Search

NO BIRD, NO PLANE, JUST SUPERJACK

May 10, 1971
May 10, 1971

Table of Contents
May 10, 1971

Yesterday
Missing Data
  • This splendid redundancy was all that past performance charts had to say about the last three races of Venezuela's Canonero II, who made America's classic contenders look like Percherons as he rounded a jampacked field to score a stunning upset in the Kentucky Derby

Choosy Doozy
Only One Hand
Superjack
Baseball
Hockey
Pro Football
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

NO BIRD, NO PLANE, JUST SUPERJACK

As president of the Amateur Athletic Union, Jack Kelly is determined to leap tall traditions in a single bound

In no particular order, Jack Kelly Jr. is president of John B. Kelly, Inc., the brickwork company his dad founded; a Philadelphia city councilman-at-large; co-chairman of the Non-Partisan Register & Vote Campaign; director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the Paramount Life Insurance Company; member of the board of the Hero Scholarship Fund, Americans for the Competitive Enterprise System and the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen; president of the AAU; and brother of Princess Grace.

This is an article from the May 10, 1971 issue Original Layout

Kelly's mother says Kelly is so involved because "he doesn't know how to say no." And that he is "naive." And that since his father died he has spread himself around like syrup.

Kelly, who is 43, says that's not entirely true. He actually said no just the other day. He declined an offer to be the chairman of a fund-raising dinner for the National Jewish Hospital At Denver. He says the request wasn't as farfetched as it seemed. He had ridden by the hospital once on a skiing trip.

There were, of course, no ethnic implications in the refusal. In point of fact, the Philadelphia Athletic Club, where he works out, and of which he is, well, president, if you must pin it down—all right, and half-owner—is 80% Jewish. And he was chairman of the rowing committee at the Maccabiah Games and won the Philadelphia Zionist Award in 1964. "Actually, some of my best friends are Gentiles," says Kelly.

No, he says, he turned down the National Jewish Hospital because there was just too much on him now that he had accepted the responsibility of this AAU thing, and his mother was giving him a lot of heat because he wasn't spending enough time at the office.

Also, Kelly says, his mother was at a standing simmer over his active participation in Philadelphia night life, as limited as that is. Separated from his wife and six children for three years, Kelly was recently called a "playboy" by the mayor of Philadelphia in the public prints. His mother said he earned it.

One might say he earned the presidency of the AAU the hard way. In San Francisco last December, when he was elected, he showed up at the inaugural banquet at the Sheraton-Palace with a red, yellow and blue T shirt under his tuxedo and a plan. A column by Wells Twombly in the Examiner had characterized him as Clark Kent come to "save amateur athletics from Queen Victoria and Benjamin Disraeli"—the man to carry the AAU out of the 19th century, out of the darkness and into the light. Kelly had enjoyed the image. He does, in fact, look like Clark Kent.

At the moment of his introduction, Kelly ripped off his tuxedo jacket and dress shirt to reveal...Superman! A nervous twitter spread through the ballroom. "I tried to rent a telephone booth to put up on the rostrum," says Kelly, "but there wasn't time."

It was also late in the evening. The stories of Kelly's speech, prepared and distributed earlier, were already written and his theatrics went unrecorded.

Kelly's inauguration speech—he called it "No Guts, No Glory," after the mountain climbers' motto—was a compression of the heresies he had begun to espouse in the days before the election. (His election was supposed to have been a foregone conclusion. He was the first vice-president to Jesse Pardue, the outgoing president, and therefore next in line. But there was no clear-cut mandate. He could have blown it.) The speech has now become a continuing monologue, delivered in that prerecorded, take-a-letter-please voice of his, and he is prepared to extend it over the next two years or until there is no one left who hasn't heard it.

Kelly opened fire the moment he hit San Francisco. He spoke of the crying need for "change," for "relevancy," for "evolution." He said the amateur code was archaic, that a new definition was needed. He attacked the hypocrisies and inconsistencies that force athletes to grub, lie, cheat and steal while their officials ride first-class. He even spoke of sitting down with the lion, Walter Byers, executive director of the NCAA. And he said the Amateur Athletic Union should be renamed the "American Athletic Union" because amateur had become a synonym for ineptness. Kelly was unanimously elected.

