A PHONE CALL FROM THE PRESIDENT
Ronald Reagan, that old baseball play-by-play man, has the reputation of being an enthusiastic sports fan. But the President has had trouble lately handling the names of some of the nation's athletic heroes. For example, while hosting the NBA champion Boston Celtics at the White House last week, he butchered the names of three ex-Celtic greats, Tom Heinsohn, John Havlicek and Dave Cowens, referring to them as "Hein-shown," "Havizlak" and "Coevens," respectively.
Reagan's difficulty with names was also evident during preparations for the congratulatory phone call he made to the Los Angeles Raiders' locker room following their 38-9 win over the Redskins in January's Super Bowl in Tampa. Reagan spoke to Raider coach Tom Flores after being briefed by White House aides and CBS-TV staffers. The exchange was captured on tape as follows:
Male voice (to Reagan): O.K.? O.K. They hear you fine. It will be a few minutes, O.K.
June 24, 1984
Reagan: It's Joe Flores, isn't it? Joe...yeah.
Two voices (in unison): No.... Tom. It's Tom.
Reagan: Tom Flores. Tom Flores. Joe Gibbs.
Voice over monitor. Mr. President, Mr. President? This is Tampa Bay. Do you hear us?
Monitor: Thank you very much. We will inform you before you go on the air, sir.
Reagan: All right.
Male voice: It's Tom Flores...
Male voice: Mr. President, this is the largest margin of victory for any team since Super Bowl I.
Female voice: The largest margin of victory since Super Bowl I.
Male voice: In Super Bowl history.
Female voice: In Super Bowl history.
Soon CBS announcer Brent Musberger is heard in the locker room in Tampa, saying, "Let us start out with the trophy presentation with Tom Flores and Al Davis. And here is commissioner Pete Rozelle...."
Reagan (over the voices of Musberger and Rozelle): Davis? Davis is the owner, isn't he?
Female voice: Who's the owner?
Male voice: Al Davis.
Female voice: Al Davis is the owner...commissioner Pete Rozelle...Tom Flores.
Musberger announces that Reagan, "the nation's number one sporting fan," is standing by live in the White House.
Reagan: Coach Tom Flores?
Flores: Yes, Mr. President.
Reagan: Congratulations, that was a wonderful win tonight....
Reagan's subsequent conversation with Flores was marred by a couple of presidential nuclear weapons jokes in dubious taste. But then, Reagan's dial-a-champ routines have tended to be awkward. During his phone call last year to the World Series champion Baltimore Orioles, Reagan was passed around like a plate of liver, Bowie Kuhn to Joe Altobelli to Rick Dempsey. Two years ago, rather than wait up for a night game on the West Coast, the President called to congratulate Gaylord Perry before the latter's not-yet-certain 300th win. Other phone calls have been beset by technical problems.
In sharp contrast, the in-person visit with the Celtics in the Rose Garden brimmed with good humor, as when Boston guard Dennis Johnson asked Reagan, who looked crisp and cool in the 97-degree heat, "How do you stand out here and not sweat?" Afterward, Celtic general manager Red Auerbach gushed, "It's a thrill to have the President of the United States shake your hand." The mispronunciation of the names of some of Auerbach's old stars scarcely seemed to matter.
There's a story making the rounds about a college football coach who, faced with the possibility that his star player might be declared academically ineligible, pleaded with a math professor not to flunk the kid. "Tell you what, coach," said the professor. "I'll ask him a question in your presence. If he gets it right, I'll pass him."
The athlete was called in, and the prof asked, "What's two and two?"
"Four," replied the player.
Frantically the coach cried, "Give him another chance. Give him another chance."
The Pritikin, Cambridge and Eat To Win diets combined probably can't save the wrestling career of 410-pound Tab Thacker. Already 37½ pounds lighter than he was in March when he won the NCAA heavyweight title as a North Carolina State senior, the 6'5" Thacker would have to shed 124 more pounds by 1985 to squeeze under the new 286-pound weight restriction being placed on super heavyweight wrestlers by FILA, wrestling's international governing body. Otherwise, he and others his size won't be allowed to compete in the Olympics, the world championships or anywhere else. "It's not fair any kind of way," says Thacker—and he's right.
Studies have shown that extra-large wrestlers like Thacker don't endanger their lighter opponents by sheer bulk and don't suffer more injuries themselves. And few grapplers weighing 300 pounds or more have ever, despite their presumed advantage, dominated international or intercollegiate competition. Yet both FILA and the NCAA, which will impose a 275-pound limit on wrestlers beginning in 1986, have decided that "it's just not a healthy situation," as one NCAA official put it, for a wrestler to be as large as Thacker. "I don't know how they can make an arbitrary judgment like that," protests N.C. State coach Bob Guzzo. "The biggest health problem in wrestling is with kids who cut too much weight." Adds Thacker, "If they want to find out how healthy I am, I'll go to any doctor they want."
