QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Lord Killanin, the president of the International Olympic Committee, was asked the other day whether there was a possibility that the country which invaded Afghanistan might possibly use the Summer Olympics for propaganda purposes. Killanin replied that he didn't think so because "if they did, they could be in breach of [IOC] rules."
LET IT SNOW
SI's Brooks Clark reports from Lake Placid, N.Y.: "There's a large wooden sign on Main Street here reading IT'S NO MIRACLE—IT'S REAL SNOW! Well, there has been snow this winter on Whiteface Mountain and on some cross-country ski trails all right, but until now it has been mostly machine-made. The other day, with barely two weeks to go till the opening ceremonies, honest-to-goodness snow fell—five inches of it—easing fears among members of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee (LPOOC) that some events of the Winter Olympics might have to be held elsewhere. That sign on Main Street notwithstanding, the real snow did seem rather like a miracle.
"The need now is for similar divine intervention to help unload the 135,000 tickets for Olympic events (out of 550,000 total) that remain unsold. To be sure, ever since the LPOOC set aside tickets for tour operators, it has said it was sold out, apparently on the principle of 'out of sight, out of mind.' The illusion was shattered when the tour operators had trouble selling their Olympic packages. They claim to have been hurt by stories that visitors to Lake Placid during the Olympics would encounter monstrous traffic jams and a shortage of restaurants, motel rooms and toilets.
"In an effort to dispel the specter of impending disaster, one LPOOC official, Kevin McHale, says of Lake Placid's ability to handle visitors, 'It's the same as when 90,000 people descend on Norman, Okla. in the fall. It seems impossible, but it works.' Fears about a shortage of rooms, anyway, seem unwarranted. Tour operators generally have motel rooms to go with their tickets and there are indications that the superinflated rental market may degenerate into a last-minute fire sale. David Stalker, for instance, has been reduced to advertising a mobile home for the 13-day Games at the bargain-basement price of a suite at the Waldorf—$2,500 'or best offer.'
"Some local merchants complain that along with an absence of snow, promotional blunders by the LPOOC have resulted in disappointing pre-Olympic business. They point in particular to a poorly attended hockey tournament in December advertised by posters neglecting to mention that Canada was playing the Soviet Union. But then, Lake Placid's organizers have never claimed to be slick. On the contrary, they have represented themselves all along as lovable country folk, staging what Press Director Ed Lewi continues to call 'an Olympics in perspective, an Olympics of a small community.' And indeed, there is a certain quaintness in the fact that the Olympic speed-skating oval is situated on the football field at Lake Placid Central High and that the liquor store across the street—identified simply as 'Liquor Store'—has a sign in the window, COME IN, WE SPEAK OLYMPIC.
"While there are rumors that Lake Placid is going to take a financial bath, even the LPOOC's sternest critics agree that General Manager Petr Spurney has done a good job of keeping his operation afloat—so far. Of course, politics have a way of intruding. Last week Liang Ren-Guey, a cross-country skier on the Republic of China's team, filed suit in New York State Supreme Court to halt the Games on the grounds that he and his 17 teammates have been wronged by an International Olympic Committee ruling that they must compete under the name of 'China Taipei' and refrain from using their own flag and anthem. And three days before the Games begin, the IOC will meet in Lake Placid and discuss whether to move the Moscow Summer Games. An advance party of several U.S.S.R. officials has been staying under tight security in Lake Placid for some time now, preparing for the arrival of their athletes, who, as far as anyone knows, will compete in the Winter Games. It remains to be seen whether anybody will speak Olympic to them."
DEFENDING THE DEFENSELESS
Not long ago, in The New Yorker, Faith McNulty wrote that the manatee may be "the only example of a higher mammal that lives its life virtually without aggression toward its own species or any other.... The manatee is a mammal, like us. It has a brain and a nervous system much like ours, but one characteristic so fatally pervasive in the rest of the animal world has somehow been bred out of it. The manatee will not fight, even to protect itself or to save its young. It injures no other vertebrate creature. Surely there is some use in contemplating this uniquely blameless life."
Because of the qualities described by McNulty, the manatee is in trouble. The animal is on the federal endangered-species list and its U.S. population, which is confined mostly to Florida, is fewer than 1,000. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warns that its numbers may well be declining.
Ungainly in appearance, with a seal-like body and a broad horizontal tail, a mature manatee can be eight to 12 feet long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Its diet consists of underwater plants; manatees are the only water-bound herbivores extant. Because of their acute sensitivity to the cold, these gentle, lumpish creatures rarely venture north of Florida's "warm rivers, canals and, occasionally, offshore waters. And because they are mammals, they bob to the surface to breathe. It is then that they meet up with their principal "predators": man and boats. It is estimated that at least 80% of the manatees in Florida bear the scars of encounters with propeller blades.
Florida is making a serious effort to defend its official state marine mammal. It annually promotes a "Manatee Awareness Week" and has imposed strict boating speed limits in waters in which manatees gather. Florida law provides for up to a year in prison and a hefty fine for willful injury to a manatee. Lauding such stiff measures, The Miami Herald recently editorialized, "[Manatees] are friendly and curious and harmless and defenseless. They swim languidly to welcome any creature or thing that enters their watery world.... Though manatees are not good for much, they are good."