"A calculated risk," he says reflectively.

Jack Kelly's father was the last of 10 children of an Irish immigrant family that settled in Philadelphia before the turn of the century. He was, by any standard, an exceptional man. He left school after the eighth grade, but from a post-World War I working capital of $16 he made "Kelly for Brickwork" a million-dollar operation and a household slogan in Philadelphia. For that he was appreciative. He carried on a love affair with the city, and though his monetary worth was always exaggerated—he left a $1.3 million estate in 1960—he was a man of considerable civic clout. The Playhouse in the Park was his project as was the huge Kelly Pool next to Memorial Hall. He nearly was elected mayor in 1935.

Jack Sr. was an accomplished all-round athlete—boxer, swimmer, squash player—but as a rower he could not be improved upon. He could, however, be offended. He went to England in 1920 to enter the Diamond Sculls of the Henley Regatta, and was told, "Sir, you may not enter the Diamond Sculls. You work with your hands." The opprobrium at Henley still stinging his ears, Kelly won the singles sculls gold medal in the 1920 Olympics at Antwerp. The Diamond winner was second. Kelly also took the doubles, with his cousin, Paul Costello. Shortly thereafter a package arrived at Buckingham Palace for King George V. It contained one Kelly-green rowing cap, slightly used, and a note: "Greetings from a bricklayer."

Kelly retired in 1926 and awaited the son who would allow him to unstuff the shirts at Henley. "There was never any doubt what Big Jack wanted," says Mrs. Margaret Kelly. "He always said he would have a son to make the Diamond Sculls."

The union of Jack Kelly Sr. and Margaret Majer, whom he met at a Philadelphia swimming pool and who was herself an athlete and a cover girl, produced four children: three extremely pretty girls, Peggy, Grace and Lizann, who is married to a horse trainer named Don LeVine, and an all-American boy, Jack Jr.

By the time he was six, Jack Jr. was out on the Schuylkill, in his father's shell. Almost on schedule Jack Jr. won the Diamond Sculls in 1947. (He had lost in his first attempt the year before and was so humiliated he didn't want to come home, knowing how much it meant to his father.) When he stood up to be photographed with the trophy, he was wearing a Kelly-green rowing cap. He was booed. Jack Sr. called it a "triumph over snobbery."

The son became, in every respect, an extension of the father. He didn't just follow in his father's footsteps, he eagerly ran after them, trying each one on for size. "He was a very easy boy to raise," says his mother.

He was easy because, unlike most kids, Jack Jr. did not suffer the adolescent interval of misprizing his father. His father was, after all, smarter, as any fool could plainly see. When Junior showed signs of becoming a pretty good football player (he was all-league center at Penn Charter), Senior chased him back to the river. " 'Look,' he told me," Jack Jr. recalls, " 'you're nearsighted. You're color-blind. You've got flat feet. What would you rather be, the 100th best football player in Philadelphia or the No. 1 rower?' "

From that day on they couldn't drag him off the river. When he lost in the semifinals of the 1948 Olympics, he had to be carried from the boat. ("The fact that I never won an Olympic gold medal is still one of my hang-ups," he says, "and a failure my father's contemporaries won't let me forget.") The morning after Grace married Prince Rainier in Monaco, Jack Jr. was out on the Mediterranean at seven o'clock, in a "Kelly for Brickwork" T shirt, rowing.

His father suggested he learn to box. "Good training," he said. At 180 pounds Jack Jr. won the heavyweight championship of the Bainbridge (Md.) Naval Station and the intramural championship at the University of Pennsylvania.

His father, who had been in the ambulance corps in World War I, stressed patriotism. Jack Jr. punished himself to get into the Navy, walking on rollers to elevate his flat feet, eating carrots for his failing eyes. "I would have done anything not to be classified 4-F," he says. He would have been anyway if strings hadn't been pulled. "I became the blindest ensign in the Navy," says Jack Jr.

