A VICTORY FOR KUSH, NOT FOR HIS METHODS
Frank Kush, the deposed Arizona State football coach, has won the $2.2 million lawsuit brought against him by Kevin Rutledge, the former Sun Devil punter who accused Kush of punching him in the face on the sidelines during a game in 1978. On March 20, after hearing conflicting testimony about the incident from eyewitnesses, a Superior Court jury in Phoenix decided by a 5-to-3 vote that Kush hadn't punched Rutledge. Last week it disposed of the remaining issues in the three-month-long trial by holding, also by a 5-to-3 vote, that neither Kush nor Assistant Coach William Maskill had used physical or verbal abuse to run Rutledge off the team. By a 6-to-2 vote the jury cleared the university's regents and President John Schwada of allegations that they had breached Rutledge's scholarship contract and been negligent in overseeing Kush's activities.
The jury's findings added up to a sweet victory for Kush, who had lost his Arizona State job because of charges that he had lied to school officials about the Rutledge incident and had urged assistant coaches to do the same. But Kush's attorney, Warren Piatt, wasn't content merely to claim vindication for his client. He also insisted that the results of the case vindicated "athletics in general" and argued that a verdict in favor of Rutledge would have been "a dangerous thing for all collegiate and professional coaches."
Platt may have gotten a little carried away there. Gratifying though it obviously was to Kush and himself, the outcome of the case did nothing to alter some sordid truths about Arizona State's football program that the controversy over Rutledge's lawsuit brought to light. For one thing, the suit helped expose the undue power wielded by the school's booster club, the Sun Angel Foundation, a private organization that proved to be only too willing to use its substantial financial contributions to influence athletic-department policy. Furthermore, Rutledge's suit led to the unearthing of evidence of recruiting violations by Arizona State boosters and coaches, improper benefits to Sun Devil athletes and, most shocking of all, the use of bogus extension-course credits to try to keep football players academically eligible. Because of these transgressions, all of which occurred under Kush, Arizona State forfeited five victories in the 1979 season, was declared ineligible for last season's Pac-10 championship race and was hit with a two-year probation by the NCAA. All of which would appear to represent something other than a triumph for "athletics in general," as Piatt put it.
May 3, 1981
Equally dubious is Platt's intimation that Kush's courtroom victory is one that can somehow be shared by "all collegiate and professional coaches." In his opening statement at the trial, Rutledge's attorney, Robert Hing, called Kush a "sadistic animal," a characterization Hing then sought to justify by eliciting testimony from various witnesses that Kush had struck players with boards, ropes, tree branches and a metal rod, kicked them in the face, insulted and humiliated them in front of teammates, forced them to play while injured and put them through torturous conditioning drills until they were on the verge of collapse. In his own testimony Kush denied that he punched or kicked players but admitted having struck some of them with lengths of rope in "what I would call a fatherly, affectionate tap." He described his disciplinary methods as "kind of a learning process" designed to "eliminate the fear factor." Testifying in Kush's behalf, Herb Brooks, coach of the U.S. Olympic hockey champions, defended the. public criticism and physical disciplining of players as forms of "shock therapy" by which one can test an athlete's desire. Similarly, Duffy Daugherty, under whom Kush played football at Michigan State in the early 1950s, said that stern methods were sometimes effective in building team morale. This testimony apparently impressed the jurors, one of whom, 20-year-old Cynthia L. Krayer Shaidnagle, later told reporters, "Before this I never knew much about football. I understand now that it is a tough and violent game."
The outcome of the trial appeared to repudiate Fred Miller, who, as Arizona State's athletic director, had suspended Kush for allegedly trying to cover up details of the incident with Rutledge. Yet Miller, who was himself later fired as athletic director but remains at Arizona State as a physical education professor, told SI Reporter Brooks Clark that he still felt Kush's removal as coach had been justified, both because of an unshaken belief that Kush was lying as well as "the subsequent irregularities [found] in our football program." Miller also predicted that by exposing Kush's style of coaching to public scrutiny, the Rutledge trial will make many coaches more "cautious" in disciplining athletes.
"Today's player deserves much higher esteem than certain coaches give him," Miller said. "I think the notoriety of the trial has brought out the fact that coaching methods that were acceptable in the past may not be acceptable in the future. Those methods may be a dinosaur."
Though Miller is hardly a disinterested party on the subject of Frank Kush, one can only hope he is proved right in his expectations that Kushian coaching methods will fall into disfavor. Football is tough and violent, and Kush's 176-54-1 record during his 21½ seasons at Arizona State suggests that his tactics do work, at least with some young men. But to conclude that those tactics are therefore both proper and inevitable is to accept a win-at-all-costs philosophy, one that, not incidentally, ignores the many coaches who succeed without so brazenly brutalizing or demeaning their players. Kush's methods may not have been criminal, nor, a jury has now concluded, did they justify the award of money damages. But those methods were wrong.
SULAIMAN, BY A DECISION
Josè Sulaimàn also won a lawsuit last week, although in his case, unlike Kush's, there was nothing ambiguous about his exoneration. Sulaimàn, the powerful president of the World Boxing Council (SI, March 16), was a defendant in an antitrust suit brought in U.S. District Court in Manhattan by promoter Teddy Brenner, a suit that had hardly gone to trial before Judge Charles M. Metzner threw out several of Brenner's charges, including a pivotal one that Sulaimàn and promoter Don King had conspired to prevent Brenner from making a living. That left only Brenner's allegation that the WBC had suspended him unfairly and without a proper hearing following a dispute with King in 1979 over promotional rights to the fights of former WBC super-featherweight champion Alexis Arguello. After deliberating for 18 hours, the six-member jury unanimously rejected Brenner's allegation.