The trouble in the now-infamous Dec. 23 game began when the New York Rangers' Ulf Nilsson tripped the Boston Bruins' Al Secord, an infraction ignored by Referee Gregg Madill. Secord then got even by tripping Nilsson as the game ended (Boston won 4-3), an offense also ignored by Madill. At that, the Rangers' John Davidson charged into a crowd of Bruins, touching off a five-minute melee that spilled into a corner of the Madison Square Garden rink close to taunting, debris-throwing fans: Owing to Madill's slowness to send players to their locker rooms and a failure by security officers to cordon off the players from the fans, one spectator was able to take a poke at Bruin Stan Jonathan and grab his stick. Thereupon several Boston players stormed into the stands to battle the paying customers.
Last week NHL President John Ziegler finally handed down his long-awaited verdict on the 33-day-old incident. Ziegler meted out the harshest discipline against a team in NHL history, suspending the Bruins' Terry O'Reilly for eight games and teammates Peter McNab and Mike Milbury for six each. Those three also were fined $500 each, as were four other Bruins. Ziegler hit 11 other Boston players with fines of $200 apiece.
More noteworthy than what Ziegler did, however, was what he didn't do. He took no action against Nilsson, Davidson or any other Ranger, nor did he discipline Referee Madill. Furthermore, he concluded that security at the Garden had been "up to expected standards."
Ziegler's highly selective crackdown is alarming. By longstanding and reprehensible tradition, NHL players consider it a matter of honor to take retribution against opponents and abusive fans. By harshly punishing the Bruins, Ziegler may have served notice that players can no longer take the law into their own hands when dealing with fans. By exonerating all the other parties involved, though, he winked at both the laxity of officials and the often deliberate eye-for-an-eye provocations of players who are encouraged by this laxity. These were the factors that inflamed the fans on Dec. 23—and, indeed, that provoke most of the NHL's uglier incidents. As Ziegler correctly put it, the spectacle of players battling spectators brings "disrepute and dishonor" to the NHL. So, however, does Ziegler's continued refusal to root out the causes of the behavior that sullies the image of his league.
WILT VS. THE WORLD
During his 14-year NBA career, Wilt Chamberlain scored 50 or more points in a game 122 times. It is a measure of Chamberlain's accomplishment that when the San Diego Clippers' Freeman Williams scored 51 points in a 137-123 loss to Phoenix on Jan. 19, it was only the 123rd time that a player other than Wilt had reached the 50 mark. In other words, it has taken all other NBA players the 31 years since Philly's Joe Fulks got the NBA's first 50 to "break" Wilt's record.
It may be that a new scoring phenom will come along one day and beat Chamberlain all by himself. Or maybe not. At the moment, Nos. 2 and 3 on the career list behind Wilt are Elgin Baylor and Rick Barry, who tallied 50 or more in a game 18 and 15 times, respectively.
THE LOS ANGELES RAIDERS?
An intercity bidding war over the Oakland Raiders is nearing a showdown. On one side is the Los Angeles Coliseum, which is now vacant because of the Rams' decision to play next season in Anaheim Stadium, 30 miles to the south. Hoping to persuade the Raiders to shift to L.A., the commission operating the Coliseum has promised to spend $17 million for moving expenses, luxury boxes and a new practice field. On the other side is the Oakland Coliseum. To keep the Raiders, Oakland officials have offered to spend up to $13 million on improvements. This might well involve letting the Oakland A's buy out their lease and move to Denver. That would provide $4 million of the $13 million and leave the stadium entirely to the Raiders.
One stumbling block to a move to L.A. is an NFL bylaw requiring that any franchise shift be approved by 21 of the league's 28 clubs. The NFL used to require unanimous approval, but in an apparent effort to strengthen its legal position, it reduced the number of requisite votes to 21 when, in 1978, the L.A. Coliseum Commission greeted the Rams' decision to leave by bringing a federal antitrust suit. That suit is pending, and Commissioner Pete Rozelle, worried that a Raider departure might arouse a public outcry in Oakland, vows to fight. That puts Oakland boss Al Davis on the spot. His chances of mustering the necessary 21 votes of his co-owners are uncertain, and if he tries to move unilaterally, a subsequent NFL victory in court could leave him without a stadium. Rozelle has warned that the Raiders also could be dropped from the 1980 NFL schedule. The L.A. Coliseum's operatives are also in a bind because their renovations must begin soon if they are to be completed by next season. Accordingly, they have asked the federal court in which their antitrust suit is pending to speed up proceedings by enjoining the NFL from blocking a Raider move to L.A.
If, on the other hand, the Raiders remain in Oakland, they will not be the first club to have used enticements from the Los Angeles Coliseum as leverage in extracting better deals at home; the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Colts all have done so.
THEY SAID IT
•Dave Graf, Cleveland Brown linebacker, on an ovation afforded teammate Dino Hall, who is 5'7": "When the crowd started chanting, 'Dino, Dino,' his parents must have felt five feet tall."
•Dana Kirk, Memphis State basketball coach, who provided the TV commentary for a game in which Les Henson's 89-foot desperation shot at the buzzer gave Virginia Tech a 79-77 victory over Florida State: "Quite frankly. I thought he took a bad shot."