A MERE AMUSEMENT?
Those who favor a boycott of the Moscow Olympics obviously believe that sports are important—a potent weapon with which to punish the Soviet Union. Yet, in arguing that the Summer Games are expendable, some of those same people also seem to imply, contradictorily, that sports are trivial, dwarfed by comparison with political and economic concerns. For example, Political Columnist George F. Will has sought to justify his advocacy of a boycott by dismissing the Olympics as "a mere amusement."
Inconsistency on the importance of sports—or at least the importance of athletes—is also evident in the reaction to Muhammad Ali's diplomatic foray into Africa. If President Carter erred in sending Ali to Africa to push for an Olympic boycott, it was because Ali was lamentably ill-informed on Afro-American relations, certainly not because he is an inconsequential personage. Ali was in India before leaving for Africa and in what amounted to acknowledgment of his stature, Soviet officials there tried to dissuade the ex-champ from making the trip. Subsequently, Ali was hugged and kissed by African admirers, the sort of reception not ordinarily afforded, shall we say, Kurt Waldheim. Nevertheless, many people, reportedly including Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere—who refused to meet Ali—betrayed at least a touch of condescension by complaining that Carter had entrusted the mission to a mere boxer.
Efforts to demean them notwithstanding, sports are not only important but elemental and indispensable. Paradoxically, though, they shouldn't be taken too seriously. Which is why it would be welcome to see the Olympic movement 1) survive its present crisis, and 2) emerge a bit less grandiose and self-important.
February 18, 1980
A funny thing happened to a couple of the predictions that were supposed to appear in last week's Winter Olympic preview. Somewhere between SI's editorial offices and the printers, gremlins infiltrated the mechanical process, with the result that the bobsled selections were omitted, while those for women's crosscountry skiing were run twice. Barring the appearance of those same gremlins on Lake Placid's fast Mount Van Hoevenberg course, these should be the bobsled medalists:
GERMESHAUSEN-GERHARDT East Germany
EAST GERMANY I
EAST GERMANY II
At 11:30 a.m. Saturday a truck pulled up to the two-story Lake Placid house occupied by West Germany's Olympic committee and unloaded 100 cases of Grenzquell, one of that country's most venerable Pilsners. The beer was a gift to the 97 West German athletes competing in the Winter Olympics. It had been flown by the U.S. distributor, Olympia Brewing Company, from Seattle to New York City, then put aboard the truck for the 300-mile trip to Lake Placid. A West German official, Walter Roth, watched the valuable cargo being unloaded and said, "Now the Olympics may begin."
THE ODD COUPLE
At last week's NHL All-Star Game in Detroit, Philadelphia Flyer rookie Pete Peeters shared goaltending chores for the Campbell Conference with Chicago Black Hawk veteran Tony Esposito in its 6-3 loss to the Wales Conference. The two goalies also shared a hotel room the night before the game, although when Peeters went to bed, he still had never met Esposito, who was out for the evening. Peeters told the Philadelphia Bulletin's Terry Brennan what happened next:
"I was asleep in bed about 3:30, 4 o'clock in the morning when I heard [Esposito] come in. He whacked me on the bottom of my feet and said, 'Hi, I'm Tony.' I told him I had already figured that out. Then he asked if I would mind if he turned on the TV. Four in the morning and he wants to watch TV. I don't know what he turned on, but the set was blasting. He jumped up to turn it down and hit the wrong button. Then the radio came on and that was blasting. Then he just cursed, turned the whole thing off and started pacing around in the dark. I didn't know what was going on.
"Finally, he got in bed and went to sleep. I couldn't believe it. I've never heard anybody snore like that. At first I thought he was just kidding me. I didn't think anybody could make that much noise in their sleep. I lay there for a while but when he didn't stop, I rolled over and threw a pillow at him. He didn't even move an inch. I stayed there for about 20 minutes and then I couldn't take it anymore. I put on a shirt, put on my pants, didn't even bother with socks and went downstairs and told them I had to check into another room."
Under the circumstances, the 6-3 defeat may qualify as a moral victory.
RAISING THE ANTE
Can that American institution, the $2 bet, be going the way of the penny postcard, the nickel phone call and 2¬¨¬®¬¨¢ plain? Last week the Louisville Downs harness track became the first U.S. racetrack to irrevocably drop the $2 wager. The track introduced a minimum bet of $3, a move officials blamed on the rising cost of processing each bet.
And the way inflation is going, that other traditional wager, a dollar to a donut, may soon be an even-money proposition.
TIME FOR REFORM
Three professional boxers and an amateur have suffered fatal brain injuries in the ring in recent weeks, underscoring the haphazard manner in which the sport is administered in the U.S. In the case of professionals, boxing is governed by state or local commissions whose rules and practices vary bewilderingly and urgently need reform.
