SWEETNESS AND LIGHT IN THE NFL
Never mind the lower TV ratings, the drug problems and the big antitrust suit brought by the rival USFL. SI staff writer Jill Lieber reports that the revised party line enunciated at last week's NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix is that the league is in great shape. "We looked around us and decided that things just weren't as bad as they seemed," said one general manager. "So why look on the negative side?"
The NFL's new, determinedly positive posture is partly a p.r. move, born of the realization that a steady stream of bad news only engenders more bad news. But there was also an objective reality to the suddenly upbeat mood. Last fall commissioner Pete Rozelle complained to anybody who would listen that largely because of dramatic increases in player salaries, a majority of the league's franchises could be losing money by next year. But that was before the USFL sharply scaled down its bidding war with the NFL for players. As a result, Rozelle was able to execute an abrupt about-face last week and declare optimistically that no NFL teams were in financial trouble and that "virtually all of them" would make some money in 1986.
There was even reason to be guardedly optimistic about the possibility of a settlement of the damages the NFL must pay as a result of the antitrust suit that the Oakland Raiders and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum won against the NFL in 1984. Three weeks ago the biggest winner in that suit, Raiders managing general partner Al Davis, sounded anything but conciliatory when he suggested that St. Louis Cardinal owner Bill Bidwill, who is making noises about moving his club to another city, had ulterior motives. According to Davis, Rozelle, his longtime archenemy, and Bidwill had concocted the threat of a Cardinals move in hopes of stampeding Congress into granting an antitrust exemption that would enable the NFL to control franchise movement. Bidwill denies the accusation, and last week the commissioner and Davis were actually talking face-to-face about resolving their long-smoldering differences over the Raiders' move to Los Angeles.
To be sure, a cash settlement might not come cheap. Counting legal fees, interest and other items, the court-ordered damages the NFL would have to pay to the Raiders and the Coliseum as a result of the antitrust suit could amount to almost $70 million. The settlement that Davis reportedly had in mind would be more in the neighborhood of $50 million. Still, a $20 million saving and an end, at last, to the Davis-Rozelle acrimony would certainly be two very positive developments for the good-news NFL.
LET US PRAY
Two pieces of evidence that the alliance between basketball and religion isn't always a holy one:
St. Louis University basketball coach Rich Grawer was asked to speak to an eighth-grade class at a Catholic school. As Grawer tells it, the nun who extended the invitation said, "I don't want you to talk about basketball. Just talk about life, maturity and growing up." So Grawer then told the kids, "The fun and excitement of childhood are nothing compared to the fun and excitement of becoming a teenager, which are nothing compared to the fun and excitement of adultery." Grawer later reported innocently, "The nun just about fell out of the chair."
At the Division II title game at the National Bible College Athletic Association tournament in Belton, Mo., Midwestern Christian of Oklahoma City whipped Northwest Bible of Minot, N. Dak. 69-61. The outcome was strongly influenced by four technical fouls called on Northwest coach Ron Carter and his bench, which resulted in seven points for Midwestern. Along the way, Carter accused referee J.P. Morgan of "making a travesty of the game," or angry words to that effect. Afterward, a more subdued Carter said, "We have a Christian program, and we're not supposed to do things like this. We'll have to pray for forgiveness later."
SI's Bruce Newman, writing about high school basketball hysteria in Indiana in the Feb. 18 issue, said that "L & M could be this year's miracle team...." Alas, it won't be. The tiny school (enrollment: 142) with the huge dream and a 28-2 record, lost 72-54 to Southridge (enrollment: 522) in the state tournament quarterfinals. L & M coach Tom Oliphant said, without evidencing any hysteria, "They outplayed us. We're not going to make excuses."
From 1956 to 1970, Lloyd Pettit, 58, was the radio and TV voice of the Chicago Black Hawks. He was well known, well respected and well paid, making $60,000 a year. Then he became well married. Just how well Pettit married was underscored the other day when he and his wife, Jane, 66, announced they will build a $40 million sports and entertainment center adjacent to Milwaukee County Stadium to be used by the NBA Bucks and, the Pettits hope, as a lure to an NHL franchise. It is due to be completed by next year.
