One thing for sure," says Jack Scott, educator, sports activist and runaway, "everyone will think twice before hassling us now. I mean, I can't wait to meet Pete Rozelle and see that new look of respect when he knows that Patty Hearst and the SLA are behind us."
Scott, looking wan and about as violent as a kumquat, was back among the visible last week, alive and well enough to indulge in grim humor, a luxury he could ill afford while being sought for questioning by the FBI as the alleged protector of Patty Hearst. Indeed, the leading—and now the most notorious—champion of the radical sports movement knows all too well that there are more hassles ahead and they could be the most trying of his controversial career.
So here he is up from the underground, 33 and reed thin, reddish fringe beard and halo of thinning hair, looking for all the world like Mr. Peepers at a PTA meeting. But what happened to those sinister black shades? Who disguised that menacing shaved skull? "That picture," says Scott, referring to a wirephoto that accompanied such headlines as SCOTT: ARMED AND DANGEROUS, "set the tone for depicting us as crazed, gun-shooting nuts." The offending photo, he says, was taken in 1973. "I had shaved my head because of a bad scalp rash," he explains. "They must have 40 or 50 other pictures of me in a suit and tie but they picked that one I guess because they thought that's what a criminal should look like."
The photo only served to add to the mystery of the man. Syracuse University sprinter. Ramparts sportswriter. Ph. D. in higher education from Berkeley. Co-founder with wife Micki of the Institute for the Study of Sport and Society. Author of Athletics for Athletes and The Athletic Revolution. Oberlin College athletic director. Sponsor of Dave Meggyesy's Out of Their League, a condemnation of the evils of win-at-any-cost football. And most recently the houseguest and confidant of Bill Walton.
April 27, 1975
"It would be pretentious of us to speak of our work as anything but part of a long tradition," says Scott in a soft, almost somnolent way. Though he traces the origins as far back as a 1929 Carnegie Report, which decried the blatant commercialism in major college sports, what is known as the radical sports movement was inspired by the civil rights agitation of the mid-1960s, came thrusting to the fore with the Black Power salutes of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and was swept along in the subsequent tides of antiwar protests, the counter culture and Women's Liberation.
Scott began attracting attention after the 1968 Olympics by charging, with tongue firmly in cheek, that many authoritarian coaches "have problems with latent homosexuality." In such ponderous-sounding forums as Intercollegiate Athletics and Higher Education: A Socio-Psychological Evaluation, a course that Scott taught at Berkeley in 1970, he formalized his assault on organized sports as "one of the most conservative, narrow and encrusted segments of our society." In his writings he railed against payoffs and the "quasi-militaristic manner" of "racist, insensitive" coaches who rob sport of its "best justification—that it's fun to do."
Meggyesy, a former Syracuse star lineman who quit the St. Louis Cardinals to huddle with Scott for four months and complete Out of Their League, weighed in with a virulent insider's attack on the "dehumanizing conditions" and "violence and sadism" of big-time football. The controversy stirred by the Meggyesy broadside in 1970 loosed in turn a salvo of similar books, for example, Vince Matthews' My Race Be Won and Paul Hoch's Rip-off the Big Game. "Until that time," says Scott, "the only athletes who wrote about sport were those who had gotten the best out of the system and were prone to be adulatory. It was like Rockefeller trying to take a hard look at America."
Scott's Oakland apartment soon became a kind of halfway house for disenchanted athletes. Chip Oliver, who split from the Oakland Raiders to write High for the Game, a drug-oriented account of his brief, spaced-out fling in the NFL, passed through. So did George Sauer Jr., the gifted wide receiver who left the New York Jets in 1971 at the peak of his powers because, as he stated in a release he prepared with Scott, the system was designed "to keep players in a prolonged state of adolescence."
That gave Scott a reputation as the coach of the cop-outs. Still trying to shake the tag, he says that Meggyesy and Sauer made up their own minds to quit while Oliver dropped out and wrote his book long before he met him. "Somehow everyone thinks that we're trying to convince people to quit," says Scott, "but in fact the whole thrust of our work is for people to be allowed to participate in sports. After all, you can't change a system by leaving it."
Nor can you walk right in and start radicalizing. The growing acceptance of many of Scott's theories was borne out in 1971 when the University of Washington offered him an assistant professorship in women's physical education. However, fear of his possible destructive influence prevailed. Under heavy pressure from the faculty, the school withdrew the bid. Scott sued and settled out of court for $10,500.
"Instead of always tearing things down," Scott was told frequently, "why don't you try to build something?" He got precisely that opportunity in 1972 when, through the efforts of its young, progressive president, Robert Fuller, Oberlin appointed Scott athletic director. A small (enrollment: 2,700) liberal arts and music institution on the plains of Ohio, Oberlin seemed a fittingly open setting for Scott to put his words to work. True, J.W. Heisman of Heisman Trophy fame coached there (1892 and 1894), but the school was prouder of the fact that it was one of the first white colleges to admit blacks (1835) and the first to admit women (1837). Scott figured he could find a home at a school that had nurtured a radical young head like Rennie Davis.
He was wrong. Partly through Scott's urging, four of his 14 staffers resigned. Scott hired blacks—Tommie Smith as track coach, Pat Penn for basketball and Cass Jackson to head up the football program—and added classes in Sports and the Mass Media and Body-Mind Unity through Gymnastics. According to Scott, "All of a sudden people were in a panic." In May 1973 a list of complaints about his department, signed by 216 athletes and phys ed students, was published in the campus paper. By January of last year, 18 months after he took command, Scott found himself fighting dismissal and settled for $42,000 on the remainder of his four-year contract.