While Brenner was the only clear-cut loser in the case, King, who had been named as a co-conspirator but not a defendant, didn't fare too well, either. He was never called to testify, and court transcripts revealed why. They disclosed that during two days of pretrial depositions taken in March, King had repeatedly declined to answer questions posed by one of Brenner's attorneys, Pamela Ostrager, a fact Metzner alluded to when, in his chambers, he told Ostrager, "I gather from my law clerk that [King] took the Fifth Amendment over 350 times in that two-day period. Based on this and the representation by his counsel that he would reassert the Fifth if he appeared [in] the trial, I directed that he not be put on the stand to go through the same charade." Metzner also saw fit to mention King on another occasion. Referring to testimony that, he said, indicated that King may have altered a contract without the knowledge of one of the parties, Metzner said that while no conspiracy had been proved to exist between King and Sulaimàn, King had been shown during the course of the trial to be "a pretty bad stinker."
The San Diego Padres have gotten off to a poor start this season—they were 6-11 as of Sunday—and the strain may be showing already. Preparing to leave the office the other day to go to lunch, the club's president, Ballard Smith, bravely joked, "I won't be back until we get to .500." To which his secretary, Rhoda Polley, replied, "Do you want to leave a forwarding address?"
Now here's one about the Texas Rangers, who mailed out ticket-order forms on which customers were asked to specify a choice of dates and prices as well as a preference for one of the following locations: home, first base or second base. The Rangers quickly caught their mistake and had the form reprinted, but not before several "smart-alecky" fans, as one ticket-office aide described them, requested the seats at second.
JAPANESE TOWN, CLASS OF '76
Apart from a few words like "fantastic," "thanks" and "good," Toshihiko Seko, the 24-year-old Japanese runner who won this year's Boston Marathon in 2:09.26, the fastest marathon ever run in the U.S., speaks no English, which may seem strange, considering that he once studied at USC. The son of a well-to-do steel-foundry owner in Kuwana, Japan, Seko, then essentially a middle-distance man, arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of 1975 and took an accelerated English course for foreigners before enrolling at USC that fall with plans to join the Trojan track team. But Ken Matsuda, an assistant USC track coach, notes that Seko arrived on campus with two other Japanese athletes and that "they spent all their time together or down in Japanese Town and never used the English they were taking in class." Seko remained at Southern Cal until the following spring, when his father became ill. He dropped out of school and returned home.
USC's loss was Waseda University's gain. Seko received a degree in education from that prestigious Japanese university and became a distance man under the tutelage of Coach Kiyoshi Nakamura. He encouraged Seko to meditate at a Zen temple, explaining, "In the end it's matters of the mind that enable the athlete to outdistance his rivals." After winning Japan's Fukuoka Marathon in 1978, Seko was runner-up in the 1979 Boston Marathon to Bill Rodgers, who said at the time, "He's only 22. In a few years I'll probably have to step out of his way or get run over." The 5'6½", 141-pound Seko, who has unusual speed for a marathoner—he ran the 800 in 1:51.8 when he was in high school—has since won the Fukuoka twice more. This year's impressive victory in Boston over runner-up Craig Virgin and third-place finisher Rodgers enhances his prospects for returning to his old L.A. stomping grounds as one of the favorites in the 1984 Olympic marathon.
Still tied 2-2 when it was called at 4:07 a.m. after 32 innings, the now-famous game that began in Pawtucket, R.I. on April 18 (and will resume on June 23) between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox is already the longest in organized baseball history, having consumed eight hours and seven minutes and produced 59 strikeouts, 49 stranded base runners and such oddities as a first baseman, Rochester's Dan Logan, handling 43 chances and committing one error for a one-game fielding average of .977. The marathon also produced the following remarks:
•Jack Lietz, the chief umpire, bragging about the staying power of his three-man crew: "We went the whole game without going to the bathroom."
•Bill McCourt, press-box steward, on why amplified music in McCoy Stadium was turned off at 3:15 a.m.: "We figured that whoever was left had heard enough."
•Luis Aponte, Red Sox relief pitcher, recounting what happened when he got home: "My wife said, 'Where have you been?' and I said, 'At the ballpark.' She said, 'You're lying.' "
•Roger LaFrancois, Pawtucket catcher, explaining why he informed the official scorer that a passed ball charged to him in the 15th inning had actually been a wild pitch: "I didn't want to be remembered for a passed ball in the longest game in history."
•Chico Walker, Red Sox leftfielder: "It was the most boring game of baseball I ever played."
Thus, one minor league game yielded more "They Said Its" for this issue than all the rest of sport put together.
THEY ALSO SAID IT
•Bill Schammel, general manager of the Midland Cubs, after a 34-8 loss to San Antonio in a Texas League baseball game: "They scored three quick touchdowns before our secondary adjusted."
•Clive Charles, Portland Timber defenseman, asked who in the world he would most like to meet: "The guy who stole my suede coat."