The U.S. Olympic Committee's 482-member House of Delegates will consider action on President Carter's proposed Olympic boycott at its annual meeting in Colorado Springs this weekend. By way of helping that body make up its mind. Sears, Roebuck and Co. last week said it would withhold payment of a $25,000 pledge to the USOC unless the committee supports the boycott. Although Sears officials denied that the White House had applied undue pressure, they allowed that Presidential Assistant Anne Wexler had requested in a phone call to Board Chairman Edward R. Telling that the contribution be delayed. With the USOC's fund-raising efforts already slowed by the boycott movement. Sears' announcement distressed Olympic Committee Executive Director F. Don Miller, who accused the company and the White House of "sheer blackmail."
The Administration's frustration on the Olympic issue was plainly showing in all this. With Soviet troops still occupying Afghanistan, it might be construed as a sign of weakness for the U.S.—and in an election year, for Carter—to relax opposition to participation in the Moscow Games. Nevertheless, amid signs that public support for Carter's Olympic stand may be eroding, the USOC has been stepping up its resistance to a boycott.
Although USOC officials said a few weeks ago that they would go along with the President's determination of "what's best for the country," they more recently have been saying that they would support a boycott only if Carter termed such a move a matter of "national security," which would appear to be an overstatement of what has been advanced essentially as a symbolic protest. The USOC has meanwhile argued that the U.S. shouldn't commit itself to a boycott when so few other countries seem willing to do so—even though the Administration maintains that many of those other countries are waiting for the U.S. to act first.
It is debatable whether the USOC's delaying tactics justify the strong-arm methods the White House apparently used in the Sears case. The Administration is now said to be considering other extreme measures to prevent U.S. athletes from competing in Moscow, including currency restrictions, revoking the USOC's tax-exempt status and legislation giving the President sole authority for sending teams abroad. Another sign that the boycott movement may be faltering is the widespread lack of enthusiasm for the White House's proposal for an alternative Olympics, which now gives every indication of being a dead issue. One more telling development: Administration officials, among them Defense Secretary Harold Brown, were saying last week that, yes, a USOC refusal to support a boycott would indeed damage national security.
MASTER OF THE MASTERS
Finishing among the top 24 at the Masters guarantees a golfer an invitation to the tournament the following year, and for the average touring pro, cracking that select company is quite an achievement. Clearly, Sam Snead is not average. Snead has placed in the select 24 at least once in each of the five decades of the Masters' existence—the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s. He was 18th in 1937 and 20th in 1974, with two dozen other top-24 finishes in between, including three victories. By comparison, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson were top-24 finishers in four decades, and Arnold Palmer and Julius Boros, among others, in three each.
This week in Augusta, Snead, age 67, goes for a sixth decade. Chances are he won't make it, but no matter. Just by competing in the tournament in a sixth decade he will set a record that may well stand forever.
UP FRONT, PLEASE
NBA and NHL teams have, as usual, raised ticket prices for the playoffs. The Atlanta Flames, who charged an $11 top for regular-season games, have increased prices by 25% for the first round of Stanley Cup play (to a $13.75 top) and by 50% for subsequent rounds (to $16.50), assuming, of course, that the Flames get that far. The Philadelphia Flyers hiked prices from $11.50 for top-scale seats during the regular season to $17.25 in the playoffs, also a 50% increase.
Besides raising prices, some clubs required purchasers to buy blocks of tickets for all possible playoff home games—and to pay in advance. For example, Atlanta Hawk fans had to lay out anywhere from $102 to $150 for the dozen games their team theoretically could have played at the Omni. But the Hawks could be eliminated after as few as two home games, at which point fans would specifically have to request a refund for unused tickets. Otherwise, the money would be applied toward the purchase of season tickets for 1980-81.
Few clubs received a bigger playoff windfall than the Washington Capitals, who fell just short of gaining their first Stanley Cup berth in their six-season history. The Caps sold playoff tickets and required fans to buy blocks of them covering 14 home games even though, as things developed, the most home games they could possibly have played had they made the playoffs was 11. Cap fans grumbled about this and also about the fact that the deadline for mailing payment for those 14 games—totaling $168 for a top-priced seat—was March 21, 16 days before the conclusion of the regular season and nearly 10 weeks before May 29, the latest possible date on which the Stanley Cup finals could end. Now, Cap fans wanting their money back will have to apply for refunds.
Insistence on payment in advance gives pro teams a nice chunk of up-front money to invest at record interest rates or to apply to outstanding notes. Which raises a question: Why shouldn't interest on playoff ticket money accrue to the fans rather than the clubs? Offering an answer, Jerry Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Kings and Lakers, proves that the playoffs bring out the best in the numbers men as well as the players. "Let's say I charge $15 for a playoff ticket," Buss says. "Say I make a dollar in interest. If I charge you $15 and send you $1 back, that's a lot of effort for both of us and very costly. So I just charge $14."
