In the wake of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, President Carter warned last week that "continued aggressive actions" by the U.S.S.R. could force the U.S. to withdraw from the Summer Olympics in Moscow. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia said it was pulling out of the Summer Games, and calls for a boycott were heard in Britain and West Germany. Alarmed by all this, Olympic officials and would-be participants argued, predictably, that the Olympics were "above politics" and that "the athletes come first."
These outright objections to a boycott seem lame. As long as Olympians compete as members of national teams, attended by flags, anthems and other nationalistic trappings, the Olympics will never be above politics. Unmistakably political, too, are the Soviet Union's efforts to turn the '80 Games into a showcase for its system. And lamentable though a boycott would be for the athletes, the fact remains that world strife invariably causes hardships, often of a far more onerous nature. Nor should anybody discount the possibility that in combination with other actions, a boycott could have considerable impact on the Kremlin. Although the Olympics might well go on even in the face of a large-scale walkout, the Soviets would scarcely relish seeing their long-envisioned moment in the sun thereby clouded over.
Still, it is not being maudlin to suggest that the Olympics, politicized (and commercialized) though they may be, are special. They produce stirring, even elevating, human achievements that, unlike even the most enduring sonnet, are enjoyed en masse, transforming their vast audience into something akin to a world community. Far from being a single, isolated event, they also are the culmination of years of aspiration and effort by athletes everywhere. A cancellation or serious diminution of the Olympics would deprive the world of that at times transcendent culmination. Seen in this light, the Olympics are not "for" the Soviets; they are for everyone.
January 14, 1980
By stopping short of actually calling for a U.S. withdrawal from the Olympics, the President was, in a sense, acknowledging their value. If it appears that it might be awkward or dangerous for the U.S. to compete in Moscow or that a withdrawal might produce results that make such a step worthwhile, the U.S. will have plenty of time to act as the Games draw near. There is certainly no reason to rush.
Tony Thomas, a 20-year-old boxer, died last week in his native Spartanburg, S.C. of a brain injury similar to the one that caused the death of middleweight Willie Classen (SI, Dec. 10). Thomas, also a middleweight, had lapsed into a coma following a bout on Dec. 22 in Spartanburg against Sammy Home.
Thomas, who earned $50 for his night's work, had taken a standing eight count in the third round and was declared the loser when the referee stopped the fight in the fourth. He left the ring without assistance, but a short time later Home visited Thomas in his dressing room and, as he said later, he thought Thomas "wasn't acting right." According to the promoter, Don White, the three doctors in attendance had left by then. The stricken boxer was taken to Spartanburg General Hospital, where a neurosurgeon operated to remove a blood clot from the brain.
The state of South Carolina has no boxing commission or any laws governing the sport. Spartanburg County, in which the fight was held, does have a commission of sorts, but it doesn't require referees to be licensed or boxers to undergo prefight physicals. Thomas had listed his record as 6-2 before the Horne bout, but local boxing people said this was Thomas' first professional fight; White said he didn't know. White was uncertain about the identity of Thomas' cornermen for the fight, although he said an uncle had signed as Thomas' trainer.
Later White said, "He [Thomas] signed a release, and in his contract it says that he would be in good condition for the fight and did not have any injuries. Even if he had had a physical, I don't think it would have changed anything." Perhaps not, but as Classen's death also demonstrated, public officials should do far more to assure the safety of boxers. Allowing bouts to be conducted without regulation is inexcusable. Promoters are in business for profit and should not be relied upon to protect anyone's interest but their own.
A few days before play was to get under way in the 12-and-under division at the Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships in Coral Gables, Fla., tournament director Ellen de Tournillon received a telephone call at home from one of the entrants. The lad, a European, had just arrived at the airport with his mother and wanted to know why nobody was there to meet them. De Tournillon explained that the tournament couldn't possibly provide transportation and housing for all the players, something other entrants seemed to understand. Nonetheless, the youngster demanded free transportation, housing and meals. Relenting, de Tournillon picked up mother and child and booked a hotel room for them.
"He started out angry, and he stayed angry," says de Tournillon. "He is a very pushy and spoiled child, who complained about everything and caused a good deal of dissension and disturbance."
Twice the boy was booted off the courts for practicing while matches were being played on adjacent courts. The No. 10 seed in the boys' 12s, he was trailing seventh-seeded Nicholas Barone of Des Plaines, Ill. 6-4, 3-0 when he stormed off, claiming he had been cheated. When de Tournillon offered him a ride to the home at which by now she had arranged for him to stay, the boy blithely informed her that he and his mother had decided to remain at the hotel. Next morning he was scheduled to play a consolation match but left town without informing tournament officials.
And who, pray tell, is this little ray of sunshine? Why, Mihnea Nastase, 12-year-old nephew of the original.
