INSULTS AND BRINKMANSHIP
Labor relations in sports can take strange twists and turns. NBA and major league baseball owners lavish huge salaries on their players even as they solemnly insist they can't afford to do so. In the NFL, on the other hand, the owners concede that they can afford bigger salaries but refuse to shell them out. Expressing the hope that an impending players' strike could be averted, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle recently offered assurances that "there is enough money to be carved up" between owners and players, an incontrovertible fact in view of the league's new five-year, $2.1 billion TV contract. And Washington Redskin Chairman Jack Kent Cooke has publicly allowed that "in my opinion, the players deserve more money, perhaps much more money than they're presently getting."
So why aren't they getting it? Last week, four days before the opening of the 1982 season, the NFL Management Council sought to break its collective-bargaining impasse with the NFL Players Association by making an offer that it said would give players more than $600 million in "new money." As the council outlined it, $40 million of that sum would be in the form of benefit increases, $126 million would come in "career-adjustment" bonuses and $475 million more in salary increases, a figure the council arrived at by assuming that salaries would continue to go up by the 15% a year they had in recent years. The council also offered to relax restrictions on free agency a bit, although not nearly as much as they've been eased in the NBA and in baseball. NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey promptly rejected the proposal, which he called an "insult."
The NFL's offer wasn't as generous as it may have seemed. The proposed bonus arrangement called for immediate payment of $10,000 to every present NFL player for each year of service from 1977 to 1982 and an additional $10,000 bonus for each year of service from 1983 to 1986—up to a maximum $100,000 per player. But Garvey, noting that the average NFL career is just 4.2 years, claims that no more than 5% of all current players would stand to collect the full $100,000. Also, there's no assurance that future NFLers would get a significant piece of the action. Nor would there be anything to prevent clubs from compensating for the bonus outlays by being stingier when it came to giving raises, notwithstanding management's assumption that such raises would continue to average 15% a year. "They're saying they've improved the free-agent system," says Garvey. "Then they're saying salaries will continue to rise at 15%. If they've improved the system, shouldn't the salaries go up higher?" As for the assumption that salaries will continue to rise at 15%, Garvey says, "They tell us, 'Trust us,' but they don't guarantee anything."
If the NFL owners really mean what they say about players deserving more money, they should provide it—with guarantees. Instead, they continue to practice a form of brinkmanship underscored when Management Council Executive Director Jack Donlan coyly described his side's new proposal as "very close to where we're going to go," the implication being that the council was still withholding its best offer. Instead of making the players knuckle under, this risky strategy has steadily strengthened the resolve of a union that until now hasn't been particularly unified.
The NFLPA has threatened a wholesale walkout as early as next week and no later than Oct. 3, but it's a measure of the membership's growing unease that the Seattle Seahawks nearly took it upon themselves to strike Sunday's season opener against Cleveland because of their conviction, right or wrong, that Wide Receiver Sam McCullum had been waived as the result of his activities as the club's player representative. Another indication of rank-and-file resoluteness came when several members of the Houston Oilers, given copies of the new management offer, burned them in the club's locker room. Unless the owners soon change their ill-conceived bargaining tactics, the next thing to go up in smoke could be the 1982 NFL season.
Alzek Misheff, a 42-year-old Bulgarian-born artist who lives in Milan, puts himself into his work with a vengeance. Acting on his view that "every artist creates his own show, be it with canvas or performance," Misheff on one occasion donned huge plastic wings and suspended himself by pulleys high above a meadow to create a work called How to Fly With Fins. For an artwork-event entitled The Mole, he burrowed into a heap of paper balls meant to represent the earth. Then there's something called The Fire in which Misheff proposes to wear a flame-retardant costume and set himself ablaze on stage. That's still in "the project stage" because, as Misheff gingerly puts it, The Fire "has too many aspects which recall the concept of danger."
In addition to air, earth and fire, Misheff has celebrated a fourth element, water. Although he claims to have been an accomplished middle-distance runner as a youth, he now spends almost as much time swimming as he does on terra firma. "With swimming, I've found the perfect way to balance my life and my work," he says. One of Misheff's earliest plunges into what might be called aquatic art was a performance entitled The Swimming Pool; the artist simply swam for an hour in a small portable pool, after which the audience was served 44 pounds of Bulgarian beans. That was followed by Blowing Bubbles in which, as Misheff described it in his book, My Lies, he used liquid soap to blow bubbles in a tank and then asked the audience to do the same. All this was preparatory to Misheff's masterwork, Swimming Across the Atlantic. What this involved, it turned out, was nothing more heroic than Misheff's swimming in a pool aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 as the ship crossed from Southampton to New York last month on its first passenger voyage following its service in the Falklands war. Misheff built up to the QE2 crossing by staging a dozen related happenings, including exhibitions of his paintings and a theatrical piece in Milan, The Aquatic Cocktail Party, during which he swam two laps underwater, then was joined in the pool by a formally dressed waiter who served him champagne.