JESSE & JOE
The death of Jesse Owens last week at 66 evoked a flood of memories. Of "that incredible day of days in track and field history," as Norris McWhirter, editor of the Guinness Book of World Records, refers to May 25, 1935, when Owens broke five world records in Ann Arbor, Mich. Of the races a barnstorming Owens won against horses in Cuba, victories that documentary filmmaker Bud Greenspan attributes partly to the noise of the starting gun, which usually frightened the horse into near paralysis. And, of course, of Owens' heroics at the 1936 Olympics.
Inevitably, Owens' death also made people think about his friend Joe Louis, who became world heavyweight champion less than a year after Owens won his four gold medals in Berlin. As the Chicago Tribune's David Condon reflected last week, Owens and Louis both starred in individual sports that commanded worldwide attention—and did so at a time when many other sports were closed to blacks. While Owens' triumphs at the Olympics enraged Adolf Hitler, Louis' victories came at the expense of a succession of so-called "white hopes." Both athletes were men of considerable dignity, and while they later were scorned as Uncle Toms by younger militants, they remained sources of pride to blacks of their generation. Finally, Condon wrote, a case can be made that each was the alltime best in his field.
Louis was born eight months after Owens. Confined to a wheelchair because of a stroke suffered in 1977, Louis was at ringside in Las Vegas last week for the Larry Holmes-Leroy Jones WBC title fight, wearing a narrow-brimmed brown hat. At one point a young girl in his party playfully grabbed the hat, prompting Louis to snatch it back. There was one moment, though, when Louis readily removed the hat and held it with great solemnity in his lap. It was when the P.A. announcer called for a moment of silence in memory of Jesse Owens.
THE BIG FIX
Last week, following a 32-day trial at which convicted master fixer Anthony Ciulla (SI, Nov. 6, 1978) was the chief government witness, a U.S. district court jury in Harrisburg convicted six men and acquitted six others on charges of conspiring to fix horse races at Pennsylvania's Pocono Downs in 1974. Along with guilty pleas entered earlier by four defendants (three others charged in the suit are fugitives, while two defendants were severed from the case because of illness), the verdict brought to 36 the number of people who have either pleaded guilty or been convicted on charges relating to race fixing in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Michigan largely as a result of Ciulla's testimony.
What was significant about the Pennsylvania proceedings was that seven of those who pleaded or were found guilty were jockeys. Six jockeys had been convicted or pleaded guilty in a state court in New Jersey, but until now the Federal Government had been more successful in prosecuting gamblers and alleged organized-crime figures than jockeys. The government confined its case in Harrisburg to 47 of some 100 races at Pocono Downs that Ciulla claimed to have fixed. Besides those jockeys indicted in the case, the government implicated 13 other riders, several of whom testified for the prosecution.
As described by the government, Ciulla's operation at Pocono Downs involved a small army of jockeys, many of whom are still riding. It is now up to the Pennsylvania Racing Commission to take appropriate action against them, but if that body is anything like state commissions in New Jersey and Massachusetts, little will be done, sorry to say, to follow up the leads suggested by Ciulla's testimony.
Ciulla has not made his last courtroom appearance. In Detroit, where Jockey Billy Phelps and two other men have already pleaded guilty, another jockey, a trainer and two other men accused by Ciulla are currently on trial in a federal court. In New York, former jockey Con Errico was indicted last month on a federal racketeering rap charging that he bribed jockeys on nine occasions at Aqueduct and Saratoga in the mid-'70s. Ciulla has said that he masterminded the alleged fixes and that Errico was a go-between with the jockeys. Although no jockeys were named in the Errico indictment, this much is certain: somebody rode the horses in those races. And it wasn't 320-pound Tony Ciulla.
Some of the nation's top crews regularly train and compete on such heavily polluted waters as the Charles (Harvard) and Schuylkill (Penn) rivers. This is one reason many rowers look forward to San Diego's prestigious annual Crew Classic, which was scheduled to be held last weekend on Mission Bay. After all, that body of water is relatively clean—or at least it was until last winter's heavy rains sent raging torrents through San Diego's canyons, cracking sewer pipes and releasing raw sewage into the bay. Because bacteria counts were running 15 times higher than normal, beaches and launching ramps were closed to the public.
Last month, when the first of an expected 1,200 rowers from Harvard, Penn and a host of other colleges and rowing clubs were about to arrive for the Classic, the bay was still so foul that health officials ruled that oarsmen could not make bodily contact with the water. Local rowers got permission to go out in their shells, but only after wrapping their legs in plastic trash bags. Some of them took the added precaution of wearing wet suits. Promoters finally decided to cancel the Classic. That, no doubt, saddened the fellow who had urged in a letter to The San Diego Union that the races be allowed to go on, reasoning that the polluted waters would have made many of the participants "feel right at home."
THEY SAID IT
•Don Carter, professional bowler: "One of the advantages of bowling over golf is that you very seldom lose a bowling ball."
•Jim Bakken, former Cardinal place-kicker, at a dinner roasting St. Louis' 280-pound guard, Bob Young: "For his salad, you just pour vinegar and oil on your lawn and let him graze."