ON STALKING THE ELUSIVE CEDRIC HENDERSON
Cedric Henderson, Georgia's 6'8" freshman basketball star, gets around. As a youngster, he lived at various times with his mother, his sister and several foster families. "Cedric had a rough time of it," a friend recalls. "He was jerked from pillar to post." Henderson's basketball prowess only contributed to the instability of his life. As an eighth-grader in Lithia Springs, Ga., he was recruited by a high school coach in Jefferson City, Tenn. who became his foster father. But he soon encountered eligibility problems at the Tennessee school and transferred to Marietta (Ga.) High.
Once he became a hot college prospect, Henderson really swung into motion. In order, he orally committed himself to play his college ball at Louisville, signed with Georgia, dropped out of Marietta High, signed with Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, attended an alternative high school in Atlanta, made noises (again) about going to Louisville, took part in an international-studies program in Jamaica, settled into a Carson-Newman dorm, moved out after it was discovered he'd never graduated from high school, belatedly received a diploma from the Atlanta alternative school and, finally, enrolled at Georgia. Along the way, Henderson left a trail of rumors that college recruiters were encouraging his peregrinations with improper inducements.
Henderson may be a moving target, but that hasn't prevented the NCAA from training its sights on him and the school that won the battle for his services. Last month the NCAA put Georgia's football program on probation because of recruiting violations. Now the NCAA is accusing the Bulldog basketball program of 27 recruiting infractions—most of them involving Henderson. The NCAA's basketball investigation began while Henderson was still attending Marietta High, and sources familiar with the case say he changed his story to the NCAA almost as fast as he did his mailing address. After at first denying knowledge of any violations, Henderson began accusing Georgia of considerable wrongdoing—this apparently while he was leaning toward Louisville. But then, having returned to the Georgia fold, he again disavowed knowledge of any improprieties.
The NCAA evidently thinks Henderson was telling the truth when he accused Georgia of transgressions. According to one source, Henderson told investigators that a Georgia coach repeatedly left envelopes containing money for him at Atlanta-area hotels. The source says Henderson also told them he was visited more than 20 times by Georgia recruiters; six "contacts" are permitted under NCAA rules. But Henderson's mother, Bessie, says her son implicated Georgia merely "to get [the NCAA] off his back." She complains that an NCAA investigator bombarded her with "strange questions"—on one occasion in a I a.m. phone conversation. Henderson's coach at Marietta High, Charlie Hood, says he heard an NCAA operative warn Cedric, then in high school, that he could forfeit his college eligibility if he lied to the NCAA. In fact, high school athletes are under no obligation to cooperate with NCAA investigators.
The long arm of the NCAA has also touched two coaches of an Atlanta-area AAU Junior Olympic team on which Henderson played. The coaches, Johnny Williams and Joe Curry, both of whom were interviewed by NCAA investigators, told SI that they spent more than $1,000 on Henderson—a figure that includes the gift of a used Dodge Charger worth $700, clothes and tuition payments to summer school and a University of Georgia basketball camp. They also said they let Henderson use two other cars and a pickup truck. The NCAA apparently considers Williams and Curry to be "representatives" of Georgia's "athletics interests"—terminology that covers boosters as well as school staffers—but the two coaches denied acting on behalf of Georgia.
As of Sunday, Georgia had a 17-6 record and Henderson was its leading scorer with a 15-points-per-game average. Although Henderson has lately confined his movements to the court, his case keeps stirring up new recriminations. One source says that other schools may be implicated in wrongdoing in recruiting him. The case also raises questions about the head-spinning attention lavished on outstanding young athletes. How can such attention possibly do a youth like Henderson any good? And how do the adults who shamelessly fawn on those athletes justify their actions? In explaining why he and Williams provided Henderson with free cars—which, incidentally, could be a violation of AAU and Junior Olympic rules—Curry said, "We know that every kid wants a car. Athletes, especially, because you know [they feel], 'Here we are, king of the hill—but we're walking.' That's kind of embarrassing for them."
On the other hand, it might be argued that help in getting around was the last thing Henderson needed.