More frequent and more stringent medical exams are essential. Some ring deaths might well be averted if electroencephalograms for detecting brain injury were administered at least once a year and whenever a fighter takes a beating. Should irregularities be indicated, a CAT scan, which yields more reliable diagnostic results, would then be given. If a fighter is knocked out or absorbs severe punishment, he should be barred from boxing or even sparring for 30 days or longer. Referees, trainers and cornermen should be licensed—and then only if they demonstrate ability to recognize head trauma. Until the recent rash of fatalities, only a few commissions required any such measures. Several other commissions are now tightening up their procedures. But laxity is still the rule.
To bring about the necessary reforms, state commissions would have to maintain accurate records on fighters and promptly share information with one another as well as with foreign authorities. Willie Classen, who died in New York on Nov. 28, had succeeded in hiding from that state's commission the fact that he had been knocked out in England six weeks earlier, and there also was confusion about the record of Tony Thomas, who died in Spartanburg, S.C. on Jan. 1. New York State Athletic Commissioner Jack Prenderville calls for creation of a national federation of commissions to implement uniform licensing, judging and medical procedures. This organization also would maintain information on fighters, an objective Prenderville hopes to foster by means of a computerized record-keeping system. He and others further advocate the introduction of a passportlike document containing a boxer's ring record and medical history. The passport would be surrendered before each bout and updated and returned to the boxer afterward.
Trouble is, all this requires cooperation among local commissions, which often are run by political appointees who care little about the sport. As Prenderville says, "We need to be unified, or else we'll be legislated by Washington. We need strong reciprocal agreement among the states." Prenderville's apprehensions are justified: the case for federal regulation of boxing is looking stronger all the time.
The most esoteric statistic in sports may well be a new one kept for the University of Georgia basketball team. Under the heading "Basketball Bulldogs Doing Well Academically from Fall Reports" (or, we suppose, BBDWAFFR, for short), a recent press release proudly reports: "Georgia's basketball team passed over 93% of hours attempted. The Georgia cagers attempted 225 hours for the fall and passed 210."
BUSH LANDS A BEAUTY
Darrell Royal backs John Connally, Rocky Graziano supports Ronald Reagan, and Roosevelt Grier is for Jimmy Carter. But George Bush has outdone them all by reeling in the endorsement of Ray Scott of Montgomery, Ala. Ray Scott? He's president and board chairman of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS), which has a cohesive membership of 350,000. And because many of the BASSers live in the South, Scott's support could carry weight in the Republican primaries in South Carolina on March 8 and in Florida, Alabama and Georgia three days later.
Scott, a member of Bush's national steering committee and his Alabama campaign chairman, calls Bush "the only guy who has come out for outdoor sports since Teddy Roosevelt." He also notes that Bush supports a proposed 3% federal excise tax on boats and other marine equipment to fund fishery research. Tackle manufacturers pay an excise tax of 10% for that purpose, and BASS and other fishing organizations deem it only fair that boat manufacturers pony up, too. And the fact that Bush likes to fish doesn't diminish him any in Scott's eyes, either.
"He's primarily a saltwater fisherman—Spanish mackerel, redfish and speckled trout—but I've been bass fishing with him," says Scott. "He's a good lefthanded caster, and he outfished me by taking a 4½-pound bass on a white skirted spinner bait. Even if he didn't handle a rod and reel well, I'd still vote for him. But it helps that he does."
Scott says his slogan is "A bass in every bush," and while he may be overdoing it there in his search for a play on words, Scott's clout should not be underestimated. He sent letters praising Bush to BASS' 19,000 members in Florida before a GOP statewide straw vote last fall in which Bush ran a surprisingly strong third behind Reagan and Connally. He now plans to mail 21,000 similar letters to members in South Carolina and Alabama. The letters will urge recipients to "cast"—no straining there—their ballots for Bush.
While Ray Scott fished for 1980 votes, a spectator at the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am golf tournament was already thinking about the Presidential election four years hence. As Gerald Ford walked the fairway during a round in the celebrity portion of the tournament, the fellow yelled, "How about '84, Jerry?"
Another kibitzer replied, "He'll be lucky if he breaks 90."
THEY SAID IT
•Wayne Boultinghouse, the basketball coach at Indiana State-Evansville, on the advantages of having 7'6½" Center John Hollinden: "Just the other day we were in the Atlanta airport, and John helped out his teammates by reaching over the doors of the pay toilets and opening them from the inside."
•Ray Fitzgerald, Boston Globe columnist, on the 33 days it took NHL president John Ziegler to suspend three Boston Bruins for brawling with fans at Madison Square Garden: "He couldn't decide whether the 'i' came before or after the 'e' in Terry O'Reilly's name."
•Tommy Vardeman, the assistant basketball coach at Louisiana's Centenary College, on bench warmers: "Every team needs huggers. Those are the guys you sign so you can hug 'em after you win, instead of having to hug the guys who play and sweat."