For the QE2 voyage, Misheff was carried aboard the ship in a blue tub—"a goldfish in a bowl" is how he described himself. He swam in the quarterdeck pool for two to four hours a day, using only the butterfly stroke. This is the most demanding stroke and also, according to Misheff, "the most beautiful." There was a storm during the crossing, and he says, "Everyone else was taking seasick pills, but the water calmed me. I moved with it, not against it." During fair weather, other passengers joined him in the pool, and they received a diploma signed by Misheff signifying that they, too, had swum across the Atlantic.
Inevitably, some people aboard the QE2 wondered whether their butterfly-stroking, diploma-conferring fellow passenger might be, well, a man overboard. Undaunted, Misheff explained that Swimming Across the Atlantic was merely intended to "poke fun at preconception and challenge the absurd." And, oh yes, would anybody like to help him finance his voyage by buying a section of his drawing Wave on Wave? Misheff created that work in five days of nonstop toil in Milan. It consisted of wavy lines drawn on a 30-meter-long strip of paper with 400 blue ball-point pens. Ten meters were sold at a price of roughly $650 a meter.
Houston Astro First Baseman Ray Knight has been going around in recent months with a young woman he introduces as "my girl friend, Nancy." Double takes are in order. The object of Knight's very obvious affection is Nancy Lopez, the golfer. The 29-year-old Knight, who as of Sunday was among the National League batting leaders with a .298 average, met Lopez, 25, who's eighth on this year's LPGA money list, in Houston, where they were living only a few doors apart. Lopez' divorce from Houston sportscaster Tim Melton recently became final, and friends don't rule out the possibility that she and Knight will marry. There's no telling what Rona Barrett would say about any of this, but students of mixed-sports romances would no doubt rank a Knight-Lopez union right up there with such other notable pairings as Jackie Jensen-Zoe Ann Olsen, Ralph Kiner-Nancy Chaffee and Terry Bradshaw-Jo Jo Starbuck.
PAHK YAH CAH NEAH FENWAY PAHK
Larry Barnett's name was misspelled Larry Bonnett on the Fenway Park scoreboard at the start of a recent Red Sox game. It seems that the scoreboard operator had been given Barnett's name orally, something that can obviously cause problems in Bahstan.
This year's U.S. Open was sullied by the sort of player misbehavior that has become all too common in tennis. During his quarterfinal victory over Gene Mayer, John McEnroe asked that the line judge be changed after he had called four foot faults on McEnroe. Although the rules make no provision for honoring such a request, McEnroe got a new judge. During a win over Victor Amaya, Johan Kriek protested a call by shaking an umpire's stand. Then there was the Ilie Nastase-Jimmy Connors match. When Mike Blanchard, the tournament referee, called for a suspension of action because of a light rainfall, Nasty and Jimbo blithely kept on playing. When the characteristically abusive Nastase began cursing and carrying on, Don Wiley, the chair umpire, after issuing a warning, hit him with a point penalty that cost him a game. Nastase then warned Wiley that if Wiley kept looking at him, "I kill you." During a break Nasty threw a towel at Wiley, who pretended not to notice the affront.
Why do tennis officials put up with such antics, which would get a baseball or basketball player thrown out of a game? The answer is that players can be immediately replaced in those sports and are thus expendable, which isn't the case in tennis. All right then, how does somebody like Wiley feel about being subjected to public abuse? SI's Joy Duckett posed that question to Wiley, who professed to be unfazed. He suggested that cursing at officials has always gone on in sports, the only difference being that in tennis a microphone is now at courtside to pick it up. As for how it felt to be hit by a towel and threatened in front of a large audience, Wiley shrugged and said, "I can't give you feelings. I can only give you facts. It goes with officiating in professional sports."
That's an interesting commentary on professional sports. So is something else Wiley said. Referring to the Connors-Nastase match, he wryly concluded, "It was a very good, entertaining match...as far as the crowd was concerned."
One of the services we've faithfully tried to perform in these pages is to keep abreast of the admittedly esoteric research of Jed Brickner, a Los Angeles lawyer and track-and-field nut who analyzes performances on the basis of days of the week on which they occur (SCORECARD, March 10, 1980, et seq.). Conspicuous among Brickner's previously reported findings was the fact that only one athlete had the top performance in his specialty for each day of the week—Edwin Moses in the 400-meter hurdles. But that, as Brickner now notes, was before West Germany's Harald Schmid won the 400-meter hurdles in last week's European championships in Athens (page 66). Moses still holds the world record of 47.13 set on July 3, 1980—a Thursday—and he also has the "records" for Sunday (47.59), Monday (47.90), Tuesday (47.14), Friday (47.17) and Saturday (47.45). But Schmid's time of 47.48 in Athens eclipsed Moses' mark of 47.64 as the fastest ever on a Wednesday, thereby ending the latter's reign as the sport's only seven-day wonder.
THEY SAID IT
•Ed Garvey, the NFLPA's executive director, after being booed by many of the 1,600 fans who attended a Washington Redskins team luncheon: "They had me confused with Steve Garvey."
•Ron Davis, Minnesota Twins pitcher, objecting to a newspaper story in which he was quoted as criticizing the club's management for trading away many of its top players: "All I said was that the trades were stupid and dumb, and they took that and blew it all out of proportion."
•Lynn Jones, Detroit Tiger rightfielder, to slick-fielding rookie Centerfielder Glenn Wilson: "Kid, they're going to name a glove after you."