The Pettits apparently can afford the arena. Jane was formerly married to Schlitz Brewery heir David Uihlein Sr. and her late father, Harry L. Bradley, was president and chairman of the board of Allen-Bradley Co. Earlier this year Allen-Bradley was bought out for $1.65 billion. Jane's share of the proceeds was $597 million—this on top of her previously estimated net worth of $200 million. But not everybody's happy with the Pettits' largess. Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier, not hesitant to look a gift arena in the foundation, is upset because he wanted the new facility built downtown instead of two miles west, next to the stadium. But ex-announcer Pettit intones, "We feel the Bradley Center [named after Jane's father] should be where we want it to be."
While the NHL continues to insist that it condones fighting strictly as an escape valve for on-ice frustration, the evidence mounts that the league actually encourages fisticuffs as a way to sell the game. Last week an ad appeared in New York City newspapers for a telecast of a Rangers-Flyers game. It read: "Tune in for another Patrick Division brawl as the Rangers battle Philadelphia." The ad promising the brawl was placed by MSG Cable, a subsidiary of Madison Square Garden, which also owns the Rangers. Obviously, the folks who run the Rangers were anticipating a whole lot of frustration in the Flyers game and kindly wanted to share same with potential TV viewers.
No wonder fighting is rampant in the NHL. Last week alone, there were 40 fights in the 29 games played. Only nine games were flightless. And that's a sorry commentary. Tune in, indeed.
Not that the NHL is alone in promoting gratuitous violence. Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart had an interesting message for 6'9" forward Dan Bingenheimer during the Tigers' 104-84 loss to Oklahoma on March 8. After Bingenheimer committed a foul, Stewart screamed at him, "Danny, quit fouling like a wimp. If you're going to foul, knock the crap out of him."
A COWGIRL WHO MAY BE A BREED APART
The Maryland-based American Rodeo Association recently decided to confer its 1984 Rookie Cowgirl of the Year award on Kia Sladeski, 28, of Pine Bush, N.Y., who won $1,240 in barrel racing, the only rodeo event expressly for women. Ordinarily, folks in Pine Bush would greet this news as a case of hometown girl makes good. Trouble is, some people are convinced that it's a hometown boy who has made good.
The word in Pine Bush and environs is that Kia Sladeski is actually Paul W. Sladeski, female impersonator, exotic dancer and male prostitute. "We had been wondering what happened to him," says Newburgh, N.Y. police detective Frank DeLuca. "Nobody had seen him around for some time. Paul Sladeski and Kia Sladeski are one and the same." DeLuca arrested Paul Sladeski in 1977. In his arrest report DeLuca said that Sladeski, dressed as a woman, offered to perform a sex act for him for $10. At the time, Sladeski told DeLuca that he was known on the street as Kia. Sladeski pleaded guilty to a male prostitution charge and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.
There are public records, including a birth certificate, of a Paul Sladeski but none, so far as is known, of Kia. The Ulster County, N.Y. resident whom rodeo cowgirl Kia Sladeski has identified as being her mother refuses to discuss either Kia or Paul.
Kia Sladeski could not be reached last week for comment. However, in an interview last month with the Middletown Times-Herald Record, she was quoted as denying that she was also Paul Sladeski. When asked if she was acquainted with a Paul Sladeski, she at first answered "No," then said, "Yes, he's my brother...No, he's my father."
The ARA's 13-member board will meet April 13 in Newark to determine what to do about the possibility that the organization has been hornswoggled by Sladeski. ARA president Al Samuels thinks Kia Sladeski should undergo a physical examination and fingerprinting to establish her gender and identity. At issue is the question of whether Sladeski should receive the silver belt buckle emblematic of the rookie cowgirl honor. Says Samuels, "I certainly can't go ahead and award a Rookie Cowgirl of the Year buckle to someone who may be a cowboy." But Samuels says that if it turns out that Paul Sladeski has become Kia through a sex-change operation, the ARA would probably let her keep the award. In any event, he says, the ARA won't ask her to return her rodeo earnings.
In Newburgh, Orange County clerk Linda C. Wutch, seemingly unbothered by the controversy, says she has known Paul Sladeski for 20 years and is pleased that a local product has done well in the rodeo. "I guess he's found his niche," she says.
THEY SAID IT
•Garry Maddox, Phillies outfielder, after watching catcher Ozzie Virgil splash his $400 remote-controlled biplane into the Gulf of Mexico: "When they find the black box, it will confirm pilot error."
•Yogi Berra, Yankee manager, on the acquisition of fleet Rickey Henderson: "He can run anytime he wants. I'm giving him the red light."