His father wanted him to know the family business from the bottom. Jack Jr. worked on construction jobs in tenements and he won a brick-laying contest and the silver trowel that went with it. (The runner-up protested, with a dark hint of nepotism.) His father impressed on him the value of social and civic involvement; Jack Jr. began to spread himself around. "I could no more divest myself of my Philadelphianess," he says, "than I could zip out of my skin."

Until 1960, when Jack Sr. died, his influence on the son was total. Because Jack Jr. didn't seem to chafe under it didn't make it less real. Sometimes the effect was subtle. There is, today, an almost neurotic neatness to Jack Jr.—his dress (conservative, leaning to browns); the close, careful cropping of his hair; the well-ordered budgeting of his time; the precise piles he makes of things (papers on his desk, magazines in his apartment). A man having breakfast at the Kelly penthouse can't lay a spoon aside without having Jack grab it up for the dishwasher.

Sister Peggy sees their father in this. She recalls a time in Ocean City, N.J., where the family had a summer house. Father patrolled the beach in a pith helmet. He was legendary for the tidiness of his stretch of sand. When boyfriends came around to see the Kelly sisters, the old man passed out rakes. "We had the best-groomed beach in town," says Peggy.

"My father was a tough act to follow," Jack Kelly says. "Big, strong guy, fine looking, eminently successful. There was always pressure to excel, to keep up. I have been competing with him all my life. Living in his shadow made losing harder when I lost, which admittedly wasn't very often, because I was humiliated for both of us.

"But look at it another way. I had a readymade business to step into. Doors were opened. I had an opportunity, and an influence, that helped me excel in athletics, and my athletics opened doors, too. That's contrary to the definition of true amateurism, of course, so I'm guilty of not being a true amateur.

"Sometimes now I wish for a quieter life. There are many obligations being the only son of a man like that and it is left to me to fill them. But the wish doesn't last long. I really enjoy the go, go. I can't sit and watch television for hours. I can't wait for a head cold to get better—I think I've had one half-day of sickness, where I had to stay in bed, since 1954. I just go around spreading germs."

Now that Jack Jr. has begun to demonstrate that he is not his father, those around him are somewhat disappointed. To explain this is to explain his unique position as a Kelly.

A number of remarkable traits emerge after prolonged exposure to the Kellys. They are, to begin with, attractive. With the possible, and predictable, exception of Grace, they have no gift for pretension. They strive to be thought of as down to earth. "I have been very careful not to do things to create criticism," says Jack Jr. "I can't have people say I'm a conceited s.o.b."

Second, and most surprising in view of their having been prominent for so long, the Kellys are almost embarrassingly candid—again, with the possible and predictable exception of Grace. The personal laundry goes on the line almost the moment communication is established. Grace, whose exposure has been so much greater, tries harder to stay aloof. "I could never understand my father, letting photographers take pictures of him shaving in the bathroom," she said the other day, while doing needlepoint in a sitting room of her 200-room, 700-year-old castle. "Kell's the same way."

All the sisters, and the mother, tell young Jack Kelly Jr. stories with pride and affection. The adult Jack Kelly Jr. does not always get such kindly treatment. The women are unanimously unhappy with his broken marriage. His wife, the former Mary Freeman, is a swimmer. They met at the 1952 Olympics, got married in 1954, had five daughters and a son and carved out separate lives for themselves, Mary in various Philadelphia swimming programs, Kelly in everything. ("They never had a meal together," says Grace. "He'd be off making a speech, and she'd be holding swimming lessons.")

But these are a social people, and they know marriages have a way of going bad—Peggy herself has failed twice—so their disapproval is deeper than that. It seems, rather, that they watch Kelly plowing the ground his father broke and, knowing that they are watching an understudy in the star's role, it unnerves them that he is not his father. Or that he may even be rebelling at this late date.

Here is Grace: "Kell never had to grow up.... He's naive...confuses attention for loyalty...tries too hard to make people like him...and doesn't have father's toughness...his sense of humor...his resilience."

