THEY'RE POLLS APART
The New York Times has come out with a telephone poll of NFL players that shows strong support for a strike, although not as strong as that indicated in a mail survey announced by the NFL Players Association last January. The key question in the Times' poll: "If the vote were held today, would you vote for a strike over the percentage-of-gross issue or would you vote against a strike?" The responses: 48% for a strike, 16% against, 36% don't know/no answer.
Even before those results were out, the NFLPA, whose contract negotiations with the NFL Management Council have stalled, charged that the poll had been conducted in concert with the council and filed an unfair-labor-practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The NFLPA also instructed players who had not yet been contacted not to participate in the survey. The union was upset that the Times had acquired the phone numbers of the players it polled from the Management Council. In certain cases, federal labor law has been interpreted as forbidding employers from questioning workers about their positions on labor-management issues. The NFLPA felt that by providing those numbers, management had engaged, at least indirectly, in such questioning. At any rate, it's certain that the council wouldn't have given out the numbers if it hadn't thought it to be in its own best interest to encourage the Times' poll. The NFLPA also assailed the Times. Although the newspaper said the questions it asked were of its own devising, NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey complained that some of them sounded as though they'd been conceived by management, while NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of the Raiders described the questions as "loaded." Upshaw cited these two examples:
1) "In general, how would you rate your own relationship with the owner of [name of player's team]?" (80% described relations as good, 9% as not good, 11% don't know/no answer.)
2) "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Ed Garvey is handling negotiations with the team owners?" (53% approved, 17% disapproved, 30% don't know/no answer.)
Were those questions, in fact, "loaded"? SI's Jill Lieber contacted Steve Withey, director of the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, a respected survey organization, who expressed the belief that both questions should have contained gradations. Referring to the second one, he said, "It's better to say 'strongly approve,' 'approve,' 'disapprove' and 'strongly disapprove.' " But Withey concluded that the questions weren't loaded.
All right, since the NFLPA raised the subject of polling methodology, what about its poll? Here are the two most important questions from that one:
1) The Player Representatives have voted to seek a fixed Percentage of Gross as the NFLPA's Number One priority in 1982. I agree——. I disagree——. (92% agreed, 8% disagreed.)
2) Recognizing no one wants a strike, are you willing to strike to achieve our bargaining priorities? Yes——. No——. (95% said yes, 5% no.)
Withey and another expert, Scott Taylor, an analyst with the Lou Harris organization, agreed that both of those questions were biased. Of the first, Taylor said, "The statement about the player representatives tells you where the organization stands. It's a statement that leads to a certain response." The second question was objectionable in part because of the phrase "Recognizing no one wants a strike," which could have had the effect of softening up respondents or, conversely, of discouraging them from admitting they wanted to strike. Withey asks, "How do they know no one wants a strike? That's biasing right away."
Withey also questioned the validity of the NFLPA poll on grounds that barely 40% of all NFL players responded. "That's not very good," he said. "If you got another 20 to 30 percent, the figures could be different." But then, the Times wound up interviewing only 49% of the league's players—some of the others having heeded the NFLPA's urging that players not respond. Providing scant help to those who wonder whether there will be a 1982 NFL season, Withey said, "With responses of less than 50 percent, neither poll is conclusive. Each could have got a different half. You can't tell if either poll should be taken as valid as to how the players really feel."
He played on NCAA, NBA and Continental Basketball Association championship teams—and, what's more, he did so during his first year at each level of competition. Can you name him? (Answer on page 12.)
Try to stage a tire-screeching, engine-roaring Formula I auto race at the same time that you hold a convention of 4,000 librarians who are accustomed to silence, and what have you got? Answer: a situation that worries the Special Libraries Association, which five years ago arranged to hold its 1982 convention in Detroit from June 4 to 10. But that was before Motown civic leaders decided to schedule time trials for the first Detroit Grand Prix on June 4 and 5, and the race itself on June 6. The racecourse runs practically past the doorsteps of both Cobo Hall and the Westin Hotel, the convention sites.
Doreen McPhail, a spokeswoman for the organization promoting the race, tries to put the conflict with the Grand Prix in a positive light by saying cheerily, "We think most of the librarians will enjoy the added benefit of being in Detroit during an international event." But association officials are providently trying to move meetings into rooms that they hope will be more insulated from the din outside. They've also printed up bumper stickers that they plan to distribute to the race drivers. The stickers read: I BRAKE FOR LIBRARIANS.
THE NCAA SQUEEZES THE TUBE
A two-part series in TV Guide last December cast a harsh light on the unholy alliance between television and big-time sports. The magazine suggested that the NFL used its scheduling powers and the footage that its subsidiary, NFL Films, provides to the networks as levers to ensure favorable TV coverage. It said that baseball used films produced by Major League Baseball Productions to the same advantage. But TV Guide concluded that such pressure was most blatantly exerted by the NCAA, which routinely screened all college football telecasts and instructed ABC-TV on how its announcers could improve their performance, letting it be known, for example, when Jim Lampley was found to be "too judgmental." Another example of the NCAA's over-involvement: ABC had wanted to use Fran Tarkenton to provide color on college games, but meekly backed off after the NCAA objected.
