HERE ARE SOME PRACTICES GUARANTEED TO HURT TENNIS
All of a sudden, the officials who are supposed to police the men's Grand Prix tennis circuit are giving signs of actually trying to do just that. Imposing the first penalty against a player for such an offense—and an unprecedentedly severe one for any infraction—the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, the nine-member umbrella organization that oversees the tour, announced last week that it was suspending Guillermo Vilas for one year and fining him $20,000 for accepting appearance money to play in a tournament three months ago in Rotterdam. Although the payment of guarantees is prohibited by Grand Prix rules, the practice is known to be widespread, and the action against Vilas was clearly intended as a warning to tournament directors and players alike to cut it out.
Nor is that the only recent effort to curb the disregard for rules now rampant in tennis. The MIPTC last week also socked French Open champion Yannick Noah with a 42-day suspension for failing to show up for a World Team Cup match last month in D√ºsseldorf. And there has even been talk about a long-overdue crackdown against the notorious on-court misbehavior that afflicts the sport. Complaining that cursing, stalling and abuse of officials have gone too far, Hunter Delatour, the new president of the U.S. Tennis Association, has vowed, for whatever this may be worth, that such abuse won't be tolerated in events overseen by the USTA, which include the U.S. Open.
With too many tournaments vying for the services of too few big-name players, the biggest stars have plainly been able to get away with murder. As though their on-court boorishness weren't bad enough, they also tank matches, withdraw from tournaments for specious reasons and play so many meaningless exhibitions that the Grand Prix circuit is in danger of being reduced to the Petit Prix. All this is in addition to the widespread payment of guarantees that can run as high as $100,000 a tournament, a practice that Harold Solomon, president of the Association of Tennis Professionals, the men's players' union, calls "a cancer."
June 19, 1983
No sooner was the suspension of Vilas announced than the payment of appearance money was being publicly defended by Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Lendl reportedly is under investigation by the MIPTC for accepting a guarantee to play in a tournament last March in Milan. John McEnroe Sr., a lawyer who serves as his son's agent, argued that acceptance of appearance money is no more reprehensible in tennis than it is in the entertainment world. "If a person deserves it, he deserves it," he said.
But tennis, while part of the entertainment business, is also sport, at the heart of which is the imperative that participants compete on equal footing for an acknowledged reward. Secret payment of appearance money is deceitful and conceivably can diminish the incentive to win. As Arthur Ashe, the retired American star and a former member of the MIPTC, puts it, "The public should know that if somebody misses a volley at 30-40, it's going to cost the player some dollars."
Enforcement of the no-guarantee rule is complicated by the fact that appearance money is often camouflaged as payment for other tournament-related activities, such as autograph sessions at stores. But the MIPTC has also been less than zealous in trying to enforce the rules. It apparently now wants to correct that failing, and it may have been emboldened in its determination by the decision of World Championship Tennis, the chief rival to the Grand Prix, to sharply curtail its tournament schedule; players suspended from Grand Prix competition may thus find it harder to cushion the blow by simply switching to WCT events.
The MIPTC became aware that something was amiss with the Rotterdam tournament when, after Connors had withdrawn from the event just before its start, the promoters persuaded Vilas to replace him in negotiations that were suspiciously drawn out. Launching an investigation, the MIPTC found Rotterdam officials surprisingly forthcoming. The MIPTC said it had "irrefutable proof"—presumably either a receipt or a canceled check—of illicit payments to Vilas' agent, Ion Tiriac. Jan Leupe, co-director of the Rotterdam event, said that because the city government is involved in the promotion, tournament officials, for political reasons, had no choice but to come clean. Leupe said the payment was "something between $40,000 and $60,000."
Vilas' lawyer, Thomas F. Betz Jr., claimed that his client was being unfairly singled out as an "example," an argument that may well merit a reduction in his penalty. Vilas has 30 days to appeal, and Betz said he would do so. Whatever the disposition of Vilas' case, the powers-that-be in tennis can best deal with the accusation that they're picking on Vilas by making good on their vows to move forcefully against other rules infractions, too. To eliminate the abuses that are plaguing the game, more "examples" are urgently needed.
JACK THE SOLICITOUS
Here's one more yarn about the late Jack Dempsey. It's told by Ted Harris, a 79-year-old Seattle man who was assistant manager of the Pantages Theater in that city in the 1920s. Dempsey was touring the vaudeville circuit, putting on boxing exhibitions in which he mercilessly battered the same sparring partner night after night. After Dempsey gave the hapless fellow the usual going-over one evening in Seattle, the two men were leaving the darkened theater via an exit that required them to pass beneath a low stairway. As Dempsey ducked, he was heard to warn his sparring partner, "Careful, don't bump your head."
JOLTING DR. JOE
Joe DiMaggio finished his illustrious baseball career long before the American League adopted the designated hitter rule, which makes the news of the ceremony on May 27 at Holy Cross College slightly disorienting. The Yankee Clipper was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, making him Joe DiMaggio, D.H.
Under political siege because of its sorry environmental record, the Reagan Administration last week mounted a counteroffensive. On Saturday President Reagan devoted his weekly five-minute radio address to a defense of his environmental policies, under which, he said, the U.S. was becoming "more healthy and more beautiful each year," and to praise of Interior Secretary James Watt for having increased the amount of land designated as federal wilderness areas. Reagan said that Watt had been criticized unfairly for having recommended that 800,000 acres of federal land be removed from consideration as possible wilderness areas, adding, "Nobody bothered to mention that our Administration has proposed to the Congress addition of another 57 wilderness areas encompassing 2.7 million acres." Reagan also credited Watt with having improved maintenance of the national parks.
