Gerry Cooney's trainer expressed hope last week that something good may come of his fighter's sore left shoulder, the condition that forced postponement of Cooney's WBC heavyweight championship fight against Larry Holmes from March 15 to June 11. Noting that Cooney's bread-and-butter punch is his left hook, the trainer, Vic Valle, said that Cooney would rest the injured shoulder and train solely with the right hand, and he went so far as to suggest that this regimen—and Cooney's injury—could turn out to be "a blessing." "Sometimes these things work out that way," Valle said. "We're going to work on the right hand, make it better, and maybe the right hand will do the job instead of the left."
The annals of medicine do contain examples of athletic injuries having silver linings. Tracy Caulkins, the swimmer, broke an ankle in a fall in 1977 and was forced to train while wearing a waterproof cast that restricted the mobility of her leg, causing her to rely more on arm pull. Caulkins' upper-body strength increased as a result, and less than a year later she won five gold medals at the world championships in West Berlin. In the case of injuries involving the arm, some athletes have been able to compensate by developing their uninjured arms—as Valle hopes Cooney will do. There's the extreme example of baseball player Ed Head, who was a lefthanded pitcher until his left arm was crushed in a school bus accident as a teen-ager. He made it to the majors as a righthander, pitching a no-hitter for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves in 1946. Tennis player George Richey also switched arms—from right to left. After falling out of a car and shattering his right elbow when he was 13, he became a lefty, and in 1952 was the eighth-ranked U.S. professional.
But these cases are somewhat different from Cooney's. Caulkins was able to continue heavy training without endangering her fractured ankle, which was encased in fiber glass. Cooney's injury isn't a broken bone but a partial muscle tear in the back of his left shoulder, a malady that conceivably could be aggravated by movement of any kind. One boxing medic, Dr. Edwin Campbell, chief physician of the New York State Athletic Commission, questioned the treatment prescribed by Cooney's doctors and implied that Cooney shouldn't be using his right or left hand in training or, for that matter, doing roadwork. "What he's got is right in the middle of the back more than it is in the shoulder," Campbell said. "It needs absolute rest." Head and Richey developed their uninjured arms not while waiting for the injuries in their other arms to mend but because those injuries were permanent. And as remarkable as their conversions were, it shouldn't be assumed that Head and Richey were better off than they would have been had they avoided injury; for example, Richey always believed his serve and overhead shot would have been stronger had he been able to play righthanded.
March 1, 1982
If Cooney can take advantage of his convalescence by developing a right hand, more power to him—literally. But in order to beat Holmes he'll still need to have the undiminished use of his vaunted left hook. Whether he will recover fully from his injury and whether his course of treatment is the proper one are by no means certain. Admirable though Valle's positive thinking may be, his suggestion that Cooney's right hand could do the job "instead of the left" has an ominous ring to it.
A MUST FOR DIED-IN-THE-WOOL FANS
In their unceasing efforts to raise funds, some college athletic departments encourage boosters to name old Siwash the beneficiary of their life insurance policies; the University of North Dakota is currently holding 16 such policies bearing a potential value of more than $800,000. Recently, a newspaper in Louisiana, the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, ran a letter from a reader suggesting a different sort of fund-raising scheme, by which LSU boosters could continue to make a conspicuous contribution to the school after they're gone. The reader, James Whitten, urged that fans be allowed to arrange to be buried beneath the stands of Tiger Stadium—for a price, of course.
Such a plan, Whitten explained, "would go far toward satisfying the ultimate longings of loyal Tiger fans everywhere while simultaneously filling the void in athletic department coffers. The most obvious plan would call for the construction of burial vaults in the open space beneath the seats. Cost to the prospective interee would vary according to location, with crypts nearer the 50-yard line commanding higher prices."
It's hard to imagine a better place to try out Whitten's idea than LSU. Because of the storied inhospitality of the school's rooters to visiting teams, Tiger Stadium has long been known as Death Valley. Further, the school's intercollegiate sports program is beset by deficits, which hastened the firing last month of Athletic Director Paul Dietzel. He had kept himself in the public eye in Baton Rouge by doing TV commercials on a local station for a burial insurance plan.
OLDER AND STILL WISE
Steve Cauthen has received his high school diploma. After finishing his third and most successful season—he had 87 wins—riding in Europe under contract to British thoroughbred owner Robert Sangster, Cauthen, who will be 22 on May 1, returned recently to his native Kentucky, enlisted the help of his former high school principal and began boning up for his high school equivalency test, which he took and passed two weeks ago at Northern Kentucky University. And why had he bothered? He answers simply, "It's something I've always wanted. I'm not sure anybody knew that."
In fulfilling his dream of graduating from high school, Cauthen showed the same sense of purpose he had when he schooled himself in yoga at 13 ("for concentration," he explained. "I knew I'd need that later") and when, after dropping out of Walton Verona High following his sophomore year to be a full-time jockey, he won $3 million in purses at 16. After that Cauthen became SI's Sportsman of the Year and rode Affirmed to the Triple Crown and then, at 18, he signed a lucrative contract to ride in England, where he has been a great favorite ever since. Through it all, Cauthen says, he took pains to immerse himself in books, magazines and newspapers other than the Daily Racing Form.
"I kept my mind working," Cauthen says. "That's why I was able to get my diploma or would even want to. And I've always been self-disciplined, especially in diet and exercise. That carried over into schooling. Most of the stuff stuck in my mind. I'd always liked math and I was always good in science. I figured I wouldn't lose that. History was the worst. I kept mixing up all those dates and facts."
Cauthen expresses no regrets about having taken a bit longer than usual to get his diploma. "I'm sure that what I missed by not being around kids my own age, I'll never make up for," he says. "I'll never go to the senior prom or homecoming. But I learned how to be self-sufficient and take responsibility long before most kids did. That's important." So, too, he hastened to add, is his new diploma. "Knowing I have it will make me much more confident about myself. I'm so proud of myself for passing that test."
