historic, oldtime racing families have been rent asunder and almost everyone involved has a case of mechanical jitters that is not going to get any better before they line up those 33 supercars on Memorial Day.
Consider the subplots: 1) everyone knows that the inimitable Rufus Parnelli Jones showed up in a turbine car last year, led most of the race and scared the carburetors off the piston-engine crowd; 2) then USAC, which sanctions the race, slapped restrictions on turbines. Jones's sponsor, Andy Granatelli, retaliated by suing USAC, and 3) Andy's designer, Ken Wallis, split away and built some turbocars of his own that look a lot like last year's Car 40. Which brought everyone to last week, and guess who showed up at Indy?
There was Colin Chapman with a new STP-Lotus Turbocar, one of five he has built in England for Granatelli, who is not one to let a little old lawsuit stand in the way of racing. The new car is long and wedge-shaped, hung so low that only a bit of exhaust sticks up higher than the wheels. It carries a rear-mounted Pratt & Whitney turbine of unrevealed—but apparently adequate—horsepower. Up stepped ex-world champion and 500 winner Jimmy Clark, who drove a lap ' "right out of the box," as they say at Indy, at 169 mph and later took to flickering down the back straightaway at well over 200 mph. It will go faster, he allowed, when they get it adjusted to the track. Then Chapman crated it up, sent it back to England, and they disappeared, leaving the air full of tension.
As if that were not tantalizing enough. Indy giants A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney are toying with brand new turbo-charged Ford engines, blown up to around 900 horsepower and apparently capable of running every bit as fast as the turbines.
All of which sets the stage for the whooshingest 500 ever; certainly the fastest, and clearly the most innovative.
STAMP OF APPROVAL?
Despite their announced intentions to boycott this year's Summer Olympics, at least three African states—Dahomey, Togo and Mauritania—are issuing stamps commemorating the Mexico City Games, this being one way to lick expenses. And Chad, Gabon, Mali, Algeria, Niger and Upper Volta are continuing to market Winter Olympic issues. To date, 50 countries have printed Olympic stamps. Among the most noteworthy are the Winter Games stamps produced by the desert Sheikdom of Sharajah (pop. 5,000) on the Persian Gulf. They depict bobsledders and skiers in action. The gold medal for Grenoble, however, must go to the Himalayan country of Bhutan. It found itself with many copies of an old abominable snowman stamp, so it printed the Olympic symbol across his stomach, and the abominable snowman skis again.
The Stanley Cup playoffs begin this Thursday. If all series were to go the distance, the playoffs would not end until May 12.
Although it is definitely out of season, prairie chickens are being hunted at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston. For the past two months the birds have been doing their ritual mating dances on the airfield runways, puffing out their brilliant orange necks, stomping their feet and making deep-voiced sounds—"boom-boom-boom." They have also been menacing the jet aircraft. The danger from the Air Force viewpoint is that the birds might get sucked into the jet engines and foul them up. Alarmed, the air base called for help from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which suggested that helicopters be used to first flush the prairie chickens and then chase them. The Air Force has found the average prairie chicken can survive pursuit by the average helicopter for eight minutes. Then the bird flops in exhaustion and the helicopter crew drops a net over it. So far, 70 of the estimated 80 prairie chickens on or near the base have been captured. They are being released in Refugio County where they will probably be too wary to risk a mating dance for a long time to come.
Nobody has more experience assessing the limits of human endeavor than Norris and Ross McWhirter, the English twins who write the Guinness Book of World Records. The latest edition, for example, discloses that the longest rendering of a piece of music occurred in 1909 on a railway-station platform in Brandenburg, Germany. A military band played God Save the King, nonstop 16 or 17 times while King Edward VII was struggling inside a train to get into his German field marshal uniform.
Thus it was slightly more than idle guessing the other day when the twins, on a visit to New York, predicted that drugs—primarily anabolic steroids, which are used to increase weight and build strength—would lead to startling changes in sports records by the year 2000. Anyone who does not believe that sport—particularly track and field, weight lifting and horse racing—is increasingly affected by drug use is "extremely naive," says Norris. "The Russians started it all in 1959. Drug usage in the U.S. came in about 1963, and has increased rapidly everywhere since."
