John Underwood's story about Adidas and Puma, which begins on page 14, divulges the huge sums paid by these rival German firms to Olympic athletes to wear their track shoes. It is the result of an extraordinarily painstaking investigation into how a sport was corrupted by maladministration. I think you will be interested in Underwood's terse jottings that describe the way he and Reporter Anita Verschoth opened the doors in Mexico, the U.S. and Germany:
Interest first aroused in Mexico City. Athletes were talking, mostly in whispers. Then wife of one of Puma reps gave me detailed account of cocktail party Puma threw during which two Americans asked for $12,000 apiece for switching to Puma. Figure seemed bit high, probably was, but she said it with considerable feeling, some indignation. Then I had long dinner chat with top athlete, 99% off the record. He outlined, more or less, the entire payoff system, not just with shoemakers but in amateur athletics in general.
Talked with other athletes, amazed how open they were. But nobody saying anything for publication yet. Called Anita in Los Angeles, thinking we'd need all ammunition we could get to confront Dasslers [owners of the two firms]. Anita didn't get just ammunition, she got arsenal. She found athletes almost eager to confess.
Wired ahead to let Puma-Adidas people know we were coming. Got chilly reply from Puma but agreed to meet us. Adidas more specific: would not see us at all unless we agreed article would deal exclusively with Adidas, and asked $25,000 as forfeit money if we violated agreement. Agreed to no such thing, of course, and went to Germany anyway.
March 10, 1969
Called Horst Dassler of Adidas to tell him we were there, going to talk to Puma, wanted to talk to Adidas. Told him no way for us to agree to ground rules of wire. Told him we were not out to crucify anybody but to present situation as exists, hopefully to lead to solutions beneficial to all concerned. Horst agreed to meet with us, but held out little hope of seeing Adolf Dassler, his father, Adidas patriarch. Said would meet us at his plant outside Strasbourg, France. Told him we wanted to see original Adidas factory first. He said he would set up.
Met with Armin Dassler and another Puma exec at Puma. Big old building. When saw Adidas plants later, could easily tell contrast in success. At Puma, floors creaked. Armin said his father Rudolf was away at spa vacationing, probably, wouldn't see us anyway. Armin helpful, courteous, revealing to a point. Also nervous. Talked around payoffs. Agreed to second meeting.
Went to Adidas factory, could not raise anybody. Called Horst again. Went to factory next a.m. Nobody there. Adolf's big house on snow-crushed hill in back, behind factory. Went up and rang on chance. Maid said they were expecting us, ushered us in. Warmest reception of trip. Adolf's son-in-law Alfred Bente came, began to talk generalities. Told him (through Anita, who handled translations throughout) would be shame if came all this way and did not see Adolf. Asked if we might say hello. Adolf appeared almost immediately, as if behind curtain waiting for cue. Wife K√§the came. Daughters came. Other sons-in-law came. Before long, all engaged in amiable, round-table discussion. Bente showed us factory. Everything streamlined, no creaking floors.
Eventually, Puma's Rudolf returned from vacation. We called to see if we could meet. His terms were we were not to ask certain things. Met anyway. Lawyer sat right there, taking notes. Sparred awhile. Told Rudolf wasting my time and his if we could not get into specifics.
Flew from N√ºrnberg to Frankfurt. Drove to Strasbourg. Left Strasbourg for Landersheim in big snowstorm. Slipped and slid down series of narrow roads. Horst has better grasp on situation than anybody. Like athletes, seemed eager to get things off his chest. His admissions not entirely altruistic, obviously, but reflect general feeling of desired reform. Certainly a far cry from first wire demanding indemnity. Probably knew we had goods from American contacts. Have to think when story comes out there will be long sigh of at-last-it's-over relief from both brothers, and from more than a few athletes. Am now keenly aware of people's shoes. Them stripes do stand out.