Two months ago SI's Frank Deford lamented in this space that sportswriters seldom win Pulitzer Prizes. Last week a sportswriter, Jackie Crosby, and a city-side reporter, Randall Savage, on the Macon Telegraph and News won Pulitzers for an 18-part series they did last September on academics and athletics at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. The series detailed extremely low graduation rates for athletes—particularly black athletes—at Georgia. Although the situation was considerably better at Georgia Tech, the study concluded: "Not only is there no guarantee that a college athlete will get a full college education...data indicate that there is a strong likelihood that he won't." Here are some of the investigation's highlights concerning Georgia:
•Only 1% of the student body takes remedial course work, compared with 75% of the school's athletes.
•Football players enrolled in remedial programs can play for two entire seasons without taking a single college-level course.
•To retain their eligibility, athletes having academic difficulty flock to easy "crip" courses. One such course shows students how to use the college library.
•The school has an unconscionably low graduation rate among black athletes. Over the past decade only 4% of black basketball players and 17% of black football players have earned degrees. The figures for white athletes were 63% and 50%, respectively. The graduation rate for non-athletes was 61%.
"The series showed that athletes at Georgia go to school for four years and don't get an education," says Crosby, who has left the Telegraph and News and is attending graduate school at the University of Central Florida. "All we did was bring this great injustice to the attention of the public."
A new entry in our with-it dictionary defines Prince racket as the soundtrack to Purple Rain.
THE ERRORS OF HIS WAY
The ever-helpful Mike Downey of the Detroit Free Press offered this tip in a recent column:
Q: If the Dodgers start an infield of Guerrero, Anderson, Sax and Brock, with Oliver in leftfield and Marshall in right, what advice do you have for their opponents?
A: Hit it fair.
GOATS, KAT AND WARRANT OFFICERS
Three of the hottest marathoners in the world right now come from Djibouti, a remote, barren speck of a country on the Horn of Africa, where the sand is so searingly hot you have to run fast just to keep from blistering your toes. Salah Ahmed Hussein won the inaugural World Cup Marathon in Hiroshima last month in 2:08:09 (58 seconds slower than the world best that Carlos Lopes of Portugal set a week later). Robleh Djama Robleh placed third in the Hiroshima race (2:08:26) and Abdillahi Charmarke Cochin was seventh (2:10:33), clinching the team victory for Djibouti. The Djiboutians practically rule the Paris Marathon: Robleh won it in 1983 and Hussein in '84. Not bad for a former French territory where goats outnumber people 2 to 1 and half of the roughly 300,000 human inhabitants are nomads.
Djibouti is sometimes difficult to reach by telephone. We tried, but no one answered. Our correspondent in Kenya, Maryanne Vollers, was able to dig up Mai Whitfield, the 1948 and '52 U.S. Olympic gold medalist in the 800 meters, who now works for the U.S. Information Agency in Nairobi. Whitfield said Djiboutians are natural runners because "they've got to walk or jog just to get around." Vollers weighed in with the fact that the soil in Djibouti is so inhospitable that the unofficial national plant, the mildly narcotic kat, has to be imported from neighboring Ethiopia.
We eventually were rerouted to sources in France, where, it turns out, the Djiboutian runners train with their coach, Jacky Fournier, who developed them into world-class marathoners. Or at least France is where the runners usually are to be found. But they were now abroad. They were said to have gone home to Djibouti for an eight-day celebration of their heroics in Japan—Fournier went along and was given the Djiboutian order of merit—and also planned to put in an appearance across the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. The ruling sheiks viewed the win in Hiroshima by Hussein, a devout Muslim, as a victory for Islam. But the exact whereabouts of the runners at the moment were not known.
Another piece of information: All three Djiboutian runners are soldiers in the army. Their rank depends in part on their athletic accomplishments. Nevertheless, Chief Warrant Officer Robleh is ranked higher than the swifter Hussein, who is a plain old warrant officer. Maybe that's because Hussein isn't considered as disciplined a runner; he sometimes veers from Fournier's plans. Cochin, who was a relative also-ran in Japan, is merely a sergeant.
Well, at least we know more than when we started.
LET MY FROGGIE GO
To acquaint the public with the plight of endangered reptiles and amphibians, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. runs a herpetology lab. Visitors handle hides from such exotic species as the Madagascar tree boa, the Burmese python and the Gaboon viper and view what the critters often wind up as—lizard-skin watch-bands and tortoiseshell combs.