"Part of it is excessive ego," says his mother. "Big Jack had it, it's part of Kell. Men who achieve often have that kind of ego. But Big Jack was more practiced in handling it. He got his the hard way. Kell never had to work hard for his bread and butter and his gin and tonic. He had it land in front of him. He picked it up, all right, but it was there. I think Kell gets his ego flattered too often. I don't think he realizes how far afield it takes him. Friends capture his ear. A little water, a little oil, and he says, 'Sure, I'll do it.' Fortunately, he can do more work in a day than any three men, but there's a limit. There is a limit.

"Since his father died there has definitely been less order in his life. I often tell him, 'Grow up, Kell.' I'd like to see him cut 50% of his activities out of his life. And I'd really like to see him get his big toe out of politics. It serves absolutely no purpose, only to feed his ego. He's simply not tough enough for politics. He can't say no.

"I don't say the influence of Big Jack was always good for Kell. I often told Jack that he leaned too hard on the boy. He trained him too hard for the Olympics, trained him too fine, and it hurt Kell.

"But now that Big Jack's not around anymore...."

Each Christmas, under the headline DECKING THE HALL, the Philadelphia Dispatch runs a gift list for the prominent public servants of Philadelphia—gifts it would give them if it could. For Jack Kelly one year the list stated: "Nothing. He's got it all."

"All," or most of it, can be seen from the Kelly penthouse in The Plaza off the Ben Franklin Parkway. The view from there is enough to make a man believe Philadelphia is worth saving. The Schuylkill River coils below, on its banks spidery cherry trees bend toward the water on which Jack Jr. expended so much amateur sweat, and down a way, along Boathouse Row, stands the Vesper Boat Club which he—as his father's successor—patronizes to the tune of $15,000 a year. This keeps it solvent and heated. One can also see, on the east bank of the Schuylkill, the bronze statue (on a brick pedestal) of Jack Sr., hunched over the oars of his racing shell.

The penthouse is lavish, with shag rugs combed up high. Plaques and bowls and mugs—the spoils of Jack Jr.'s rowing campaigns—line the shelves, together with books about rowing. Everywhere—even in the bathrooms—are rowing prints, and in one bedroom the prow of the boat in which Kelly won the Diamond Sculls juts from the wall like the head of a trophy crocodile.

Kelly's day begins here with a breakfast of V-8, pineapple yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, two vitamin pills—and a three-mile jog to Boathouse Row and back. By bedtime, he would, on a normal day, have addressed an 8:30 class at a local high school; done some phoning and dictating at both City Hall and John B. Kelly, Inc.; visited a construction job; been filmed rowing on the Schuylkill for the opening scene of a movie called Philadelphia Here I Come; attended a reception for Red Smith, the sportswriter, and a funeral for a union executive; secured a line of credit for a real-estate deal; and had a swim, steam bath and rubdown at the Philadelphia AC. Then there would be time enough back at the penthouse to entertain, say, 20 or 30 members of the cast of the Ice Follies, or to pick up his date and catch the Flyers vs. the Rangers at The Spectrum.

The hours Kelly spends at City Hall are perhaps not as gratifying. As a councilman-at-large he draws $18,000 a year mostly to say, "Mr. Chairman, I have no bills or new resolutions to offer at this time." In political circles he is considered "not worth owning."

He is more in his milieu at the Vesper Boat Club, which he often visits to check over equipment, relive some of the glories pictured on the walls and ask that the heat be turned down. ("Gee, it's hot in here, you guys, and my heating bill is running $200 a month.") He figures the club gives him a nice return on his patronage and he is proud that since he took over from his father, the victories which Vesper has achieved—six national championships and the 1964 Olympic gold in the eight-oared shell—far outstripped what came before. "In a way, it's competing against my father again," he says. "I like to think I've won this one."

THREE PHOTOSRIPPING OFF DRESS SHIRT, KELLY SHOWS TRUE COLORS AT INAUGURATION BANQUET IN SAN FRANCISCOTWO PHOTOSLIFE WITH FATHER, at age eight, meant being out on the Schuylkill, learning to row in a double scull. Nine years later Kelly got a prerace handshake from 15-year-old sister Grace.