The presidential address was notable for its many errors of omission. For example, Reagan neglected to point out that if the nation has indeed become healthier and more beautiful, it is largely because of clean-air and other antipollution laws that his Administration has sought to undermine. In defending Watt's attempted withdrawal of 800,000 acres from consideration as potential wilderness areas, he claimed the Interior Secretary had so acted because the lands in question didn't meet "wilderness standards." What Reagan didn't say was that it's a subject of current litigation whether those standards require Watt to drop the lands from consideration or merely allow him to do so. As for the 2.7 million acres Watt is willing to add to the wilderness system, the addition of those lands was already in the works before he took office, which means that he would have had trouble stopping the process had he tried. With regard to the parks, Watt has indeed improved maintenance. But he has also sought to eliminate acquisition of new parkland and to increase mining and drilling on the edge of parks. Reagan also failed to mention Watt's dubious generosity in leasing coal rights on federal lands, at the moment probably the most controversial issue involving the Interior Department.
Another element of the counteroffensive was a report issued last week by a federal interagency task force on acid rain that concludes that man-made atmospheric pollutants are "probably the major contributors" to the acid precipitation problem bedeviling northeastern North America. In view of the Administration's previous insistence that the causes of acid rain weren't fully known, that's a significant concession. Trouble is, there's nothing in the report to indicate that the White House is ready to take action anytime soon.
While conceding that sulfur and nitrogen oxides are the main components of acid rain, a fact that most responsible scientists have known for years, the 55-page report minimizes the damage to lakes caused by acid rain—it says that "only a small number" have been acidified—and ignores remedial action undertaken elsewhere in the world. In West Germany, for example, where air pollution is believed to have damaged more than one million acres of forest, the government has ordered a cutback on sulfur dioxide emissions. And the report omits other matters of significance; for instance, there's virtually no discussion of acid rain's possible effects on human health.
The report's intent appears not to be the advance of scientific understanding so much as the muting of the public outcry over evidence that the Administration is soft on polluters. The report promises that "recurring assessments will provide a successively refined scientific basis for decision-making as well as opportunities to reexamine research directions." That sounds like a resounding call to non-action and does little to dispel the fear that acid rain will be researched to death while the Administration sits on its hands.
Congratulations to Mackay Yanagisawa, a Honolulu-based promoter who's involved in the operation of two of that city's biggest sports events, the Aloha Bowl (which matches two outstanding college football teams) and the Hula Bowl (a postseason college all-star football game), for winning the closest-to-the-pin golf competition at the annual meeting of the American Football Coaches Association last week in Dallas. The prize: a trip for two to Honolulu.
SHOOTING UP LIKE A BEAN SPROUT
In 1970 a Chinese high jumper named Ni Chih-Chin cleared 7'6", unofficially eclipsing the world record of 7'5¾" held by Valeri Brumel of the Soviet Union. But because China, then an international sports outcast, didn't belong to the IAAF, the world track and field federation, Ni's record wasn't recognized.
China is now a member in good standing of the international sports community, and last week a countryman of Ni's, 20-year-old Zhu Jianhua, set a world high jump record that counts. Competing in the National Games in the Peking Workers Stadium, the 6'4" Zhu, a flopper, cleared 7'9¼", smashing the mark of 7'8¾" set by Gerd Wessig of East Germany at the 1980 Olympics.
The son of a Shanghai transport worker, Zhu took up high jumping at the age of 10, at about the same time that he acquired the nickname Bean Sprout because of his skinny frame. He soon came under the tutelage of a coach named Hu Hongfei, who changed Zhu from a straddle-style jumper to a flopper. In 1980, by way of motivating Zhu, Hu nailed two crossbars on a wall of the Shanghai sports center where Zhu trained. He put one of the bars at a height of 7'6", representing Ni's decade-old mark, which was recognized as a national and Asian record, and the other at the height of Wessig's world record. Zhu would see the bars before practice and, as he tells it, would continually ask himself, "What have you done to surpass these heights?"
In June 1981 Zhu broke Ni's record with a 7'6½" jump at the Asian championships in Tokyo and, after a six-month layoff because of an ankle injury, improved on that three times, culminating in a jump of 7'7¾" at the Asian Games last December in New Delhi. Last week in Peking he barely missed at 7'8¼", knocking the bar off with his heel after he'd seemingly cleared it with ease. The crowd groaned, but Zhu, encouraged by the near-miss, asked that the bar be placed at 7'9¼", which he cleared on his next attempt. Afterward he said he was setting his sights on 7'10½", which he vowed to clear at "the earliest possible time." The '84 Olympics, one imagines, would be none too soon.
MAKING LINGUISTIC HISTORY
A Seattle informant calls our attention to something that Frank Howard, the new manager of the New York Mets, said the other day on the syndicated TV show This Week In Baseball. Speaking about players being traded, Howard offered the following: "It's nothing that I don't think you don't really feel or realize isn't going to happen." Which, our source observes, "represents one of the rare known instances of a quadruple negative in the English language."
THEY SAID IT
•Tony LaRussa, the 38-year-old manager of the Chicago White Sox: "The toughest thing for me as a young manager is that a lot of my players saw me play. They know how bad I was."
•Craig Morton, after his coaching debut with the Denver Gold, a 21-19 win over the Birmingham Stallions, when asked if the experience had been less taxing than playing in the NFL: "Are you kidding me? I have a sore throat, my knees ache and my back hurts."
•Sam Snead, on being reminded that he has won golf tournaments in six different decades: "Is that right? How long are decades nowadays?"
•Joe West, National League umpire, who has signed to appear in a movie as a National Guardsman who gets shot: "Plenty of players will like that."