Index cards bearing visitors' comments are tacked to a bulletin board at the lab's entrance. Jane, of Mount Airy, Md., was inspired to write, "I feel sorry to see a lot of hawkbill turtles killed. And the lizard shouldn't be killed, either." Eric Anderson pledged to "let my frog go today"; someone else suggested that society "stop extincting the animals"; still others solemnly promised not to hunt snakes or to club seals.
But few were as moved as Laura Magruder, who said she would never eat meat again. Magruder then took the edge off that vow, though, saying parenthetically she hated meat, except "on tacos."
It happened the other day during a baseball game on the Wagner College field on Staten Island, N.Y. Bob Scala, a first baseman for visiting C.W. Post College, smacked a home run that hit the mailbox of a house just beyond the rightfield fence. It was left to one of Scala's teammates, Rick Wohlmacher, to quip, "The Postman only knocks once."
THE HORSE'S MOUTH
The May issue of the magazine Equus contains a 31-page special report on two-time Horse of the Year John Henry. The report includes an astrological evaluation of the 10-year-old gelding, a Pisces, that suggests that his loss of paternity was racing's gain. "When John Henry was gelded," the magazine says, "Saturn's restriction was removed...thus the energy of Uranus was free to travel elsewhere—in this case, to the feet."
Other articles analyze John Henry's conformation, breeding, history, stride, injuries, training regimen, diet, and bone density. The magazine even had parapsychologist Nancy Regalmuto commune with Henry. Regalmuto eyeballed her subject for an hour and concluded, "He is extremely domineering." Also: "He doesn't believe he will ever retire, but that he will break down on the racetrack."
Sportswriters generally find horses to be tough interviews, but Regalmuto was able to harness these comments from the normally tight-lipped superstar: "I also try hard to encourage others before a race. When they come back, I congratulate them on winning or advise them on what they did wrong. I get very upset when they lose."
And you can quote him on that.
USFL SAVINGS TIME: SPRING FORWARD, FALL APART?
That sound you heard Monday was more of the air whooshing out of the USFL's ball. Faced with declining attendance, anemic TV ratings and staggering deficits, the USFL, which has been underwriting the ailing Los Angeles Express, met to consider disbanding the club. It decided not to, partly out of fear that ABC-TV would then be entitled to a substantial rebate on its contract with the league. But Arizona co-owner Bill Tathem Jr. allowed, "Emotionally, we'd like to kiss them off." Meanwhile, in acknowledgment that spring football has been a dismal failure—the Birmingham, Houston and San Antonio franchises were also in trouble—the 3-year-old USFL has reaffirmed its intention to move to a fall schedule in 1986.
To be sure, two owners, Tampa Bay's John Bassett and Denver's Doug Spedding—dare we call them traditionalists?—opposed a move to the fall. Bassett said he would form a splinter league that would continue to operate in the spring—presumably with his Bandits playing the Gold week after week ad infinitum. Before the meeting, a third owner, the San Antonio Gunslingers' Clinton Manges, had vowed to stay with a spring schedule, lambasting such pro-fall advocates as commissioner Harry Usher and New Jersey owner Donald Trump. "We had a good thing going until Trump started shooting off his big mouth about the fall," Manges said. "All Usher does is listen to Trump, and I'm getting pretty sick of that." But Manges didn't stick to his Gunslingers.
It is a measure of Manges' own problems that last month the IRS filed a $404,673 lien against his team for failing to pay withholding taxes. The club's bank accounts were frozen, and some of its paychecks bounced. San Antonio players threatened a walkout. At one point a local newspaper reported—erroneously, as it turned out—that 72-year-old club president Bud Haun had been caught climbing out a window to avoid a confrontation with an unpaid coach and two players.
A confrontation that did take place involved Dax DeKeado, a seventh-grader at John Burroughs Junior High in Los Angeles, whose dad, Chuck, is the Express's marketing director. After hearing one too many unkind cracks about the team from schoolmates, Dax expressed his displeasure by letting one heckler have it at recess on Friday. He was sent home for fighting. The USFL also appears to have some scrap left, but that may not be enough to save it.
THEY SAID IT
•Don Rickles, upon being introduced to Nevada Attorney General Brian McKay at the Hagler-Hearns fight in Las Vegas: "If you'd put more criminals in jail, you could've had a seat closer to ringside."
•Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers guard, after learning that Ann Landers had attended a Chicago Bulls game: "She must have some problems of her own."
•Jake LaMotta, former middleweight champion, on why the first of his six wives left him: "I clashed with the drapes."