Presumably, the early death of former NCAA champion and 1972 Olympic bronze medalist Chris Taylor in 1979 helped inspire the rule changes. Taylor, who weighed as much as 470 pounds, died of a heart attack at age 29. But, as Guzzo says, "There aren't any rules against 300-pound football players." Or against a 285-pound basketball player like Auburn star Charles Barkley, or a 365-pound weightlifter like the Soviet Union's Vasily Alexeyev, who won gold medals in the super heavyweight division at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. Besides, banning Thacker won't make him lose 124 pounds. "I'm just big," says Tab. "Food stays with me."
Thacker, who has a role as a bouncer in an upcoming Burt Reynolds movie, is still trying to determine how to challenge the pending weight limitations. He missed qualifying for this week's Olympic trials in Allendale, Mich. because of a shoulder injury but is still hoping for a shot at the 1988 Games. Coming up behind him is his 13-year-old brother Terl, a junior high school wrestler, who already weighs 300 pounds. Terl could be deprived of a college scholarship if the NCAA rule change sticks. Thacker says, "If Terl gets far enough and the rule's still in effect, then I guess we'll just have to fight it together."
TEE FOR TWO
Golfer Tom Kite Jr. and his wife, Christy, recently found out that the baby they're expecting in September will actually be twins. The surprised parents, who already have a daughter, Stephanie, 2½, were comforted by Tom's dad, Tom Kite Sr., a retired IRS man, who said, happily, "Well, you'll get an extra deduction on your income tax." But one of the couple's golfing friends pointed out a benefit of even greater potential value. Mindful of the courtesies that a certain tournament in Augusta routinely bestows on family members of competitors, he said, "That just means you'll receive an extra admissions badge for the Masters."
Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden notes that he and two of his players, Darrell Griffith and John Drew, each drive new Mercedes. Recently, Layden says, he parked his Mercedes in the team lot, carefully leaving a space on each side of it. Griffith drove in and took pains to do the same. But when Drew pulled in, he sandwiched his Mercedes between the other two cars. To Layden and Griffith he said, "You know what that tells me? You guys can't afford them."
FUSS OVER FOREIGNERS
Foreign athletes have had a big impact in the U.S. on college basketball, swimming, track and field and other varsity sports. But the foreign influence has been especially great in intercollegiate tennis. This is true even at the small-college level. Witness the controversy that arose during the recent NAIA tournament in Kansas City.
To call the NAIA tourney foreign-dominated would be a grave understatement. Nine of the top 10 seeds in men's play were imports, and in the singles final a Canadian, Peter Pristach of Lander (S.C.) College, beat a Mexican, Jorge Jimenez of the University of Texas-Tyler. In a showdown between Swedish teammates at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, Berit Bj√∂rk beat Katy Livijn in the women's singles final. The only American to reach the semifinals in either men's or women's play was Pam Caplin of Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., who lost to Livijn, but not before lending her voice to a rising chorus that holds that foreigners shouldn't be welcome in NAIA competition.
"If I knew where to start I'd be the first one in line to start a movement to get rid of them," Caplin said. "If they want to come here and play, let them pay for school instead of getting scholarships. Let them put money in the American economy. Sure they are superior players, but I don't think Berit Bj√∂rk should have got an award as an Ail-American. She's not an American."
The Swedes replied in kind. After defeating Caplin in the semis 6-3, 6-2, Livijn said, "I wanted to beat her badly for what she said. I wanted to make it quick. I wanted to kill her." Bj√∂rk said, "When I read what she said, I said, 'What's the matter with that girl? What's her problem? Big words, big mouth.' " But it was left to Arkansas-Little Rock coach Paul Kostin, also a Swede, to point out that the presence of gifted foreigners can only raise the standard of play in what is, after all, an international game. "The bottom line is that if American players want to be able to play at a high level, they'll have to be able to handle foreign players," Kostin said. "You don't just play Americans if you go on the circuit."
THEY SAID IT
•Ray Perkins, Alabama football coach, asked if his wife resents his 18-hour workdays: "I don't know. I don't see her that much."
•Tommy Lasorda, Dodger manager, lamenting his club's lengthy injury list: "I called the suicide hotline. I told them what was happening. They told me to go ahead, I was doing the right thing."
•Jim Palmer, reflecting on his forced retirement from the Orioles: "It really bothers me to think I may never throw a home-run pitch again."