SYMBOLISM AT OLE MISS
University of Mississippi Chancellor Porter L. Fortune Jr. announced last week that the Confederate flag will be dropped as an official school symbol. The main effect is that Ole Miss cheerleaders will no longer distribute Confederate flags to fans before football games. But there will be nothing to prevent fans from bringing in flags on their own because, said Fortune, "the university does not have the authority to ban the use and display of the Rebel flag by individuals."
Fortune's action angered many white Ole Miss boosters and students who see the Confederate flag as part of a tradition worth preserving at an institution whose sports teams, after all, are nicknamed the Rebels. But many of the 750 blacks among Ole Miss's 9,500-member student body objected that Fortune should have gone further and also dropped such other symbols of the Old South as Colonel Rebel, the school mascot, the use of Dixie as the unofficial school song and the Rebel nickname itself. But Fortune did none of that and, even in the case of the Confederate flag, seemed reluctant to go much beyond saying that it had come to be seen by many as "a vestige of an earlier and troubled era."
It's difficult to understand exactly what distinction Fortune was drawing in dropping the flag but not other trappings of the Confederacy. The elimination of Dixie as a school song might mean that the band would no longer play it after every touchdown, as it does now, but students could still exercise their right to free speech by singing it a cappella to their hearts' content. At any rate, the Confederate flag and other symbols are more than a "vestige" of some earlier time. Over the years they've also become symbols of here-and-now racism. When Steve Sloan quit as the Rebel football coach last year to become coach at Duke, he complained that Ole Miss's choice of symbols offended many black athletes and put the school at a disadvantage in recruiting. Lest anybody doubt that such symbols have racial associations, consider what happened last week when 1,000 white Ole Miss students, singing Dixie and carrying Confederate flags, staged a campus rally in support of the Confederate symbols. Some 500 of the demonstrators then marched to Fortune's house. After that, the marchers, some of them yelling racial epithets, descended, chillingly, on their ultimate destination, a black fraternity house.
WHITE HOUSE VISITS (CONT.)
Here's more on the NCAA rule against postseason trips that prevented North Carolina State's 1983 college basketball champs from shmoozing with President Reagan at the White House (SCORECARD, April 25). As already noted, the rule didn't prevent Indiana's NCAA-champion basketball team from visiting Gerald Ford at the White House in 1976 or two members of Clemson's national-champion football team from calling on Reagan last year. The Hoosiers claimed that the NCAA had agreed to waive the rule, while Tiger officials say they didn't even know it was on the books.
It now turns out that Louisville's basketball team visited Jimmy Carter at the White House after winning the NCAA title in 1980. Like the Clemson administrators, Steve Bing, Louisville's vice-president for university relations, pleads ignorance of the rule prohibiting such visits. "We were invited and we went," he says. "Nobody, to my knowledge, ever discussed it being against the rules. If it was a violation of the rules, it was totally inadvertent."
The revelation about Louisville, which isn't all that much of a revelation—a photo of the Cardinals on the White House lawn adorns the cover of the school's 1980-'81 basketball yearbook—comes as further evidence that the NCAA hasn't done much of a job of enforcing the rule in question. Just as clearly, it also suggests that member schools don't know the NCAA rulebook nearly as well as they should. Or maybe they just don't want to know.
ON THE ROAD
The Russell (Kans.) Daily News, whose usual fare consists of wedding announcements, wheat-futures quotations and the comings and goings of the most famous of its 5,427 inhabitants, Senator Robert Dole, carried a front-page story last week about a bit of excitement at a truck stop along Interstate 70 in the even smaller (pop. 124) nearby hamlet of Bunker Hill:
"Muhammad Ali, former world-heavyweight boxer, held court for several hours in the Bear House Cafe, Bunker Hill. Traveling with his secretary, Marge Thomas, from Chicago to Los Angeles, the well-known world figure stopped in Bunker Hill shortly after noon Wednesday when the water pump went out on his silver-gray Stutz Bearcat.