Back when bowl games were fewer and played mostly on New Year's Day, Leo and Linda Speros would've been plain out of luck. But bowls are now played all over the country and the calendar, and the Speroses—he's a Potomac, Md. restaurateur and a onetime Maryland football player—managed last month to see their three sons appear in three different bowls. On Dec. 15 they watched 19-year-old George, a freshman linebacker, play for Temple in its 28-17 victory over California in the Garden State Bowl in East Rutherford, N.J. On Dec. 22 they were in Memphis where 18-year-old Peter, a freshman tackle for Penn State, suited up—but didn't play—in a 9-6 defeat of Tulane. And on Dec. 31 they were in Atlanta to catch Jimmy, 20, a junior guard, in action for Clemson in a 24-18 loss to Baylor.
The Speroses have no other sons (they do have four daughters), so on Jan. 1 they watched the Rose and Orange Bowls on TV at home, presumably with a slightly empty feeling.
A CASE OF NEGLECT
A lawsuit in Canada brought by former Vancouver Defenseman Mike Robitaille against the Canucks raises serious questions about medical practices in professional team sports. British Columbia Supreme Court Justice W. A. Esson found the Canucks guilty of negligence and ordered the club to pay Robitaille $348,000 in damages. In so doing, Esson cast in the harshest possible light the accepted notion that there is something valiant about an athlete playing while injured.
Robitaille, an Ontario native, signed an NHL contract and left home to play junior hockey at 14. According to Esson's "reasons for judgment," he soon began suffering attacks of anxiety and depression, which continued after he made the NHL, with the Rangers, in 1970. In September 1976 Robitaille, now with the Canucks, was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment but rejoined Vancouver early in the 1976-77 season. He promptly suffered a flare-up of an old shoulder injury, but the Canuck management, maintaining that it was "all in his head," insisted that he play or be suspended.
Robitaille played but complained increasingly of neck pains. Esson says that during a road trip that began on Jan. 1, 1977, Robitaille suffered "symptoms of spinal cord disorder" but was given only "cursory" examinations by New York and Atlanta team doctors and was pointedly ignored by Canuck doctors after suffering further injuries in a game in Vancouver on Jan. 12. Throughout, the Canucks treated him as a "persistent complainer with mental problems," Esson wrote in his judgment.
On Jan. 19, 1977 Robitaille took a hard check from Pittsburgh's Dennis Owchar. Esson recounts that the player was "dragged from the ice in a clumsy and reckless manner," which may have aggravated his injury, and that in the locker room a Canuck doctor, Michael Piper, told Robitaille, "Go home to bed and have a shot of Courvoisier." Robitaille wound up in the hospital the next day, and his problem eventually was diagnosed as a cervical cord contusion. Even then, Vancouver General Manager Phil Maloney called him a "con artist," while Piper warned that he would be traded unless he "got it together again."
Robitaille never played another game. Testimony was elicited that Robitaille, who is now 31, suffers from a permanent spinal cord injury that causes numbness and involuntary jerking of his arms and legs and impairs his sex life, his ability to drive a car and his prospects for holding on to his $12,000-a-year job as a machinery salesman. Esson awarded Robitaille $435,000 but reduced the award by 20%—to $348,000—on the grounds that Robitaille was guilty of contributory negligence because he might have sought out a private doctor or simply refused to play. But the judge also noted that pro athletes are generally discouraged from consulting doctors on their own and are under pressure to conform to "the ethic of not being a complainer." He further concluded that team doctors usually resolve doubts in favor of keeping players in the lineup and that the health of players tends to be subordinated to "the team's interests" when those two factors are in conflict. Had "reasonable attention" been paid to Robitaille's well-being, Esson said, the player might have been spared the injury that has left him permanently disabled.
COUNTDOWN TO A DEBACLE
Norway's Grete Waitz arrived at San Francisco's Cow Palace Friday night primed for a new conquest. As she carefully plotted it, she would run the 3,000 meters in the Runner's World Indoor Classic in 8:48, thereby obliterating Jan Merrill's world indoor mark of 8:57.6. And sure enough, she covered the first mile just as she had planned, in a swift 4:42.1, and she remained almost perfectly on pace thereafter. So Waitz was distraught and confused when, upon hitting the tape ahead of her eight rivals, Merrill among them, she saw the infield clock flashing a disappointing 9:15.
What evidently happened was that with three laps of the 160-yard track remaining, the lap counter neglected to flip his numbered cards, thus mistakenly indicating there were still four laps to go. As a result, Waitz wound up running an extra 160 yards. Two stopwatches caught her at 8:50.8 and 8:51, respectively, for the 3,000, but it was unclear whether a world record would be sanctioned. In any case, Waitz was unhappy. Reason: because she had been misled by the lap counter's error, she had saved her sprint for the superfluous extra lap. "If I can run 8:51 without a kick, I could run 8:48 with one," she said tearfully. "I care less about official acceptance [of the record] than about being denied the opportunity to do my best."
THEY SAID IT
•Willie Stargell, explaining why he didn't become a free agent: "You pull up an old tree from the ground and move it, say, to California, well, you can damage the roots."
•Chico Resch, the New York Islanders' loquacious goaltender: "If I wasn't talking, I wouldn't know what to say."
•Dewey Selmon, Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker, who is working on a Ph.D. in philosophy at Oklahoma: "Philosophy is just a hobby. You can't open up a philosophy factory."