Last week came news that the NCAA had thrown its considerable weight around again by vetoing a decision by Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. to use Pepper Rodgers and Paul Hornung as announcers on the 19 college football games Turner has contracted to telecast this season. The action, authorized under the NCAA's contract with Turner, was taken by the NCAA's powerful football television committee, whose chairman, Pac-10 Executive Director Wiles. Hallock, said that neither Rodgers nor Hornung had the proper "image" for the job. He said that Rodgers, who did color commentary on a couple of NCAA regional telecasts last season, was too controversial, in no small part because of a $331,000 breach-of-contract suit he has filed against the Georgia Tech Athletic Association as a consequence of his sacking as the Yellow Jackets' coach in 1979. Hornung was unacceptable, Hallock continued, because of the "shadow" cast on him by his 1963 suspension from the NFL for betting on games and because he has come to be "identified with pro football more than college football." That was the same objection the NCAA raised in regard to Tarkenton.
With all due respect for Hallock's committee, it's difficult to see how the presence of Rodgers and Hornung on college football telecasts could further damage the image of a sport already sullied, with the rest of college athletics, by lax admission requirements for athletes, transcript abuses, failure of athletes to graduate and widespread recruiting transgressions. It also seems strange that as a possible alternative to Rodgers or Hornung, the NCAA acknowledged that it was looking with favor on Turner Broadcasting's courtship of Irv Cross, who played eight seasons in the NFL and has anchored CBS' NFL Today for seven years, an association with professional football that is every bit as conspicuous as Hornung's. Beyond that, one wonders why an organization representing institutions of higher learning supposedly committed to the spirit of inquiry and, yes, to controversy would go to such lengths to censor and sanitize football telecasts. No less puzzling is the willingness of TV networks to sell their journalistic birthright to the promoters of events they purport to "cover." That birthright seems to mean precious little to Robert Wussler, executive vice-president of Turner Broadcasting System. When asked about the fact that Rodgers wouldn't be announcing games for the network after all, Wussler replied, "I have no comment. We have nothing to do with it. It is strictly between the NCAA and Pepper Rodgers."
The Veteran Boxers Association of Philadelphia is an organization of former fighters who believe, admirably, that miscreants ought to be given the opportunity to pay their debts to society. Somewhat less admirably, the association's members also seem to think that one conspicuous wrongdoer should be, in effect, honored for his misdeeds. The beneficiary of this curious generosity of spirit is Frank (Blinky) Palermo, a Philadelphia numbers-operator-turned-fight-manager who is widely believed to have arranged for Jake LaMotta to dump a bout against Billy Fox, whom Palermo managed, in 1947; whose fighter, Curt Kennedy was knocked out by Charley Norkus under highly suspicious circumstances in 1950; another of whose fighters, Johnny Saxton, took the welterweight title away from Kid Gavilan under equally dubious circumstances in 1954; and who in 1961 was convicted with Frankie Carbo, boxing's underworld czar, of extortion and conspiracy charges for muscling in on the contract of welterweight champion Don Jordan.
Paroled in 1971 after serving 7½ years in prison on the extortion rap, Palermo, now 77, will be supping on May 9 at Palumbo's, a nightclub in South Philadelphia, the occasion being the Veteran Boxers Association's annual Mother's Day awards dinner. In recognition of the association's heartfelt belief that, in the words of President Tony Morgano, "he did a lot of things for boxing," Palermo will be inducted that evening into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame.
LIGHTNING STRIKES A THIRD TIME
The answer to the question posed on page 9 is Henry Bibby, who was a sophomore (freshmen weren't eligible in those days) on UCLA's 1970 NCAA champions and was a rookie on the Knicks' 1972-73 NBA champs. After completing his NBA career last season with San Diego, Bibby, now 33, joined the CBA's Lancaster (Pa.) Lightning this season as an assistant coach and player. He averaged 8.1 points per game and two weeks ago helped the Lightning, whose head coach is onetime Knick teammate Cazzie Russell, wrap up a four-games-to-one victory over the Billings (Mont.) Volcanos in the league's best-of-seven championship series.
THEY SAID IT
•Tug McGraw, Phillies relief pitcher, the proud owner of a 1954 Buick: "I like it because it plays old music."
•Reggie Rucker, Cleveland Browns wide receiver, after watching the Hertz commercial in which O.J. Simpson is shown soaring through the air: "If this guy can fly, why does he need to rent a car?"
•Stan Jones, Denver Broncos assistant coach, on Bears owner George Halas' decision last season to get more involved in the club: "This is like Orville Wright coming back and deciding to run United Airlines."