"While Nyal French and Mitch Pasek repaired the car in the nearby Tri-States Truck and Trailer sales and repair shop, the fighter had a cup of soup and signed autographs for truckers and others who stopped at the cafe.
" 'I enjoy meeting people everywhere I go,' Muhammad Ali said, as some youngsters stopped by the counter and apologized for bothering him....
"Waitress Lee Modlin began her first day on the job just a few hours before Ali's noon arrival at the cafe, which gets its name from the two bears housed in cages at a service station next door.
" 'I about died,' she said. 'He was real nice and real sweet. He signed a lot of autographs for us here.'
"Her husband, Lloyd Modlin, helped repair the water pump on Ali's Stutz Bearcat in about 90 minutes.
"The car, a handmade luxury model, has an Oldsmobile engine and the pump replacement wasn't as difficult as mechanics thought it would be.
"When Muhammad Ali learned that Kansas City is 235 miles away, Denver about 400 miles and Wichita about 155 miles, he shook his head and said, 'Man, I'm right in the middle of nowhere....' "
A LETTER FROM OUR SOCCER WRITER
Seattle, Wash. 98104
April 23, 1983
This is by way of filling you in about a soccer team of which you are, in a sense, the owner. It's Team America, launched with glowing hopes of adding a truly international dimension to the sport in the U.S. The idea was that it would be an ail-American team—that is, all the players were to be Americans—that would play as an entity in the NASL and also do battle with the outside world in World Cup and Olympic competition.
When you received your initial prospectus, the outlook couldn't have been more propitious. There seemed a good chance that the U.S. would host the World Cup in 1986 and thereby automatically qualify for the tournament. As for the Olympics, a relaxation of eligibility rules to allow pros to compete was necessary before Team America could become the U.S. entry in '84, and the International Olympic Committee seemed all set to approve just such a relaxation. Moreover, the NASL and the MISL kindly agreed that your team's coach, Alkis Panagoulias, would be free to cast his eye over both leagues and gather from them the flower of American soccer talent.
Well, that prospectus, I'm sorry to tell you, turned out to be overly optimistic. Because the language of another sport may still be more familiar to you than that of soccer, you should probably think of the situation in terms of a young fighter who in the opening round is already reeling from two savage rights to the jaw. The first of those blows landed in late March when FIFA, soccer's international controlling body, all but formally dismissed the U.S. bid to host the World Cup. Next, FIFA itself was spurned when the IOC rejected its proposal to ease Olympic eligibility rules. This was the end of the road to the Games for Team America; now the U.S. Soccer Federation will have to patch together a college side to meet the captains and colonels of the Eastern bloc countries.
Last week your team assembled in Seattle to prepare for its first NASL game, but much of the week was taken up by a scramble to put a side together. Until Wednesday, Team America consisted of the minimum 11 players and one goalie in reserve. In the end the Cosmos surrendered Boris Bandov, a naturalized American from Yugoslavia. Fort Lauderdale came up with Andy Parkinson, a South African, and Golden Bay gave up an Englishman, Alan Green. Team America? Well, it was explained, both Parkinson and Green will be eligible for citizenship later this year. Now, you may wonder what became of those promises about Team America getting the best Americans. Didn't read the fine print, did you? Certainly clubs were obliged to yield players. But the players had the option of whether or not to join your team, and some of them chose not to.
Well, don't despair. Team America does have some eager fellows, and its captain, Jeff Durgan, sounds a determinedly upbeat note. Reflecting on the fact that the U.S. won't host the World Cup and therefore won't automatically qualify for that tournament, Durgan says, "The World Cup would have been great for soccer here. But this doesn't blow it all. Now we have to qualify. So we qualify. We have to believe we can do it."
Durgan and his teammates also believed they could beat Seattle in their NASL debut, and you know what? They did it, fighting the Sounders, who started six Englishmen, to a scoreless standoff in regulation time and winning 1-0 after a shootout. Team America's next game is on May 8 on its home pitch in Washington, D.C. against the Tulsa Roughnecks. Ah, make that home field.