THERE'S ALWAYS DePAUL
The Sting, Black Hawks and Bulls played on successive nights last week in Chicago Stadium, drawing crowds of 19,398, 9,283 and 5,871, respectively. Those figures may not mean that indoor soccer is about to overtake the NHL and NBA nationally, but they're as good a place as any to start explaining why, by week's end, beleaguered Black Hawk Coach Keith Magnuson had quit (replaced by General Manager Bob Pulford), and Bull Coach Jerry Sloan had been sacked (replaced by General Manager Rod Thorn). They also help account for the void Chicago sports fans were feeling in their lives after the Sting, the only professional team on the local winter sports scene with a winning record, was eliminated later in the week in the first round of the NASL playoffs.
With roughly one-fourth of the NHL season still left, Montreal Gazette Sports Editor Red Fisher reports that the New York Islanders' Mike Bossy, the league's second-leading scorer, has given up all hope of overtaking the top man in the race, the Edmonton Oilers' Wayne Gretzky. Because the amazing Gretzky has 171 points, having last week broken his old record of 164 set a year ago, while runner up Bossy has only 101 points, that scarcely qualifies as news. What is news is that Bossy appears to have given up on next season as well, witness the following exchange:
"When do you think you'll catch Gretzky, Mike?"
A few weeks ago we ran in this space an anonymous satirical letter in which the chairman of a college English department, hoping to improve one of his student's chances of winning a Rhodes scholarship, asked the school's football coach to put the fellow in the starting backfield (SCORECARD, Jan. 25). The English department head conceded that the young man was rather puny but noted, "As you have often said, cooperation between our department and yours is highly desirable." The letter had reached us from a Midwestern university, where photocopies of it were circulating. We passed it along as a telling comment on today's win-at-all-costs coaches who try to pressure professors to bend academic standards for athletes.
Did we say today's coaches? A reader, Ralph J. Sabock, an associate professor of physical education at Penn State, informs us that virtually the same letter appeared, among other places, in his 1979 book, The Coach, and was first published in a 1955 issue of College English, a periodical of the National Council of Teachers of English. The author was William E. Stafford, a prize-winning poet who has since retired from his position as an English professor at Oregon's Lewis and Clark College. We reached Stafford, who wasn't surprised that his letter had resurfaced. In the 26 years since it was written, he noted, it has been reprinted frequently, sometimes with proper attribution to himself, other times not. "It's almost like folklore," Stafford said of his 26-year-old sally.
Other alert readers gently informed us that a slightly different version of the letter had run in the July 13, 1970 issue of SI. It had ostensibly been written by Hugo Hellman, a speech professor at Marquette, to Al McGuire, then the Warriors' basketball coach, who had gone public with it; Hellman's "Rhodes scholar candidate" wanted to play basketball, not football. More recently, the Jan. 20, 1982 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education contained a tongue-in-cheek memorandum in which an academic dean asked an athletic director to find room on various varsity teams for a Rhodes scholar candidate. The author, David Churchman, chairman of the behavioral science graduate program at California State University at Dominguez Hills, says he was unaware of Stafford's strikingly similar letter.
Stafford's oft-reprinted, widely imitated letter serves as a reminder that the problem of overzealous coaches isn't new at all. Stafford recalls that he wrote it after a run-in with a football coach who had complained about a grade a star player had received in English.
AND HERE COMES BEETLEBAUM!
There was a 3-year-old colt named Drop Your Drawers in the field of eight starters last week in the $50,000 Mountain Valley Handicap at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. Did Drop Your Drawers win? No, El Baba did. Place? No, that was Lost Creek. So what did Drop Your Drawers do? Showed. Of course.
It has been almost two years since the University of New Mexico's basketball program was rocked by revelations of transcript forgeries and financial improprieties that led to the conviction of Head Coach Norm Ellenberger on charges of fraud and filing false public vouchers. Happily, changes have been made. For one thing, the school has actually been trying to recruit athletes capable of doing college work. For another, it has increased academic counseling services for its jocks. Although it would be naive to think that things are suddenly perfect at New Mexico (or anywhere else in big-time college sports, for that matter), it's heartening to report that the basketball team, which is still under NCAA probation because of what came to be known as Lobogate, led all men's teams at New Mexico last semester with a grade-point average of 2.8 on a 4.0-point scale. One Lobo player is academically ineligible, but his subpar grades were more than offset by another player's 3.75 average. The team's 2.8 grade-point average compares favorably indeed with the university's overall undergraduate men's average of 2.37.
MY FUNNY VALENTINE
As has become the custom among fans of a number of college basketball teams, Penn rooters threw confetti and streamers onto the court after the Quakers scored their first basket in a 79-62 Valentine's Day win over Harvard. That prompted this chant from the Harvard crowd:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
The streamers were cute,
But you still come from Philadelphia.
THEY SAID IT
•Wayne Walker, retired Detroit Lion linebacker and San Francisco TV sports-caster, discussing his incipient baldness, at a Bay Area sports banquet: "Somewhere in Detroit there's a helmet with all my hair in it."
•Gene Mauch, California Angels manager, agreeing with a reporter's facetious remark that his current pitching staff was a lot like the one he had when he managed the 1965 National League All-Stars, a corps that included Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson: "That's right, some are lefthanded and some righthanded."
•Dave Rimington, Nebraska's star 280-pound football center, after lifting a piano into place at a team banquet so that Wingback Anthony Steels could sing and play: "The coaches speak of skilled and nonskilled positions. Now I know the difference. Moving the piano is nonskill. Playing the piano is skill."