I'M GLAD YOU ASKED, BUSTER
A member of the audience at a high school football dinner in San Francisco asked 49er tackle William (Bubba) Paris, who was speaking at the affair, how serious a student he had been at Michigan, where he received a bachelor's degree in education in 1982. Paris gave this reply: "When I approach the complex question of academics, I find it difficult to desensitize myself to the derogatory implications that non-educated people have on me, the affected class. Through research I have found that most academic institutions fabricate fictitious additions, luring adolescent students, causing them to capitulate to the system, detrimental to their advancement."
PALM BEACH OR BUST
One pressing item of business at last week's NHL board of governors meeting in Calgary was the suggestion that the league's general managers move their annual midwinter meeting from Palm Beach, Fla., where it has been held in recent years, to Chicago. Because the Windy City is centrally located, it was argued, having the G.M.s convene there would be more economical for many of the clubs. That proposal was so persuasive that one of the young governors innocently suggested that it be expanded. Maybe, he said, the governors should hold their annual December meeting in Chicago, too—and not at The Breakers in Palm Beach. That's when the whole subject of new meeting sites was quietly dropped.
THE WEEK AT THE FIGHTS
Other NHL (National Hitting League) business: During a 5-5 overtime game in Detroit on Thursday, the North Stars and Red Wings engaged in a bench-clearing brawl. The participants included an injured Detroit player who wasn't suited up for the game and both rival coaches, Minnesota's Glen Sonmor and Detroit's Nick Polano, who tussled with each other before former Detroit Lion coach Monte Clark came out of the stands to help restore order. (Can you imagine Don Shula and Tom Landry going at each other during a game?) A melee also occurred during the Rangers' 9-3 win over the Isles Sunday night, resulting in both starting goaltenders and four other players being ejected. That brawl featured a sucker punch and stick to the head, both skillfully administered by Clark Gillies of the Islanders.
And what does NHL president John Ziegler say about such goings-on? Ziegler, who condones fighting in the NHL as a spontaneous outlet for frustration when it's really an instrument of calculated intimidation, had this to say earlier this month: "The facts don't bear out all the dialogue going on about violence [in the league]. I myself don't see any need for a dramatic change."
SI senior writer Frank Deford reflects on the Pulitzer Prizes: "It's a widely held misconception that except for three awards to writers for The New York Times—Arthur Daley (1956), Red Smith (1976) and Dave Anderson (1981)—no one in sports journalism has ever won a Pulitzer. Actually, two earlier sportswriters also won Pulitzers: The New York Herald Tribune's William H. Taylor, in 1935, for his yachting coverage, and The New York Journal-American's Max Kase, in 1952, for his exposures of basketball corruption. But it's true enough that no sports-writer outside of New York City has been so honored. And none except for the three Timesmen has won a Pulitzer in more than three decades.
"What makes that last fact curious is that the Times sports section is one of the weaker parts of that august publication. No matter. Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times, long recognized by his peers as the best sports columnist in the U.S., has never won a Pulitzer. Neither has Dave Kindred, a sports columnist for The Atlanta Constitution who writes with as much grace and wit as any other newspaperman in the land. When Dick Young was covering baseball for the New York Daily News, there was no more adroit reporter around, but the Pulitzers tend to recognize reporting only when the subject is housing scandals or soybean graft. Skilled sports reporters such as Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post and Will McDonough of The Boston Globe—which may have the best sports section in the country—have been similarly overlooked.
"But now one can hope that more sports scribes will get their due. This year's Pulitzers, which will be awarded in April, will include a new category recognizing excellence in 'reporting on such specialized subjects as sports, business, science, education and religion.' Of course, a category just for sportswriters would be even better; editorial cartoonists—of whom there are only a handful, compared to thousands of sportswriters—have long had their own category. But at least in theory, awards to sportswriters will no longer be effectively limited to 'commentary,' the category in which Smith and Anderson, the last two sports-page winners, were honored.
"It's easy to see why sportswriters have been slighted in the awarding of Pulitzers—and why, even with the new catchall category, they may continue to be. Last month the names of the 65 jurors and 18 board members who will pick this year's winners were announced, and publishers, editors, vice-presidents, correspondents, columnists and photographers were included. As usual, no one from the sports pages was on the list."
THEY SAID IT
•Joe Garagiola, NBC sports commentator, asked where spectators should stand during celebrity golf tournaments: "The safest place would be in the fairway."
•Wayne Szoke, Columbia basketball coach, before the Lions' 68-49 loss to St. John's, the Catholic school ranked No. 1 in the country: "It's a case of the Lions being thrown to the Christians."