BLIND MEN AND CRIERS
Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn fined Yankee owner George Steinbrenner $50,000 last week for inflammatory remarks Steinbrenner had made about National League President Chub Feeney and that league's umpires while watching a spring-training game against the Expos in Fort Lauderdale on March 25. Steinbrenner said he would pay the fine, but he also implied that he'd been misquoted about the remarks, saying he regretted that "if in the reporting of the story the impression was given" that he was questioning the integrity of Feeney or the umpires.
This wasn't the first effort by Steinbrenner to blame his troubles over the remarks on the half-dozen reporters who'd been standing with him that day behind the fence along the first-base line at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. The area is a favorite vantage point of Steinbrenner's at the park, and he has frequently been joined there by sportswriters and quoted by them on things he said. This time the quotes had to do with some close calls that went against the Yankees, prompting Steinbrenner to refer to the two National League umpires working the game as "homers" and to claim that on Feeney's instructions, "the National League umps will always give the close play to the National League."
After those statements were published, Steinbrenner at first claimed that he'd been sitting in the stands during the game, and thus hadn't even been in the reporters' presence. When that was shown to be false, he tried to claim that the reporters were in "a place they shouldn't have been." He also insisted that he'd been speaking not to the reporters but to a friend and that his words had been off the record. But the writers concurred that he'd been speaking to the whole group. Some of them were even taking notes as he spoke. All agreed he'd said nothing about his comments being off the record. As for Steinbrenner's subsequent intimation that he hadn't been questioning anybody's integrity, his references to "homers" and to Feeney stacking the deck against the American League speak for themselves.
Steinbrenner's handling of the controversy was reminiscent of a flap in early February over his assertions in a speech in Batavia, N.Y. and a press conference in Syracuse, N.Y. that Yankee Outfielder Dave Winfield "just isn't the winner Reggie Jackson was." When those remarks caused sparks to fly, Steinbrenner issued a press release in which he called it "a shame that a young writer would take my statements out of context just to get a sensational story." It wasn't clear which "young writer" Steinbrenner had in mind because his comments on Winfield had been recounted by at least three reporters—representing the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, UPI and The Syracuse Post-Standard. While the three are young—all are in their 20s—they wrote virtually identical accounts of what Steinbrenner had said about Winfield. Bill LeMon, who attended the Syracuse press conference, confirmed that those accounts weren't taken out of context. LeMon majored in journalism at Bucknell, received a master's degree in radio and TV at Syracuse, owns an advertising and public-relations firm and is an adjunct professor of advertising and the acting sports information director at LeMoyne College. He's 50 years old.
Ironically, the press conference in Syracuse took place before a speech by Steinbrenner at the annual dinner of the Blind Men and Criers Marching and Chowder Society, an organization of referees and coaches. As the whimsical name suggests, friction between field officials and team officials is natural and even the source of humor. But Steinbrenner's remarks about the umpires in Fort Lauderdale—and indeed his baiting of umps over the years—go well beyond the jocular. It's debatable whether those remarks are any more objectionable than Steinbrenner's public humiliation of his players or his repeated distortions of the truth. What isn't debatable is that Steinbrenner of all people has no business questioning the integrity of umpires, reporters or anybody else.
AN OLDTIMER'S LAMENT
The Arnold Toynbee Memorial Award goes to John Bassett, owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits in the then seven-week-old USFL, who, fuming over a costly penalty in an 18-13 loss to the Los Angeles Express, said: "It was the worst-officiated game in the history of the league."
THEY SAID IT
•Roger Erickson, Yankee pitcher, announcing his retirement after being demoted to Columbus with assurances that he was part of the parent team's future: "I don't want to be in your future. It's frustrating enough being in your present."
•Lynn Swann, ABC pro football announcer: "I'm only five pounds over my playing weight, but it's all Snickers."
•Severiano Ballesteros, Masters champion and a native of Pedre√±a, Spain, when asked how many languages he speaks: "About six or seven. Spanish, Argentine, Cuban, Mexican..."