What happened? Some Oberlin critics told SI Writer-Reporter Jim Kaplan that many of Scott's programs were not without merit but he alienated potential converts by his authoritarian ways—exactly the Lombardi approach to sports he has so long decried. If someone disagreed with him, it became not a question of discussion but of loyalty. They claim Scott even resorted to physical and economic threats to achieve his goals. "Scott encouraged the removal of members of the faculty because of ideology," says Larry Shinn, head of the Athletic Advisory Committee. "We have tenure to protect against such tactics. This is where the rhetoric of the athletic revolution has no meaning—in his actions."
Others chastise Scott for having a letter published in an education journal that accused one of the Oberlin deans of being a racist. They also charge that his free use of other inflammatory words, like "sexist," helped divide the women and the blacks, and that he got the honors for introducing women to the cross-country and swimming teams and increasing the women's sports budget when these things were accomplished largely without his influence. Overall, some faculty members criticize Scott's lack of administrative experience (the phys ed department has been left in a shambles as respected coach-professors have departed) and deplore the fact that Scott did not have a phys ed degree. "That's like appointing a guy who has just written a book of poetry the head of the English department," says Swimming and Cross-country Coach Dick Michaels.
Tommie Smith is now a wistful figure, living with his 7-year-old son in campus housing, making $14,999 a year as the unwilling interim athletic director and spending at least $1,000 on babysitters. He is ineffective, overworked and disappointed by Oberlin's de-emphasis of intercollegiate sports. "My philosophy of athletics and Oberlin's are different," he says. "I look on sport as a Porsche. The school looks on it as a Volkswagen."
The current head of the phys ed department, Ruth Brunner, sums up the discontent at Oberlin: "Jack Scott wanted revolution instead of evolution."
The litany of complaints, both substantial and petty, goes on. But so does Scott's reply. Of his lack of a phys ed degree, for instance, he says, "Some people will say that's a plus instead of a minus. The reason I wrote the letter about the dean is because he accused Tommie and Cass in the same journal of being coaches and not educators, stereotype thinking about blacks. If someone else wants to take credit for policies I've been advocating for years, be my guest. Considering the opposition, it was a miracle we accomplished anything. Think how successful Lombardi would have been with a team of Meggyesys and Sauers."
In recent months Scott has found himself facing even tougher opposition: the FBI. Suspected of having harbored Patty Hearst, the Scotts refused to be interrogated and went into hiding seven weeks ago. Today Scott says the information linking him to the case was sold to the FBI by his older brother Walter, an ex-marine. Still vowing "total noncooperation," the Scotts have not been indicted, reportedly because the FBI is still building its case against them. That leaves the couple hanging and the radical sports movement looking for its second wind. Scott, the eye of his own hurricane, professes that he cannot see the trends for the turmoil.
The fact that Chip Oliver attempted an unsuccessful comeback with the Raiders four years ago ("He'd lost so much coordination it was pathetic," says one Oakland coach), and that Sauer, after spending one season at Oberlin as an assistant coach, returned to play with the Charlotte Hornets in the WFL last season, would seem to indicate some shift of conviction. That, together with Scott's premature departure from Oberlin and his current notoriety, can only add up to a minus for the movement.
Perhaps Meggyesy, now living in one of the 10 houses in Mayday, Colo., an old gold-mining town high in the Rockies where the FBI has twice visited him, offers the best status report. "The athletic movement is not dead," he says, "but it is in a period of gestation." Meggyesy works as a carpenter, skis and sometimes must use food stamps; last spring he applied for a coaching job at Fort Lewis College but was turned down because he is not a certified teacher. He says, "Looking back, it's hard for me to say if my book made an impression. But it allowed the athletes and sportswriters to be more expressive and coaches to be more progressive. I definitely believe it has worked toward changing the system. But on the other hand the system feels put upon and begins to react. Now some things are 10 times more repressive."
Gary Shaw, author of Meat on the Hoof, a scathing look at football at Texas, says that he has not had much contact with Scott (who acted as his agent for a 15% cut) since they sold the hardback rights to his book for $2,000 and the paperback for $92,500. "I didn't like the impression a lot of people got that he helped me put Meat on the Hoof together," says Shaw, "or that I wrote it under his direction. I like Jack but I don't want to be lumped into his group of athletic radicals. I have my own view of things and I don't want anyone else to represent them for me."
There are always new friends to be made and one of Scott's closest these days is Bill Walton. The Portland Trail Blazers' injury-plagued center denies that Scott had anything to do with the controversial statement he made at Scott's press conference in San Francisco two weeks ago. Walton says that he did not see Scott until a few minutes before the session and that he called the FBI the "enemy" because "they'd been going around saying what they think of me so I thought it was my turn to tell them what kind of people I think they are." He adds that "Jack's the most beautiful guy I ever met. He's the major reason I did not quit this season."
At the moment Scott can use all the backing and bolstering he can find, and Harry Edwards, the black activist who was one of the early leaders of the radical sports movement, is willing to oblige. "I hope Jack Scott is ready for the struggle," he says. "I know what struggle is, I've been there, but his will be more intense and he will have more problems. I hope he is bright enough to handle it, to recognize that a few casualties do not mean the loss of the war."
Scott believes he is prepared. "Remember," he said last week, "some of the best writing in this country—Thoreau, George Jackson, Angela Davis—has come out of jails. If necessary, I only hope I can live up to that tradition."