JACK KELLY SPEAKS OUT ON SHAMATEURISM

In its present form the amateur code makes hypocrites and cheaters out of amateur athletes. Take as an example two gymnasts at a university doing the same job. One is listed as a coach, the other as a phys ed instructor. The coach is a professional; he can't compete in amateur athletics. A "phys ed instructor" can still compete as an amateur.

Now, here's a college swimmer employed at a country club as a lifeguard. He teaches some of the members, coaches the club team. That would make him a professional by our archaic rules, so his coach tells him, "Be sure they list you as a lifeguard." In short: "Misrepresent yourself."

If all the violators of the amateur code were prosecuted, there wouldn't be an amateur left, except maybe Mr. Avery Brundage. One rule says you can't profit directly or indirectly from your sport. Ridiculous. You can't avoid it. Rowing is as pure a sport as there is but I know oarsmen use their contacts—to sell insurance, to hustle an automobile.

Rules that forbid an athlete from having sponsors are unenforceable. Peggy Fleming was a top figure skater, but without the financial support of her club she couldn't have stood the cost of competing. And her amateur success was used as a springboard to professional contracts. Almost every amateur boxer, virtually every basketball player at the Olympic level has the same idea. They're looking to cash in, and for very good reasons.

So many rules. Our Olympic Committee, according to an international rule, can't include a professional coach. We ignore it. One rule change we have submitted to the IAAF would allow a professional in one sport to compete as an amateur in another (SI, April 26). I don't think playing professional football has made Bob Hayes a faster "amateur" runner. He gets banged pretty hard.

Richie Ashburn was a fine sprinter, but he signed a baseball contract with the Phillies because the money was important to him. He gave up an Olympic career. No decision like that should be necessary. I'd like to have seen Wilt Chamberlain in the decathlon. Chuck Bednarik could have thrown the discus out of the stadium.

So many stupid rules. As a rower you can't be a boatbuilder, but it was O.K. for Phillips to have an amateur basketball team and call it the 66ers, and it's all right for people to run around with YORK BARBELLS across their chests. There's a rule that says you can play against a professional team in an exhibition without it affecting your amateur status. But if you play on a team with a professional, you become one.

Some of these rules are laid down by the international federations and we can't change them unilaterally. But we can certainly change many of our own AAU rules that are inconsistent with reality, and we are attempting to do so.

Don't misunderstand me. We have people in amateur sport who are not as pure as they profess. The Communists have their state-paid athletes, but we have our scholarships and we don't get much sympathy from countries who see us trading on these kids' athletic ability. I'm not knocking the scholarship program, I'm just saying we're inconsistent.

I don't advocate less subsidizing of athletes, I advocate more. I feel if a boss isn't generous enough to pay a man when he's competing, say, in the Olympic Games, there should be some contingency fund so the man wouldn't lose money.

Today you have to work so hard to succeed in sports that your opportunity to make a living or stay in school is often impaired. So we have a choice: crack down on many of the other nations or help our athletes. I prefer to help the athletes because I prefer a high level of sport.

I see a spirit of change. I think today the AAU presents a younger image, more advanced thinking. I find myself in sympathy with virtually all the demands Hal Connolly and the athletes [United Amateur Athletes] recently made. I think young athletes will realize we are sympathetic, and I don't believe they did before.

The challenge of the NCAA has been good for us. It made us tougher. We're doing a more efficient job. We haven't settled the feud with the NCAA, but I think it can be settled. Before, there were some antagonistic personalities involved: Don Hull, Pinky Sober, Dan Ferris and several others who were thorns in the sides of the NCAA people. On the other hand, Mr. Walter Byers has been our special thorn. He seems dedicated to destroying the AAU, and it's unfortunate that a man who wields the power he does should feel that way.

If I have to, I'll go directly to Mr. Byers to settle this dispute. I'm going to put the monkey on the NCAA's back, make it known that since we've done the things they demanded in the beginning, what is it they want now? Or is it really their desire to take over all amateur sport?

My hope is that the real hierarchy of the NCAA, the college presidents and the coaches, will realize that the kids are in the middle. It's up to us to get them out.