In 1896, the McWhirters point out, a Canadian lifted 4,133 pounds, and, in 1934, this world record was still intact. But in the next 34 years the record has gone to 6,270 pounds, and the McWhirters estimate it will be up to 7,000 by the turn of the century. "Many weight lifters and track-and-field performers are admittedly using drugs to gain weight and increase their powers," says Ross. "The mile record will drop to 3:46 with the use of steroids. The shotput mark, which was only 55 feet 1½ inches in 1934 and is currently 71 feet 5½ inches, will be 75½ feet by 2000. The discus will go to 230 feet compared to today's 213 feet 11½ inches and the hammer throw will increase from 241 feet 11½ inches to 265." They expect the pole vault, now 17 feet 8 inches, to go to 19 feet 3 inches, "the height of the world's tallest animal, the. giraffe."
On the other hand, the McWhirters predict the broad jump (27 feet 4¾ inches) and high jump (7 feet 5¾ inches) marks will increase only an inch or so.
In horse racing, they look for "sensational" changes, even though the record for the mile has dropped only 2.9 seconds since 1890 (Buckpasser holds the current record, 1:32[3/5]). "Drugs will do it," Norris says. "Why, right now they are feeding horses Dianabol, which often results in faster performances. You can buy it at the neighborhood chemist and it is undetectable in tests." Dianabol is available in the U.S. only through a physician's prescription, but, generally speaking, it can be bought around the world by those who want it.
There appears no end to man's desire to achieve—by whatever means or method—and thus, it would seem, no unsurpassable limit.
A top high school basketball player in Ohio is not only being wooed heavily by major colleges, but obviously is prepared to sell himself. He has been entertaining coaches at his home by showing movies of himself in action so he can point out his best moves. What, no popcorn?
In recent weeks disappointed college football players and their agents have been denouncing pro football teams for putting the squeeze on bonuses and salaries. "Last year prices were in an area that was fair and justified," says Agent Jim Morse. "But this year they are down 90 to 95% from 1966. Last year's top 50 players received, on the average, between $50,000 and $100,000. Kids in that category now are being offered $2,500." Agents are also suggesting that the pro clubs are price-fixing, pointing out that players drafted in the same round are nearly all being offered the same terms.
Claude Humphrey of Tennessee A&I, a first-round Atlanta choice, has signed a contract without a no-cut clause. Prior to the merger of the AFL and NFL, it is contended, some 15th-round choices were receiving no-cut contracts. Few are given out now.
Alabama Quarterback Kenny Stabler, drafted in the second round by Oakland, did get a no-cut clause, but his bonus (about $20,000) and his salary (about $25,000) contrast sharply with the $400,000 contract of Joe Namath, whose passing records Stabler shattered at Alabama. Because of the low offers, several of the brightest college football players are abandoning thoughts of pro football and leaning to other careers.
More factors than the merger are influencing the price structure. Some teams are heavily loaded with no-cut players signed in the earlier heyday (San Diego reportedly has 26). Others are determined to correct the absurd system that had bonus rookies earning far more than established players.
Most club officials admit rookie bonuses and salaries are down, but only Cleveland's Art Modell will reveal by how much. "I can't speak for other clubs," Modell says, "but our offers are off 20 to 25% from last year. That's about the same decrease as the year before. We've got to get back to some level of normalcy."
The issue is, of course, what is normalcy? Both sides are undoubtedly overstating their cases. But management can hardly afford to take the self-satisfied attitude of, for example, Vic Schwenk, the director of player personnel for the New Orleans Saints, who declares, "We're not concerned that most of our top choices haven't signed. Sooner or later, the boys will have to come to us." This sign-here-boy or go-to-hell (or Canada) philosophy could lead to a long run of dissatisfied athletes; more important, it could cause a hard look by the government at pro football's antitrust law position.
The days of football teams exploiting young players are over. And the days of untried rookies exploiting pro teams are over, too. Look for a few months of tough bargaining and angry words, followed by a lot of quiet signings at perfectly fair figures as football, at last, finds its "level of normalcy."
THEY SAID IT
•Cora Alcindor, after her son Lew gave her one of the nets almost bombed off the basket in UCLA's victory in the NCAA championship game: "It was such a great night. I think I'm going to have this net made into a turban."
•Fred Taylor, on Ohio State's 80-66 loss in the NCAA semifinal game to North Carolina: "They called us the Cinderella team, and we played like we were going to turn into a pumpkin."
•Bobby Hull, after a puck careened off the bone in his foot that has been hurting for weeks: "If I owned a duck, it would drown."
•Joe DiMaggio, asked what he calls his fishing boat: "The Yankee Clipper. What else?"