Not long ago it would have been folly to predict that Soviet medical personnel would come to the U.S. on a regular basis to test American Olympic hopefuls for illegal performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids, and that U.S. doctors would travel to the U.S.S.R. for the same purpose. Yet last week in Moscow, U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) executive director Baaron Pittenger and Soviet sports committee deputy chairman Vasily Gromyko signed an agreement that—if ratified by the American and Soviet Olympic committees, as seems likely—will establish just such an arrangement.
The U.S.-Soviet agreement is a powerful antidrug statement, as is the international antidoping charter that was approved last week by sports officials from more than 100 nations attending a UNESCO conference in Moscow. But to suggest that either of the documents will eliminate the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Olympic sports would be, for the moment, folly. Consider just a few of the immediate obstacles:
•Logistics. They will take months to work out. For example, where will the athletes be tested? Soviet competitors train together at a small number of government-run sports centers, but American athletes are scattered all over the country, and many train alone. Which athletes will be considered of high enough caliber to test? How often will they be tested? When will the athletes be notified of the testing? "We're not talking about people in white coats knocking on athletes' doors in the middle of the night," says USOC president Robert Helmick. But if athletes have much advance warning, they may be able to get the drugs out of their systems.
December 5, 1988
•Civil liberties questions in the U.S. Last year athletes at Stanford successfully challenged the NCAA's drug-testing program in Santa Clara (Calif.) County Superior Court, and a Suffolk County (Mass.) Superior Court struck down a Northeastern University plan to test its own athletes. The legality of testing for drugs in America may not be settled until a case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, and that doesn't figure to be any time soon.
•Lack of enforcement powers. The antidoping charter, which was drafted last June at a conference sponsored by the International Olympic Committee, calls for worldwide testing of athletes with little or no notice. However, the charter is only a statement of principle. The IOC hopes that the sports officials who expressed support for the charter last week will persuade their governments to open their borders to IOC drug-testing teams, which would swoop in, unannounced, to test athletes. Don't be surprised if many countries—perhaps including the U.S.—refuse to cooperate.
The American-Soviet pact and the antidoping charter are well-intended expressions of concern. But can these efforts to render sports drug-free stand up to the realities of constitutional law, national sovereignty and scientific practice?
THE DARTH VADER LOOK
The season's hottest football accoutrement is the tinted plastic eye shield. At least 90 NFL players attach the $5-to-$25 inserts to the insides of their helmets to keep from getting poked in the eye and to cut down on glare. So do a growing number of high school and college players. "I sort of like the look, and people can't read your eyes as well," says Cincinnati Bengal cornerback Eric Thomas. "They also can't stick their fingers in your face mask."
The inventor of the football shield is Frank Pupello, the equipment manager for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Pupello fashioned the first one out of the visor of an auto-racing helmet in 1974 for a University of Tampa player who had been poked in the eye. But no one picked up on the idea until Pupello made a more advanced model for Hugh Green, then a Buc linebacker, in 1984. Green's shield sparked interest among players, and soon protective-eyewear manufacturers began producing the shields.
The shields' only shortcomings are that they occasionally fog up and they must be wiped off constantly when it rains. The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't wear theirs on a soggy day in Cleveland this year because they feared the shields would get splattered with mud and leave them temporarily blinded.
But the Darth Vader look should continue to increase in popularity. Miami Dolphin fullback Woody Bennett claims his shield helps him keep his eyes open when he blocks; Phoenix Cardinals offensive tackle Ray Brown says his prevents him from losing his contact lenses. And as Bengal coach Sam Wyche puts it, "Why let yourself get poked in the eye when you can avoid it?"
BUT JUST FOR AN HOUR
In a criticism of the growing number of suspensions being handed out by NHL executive vice-president Brian O'Neill for violence on the ice (page 56), Flyer defenseman Jay Wells told Philadelphia Inquirer writer Al Morganti, "Brian O'Neill is definitely out to lunch. And you can write that." When Morganti telephoned O'Neill's office for a comment, a secretary told him he would have to call back. "Mr. O'Neill is out to lunch," she said.
At a semipro soccer game in Kidderminster, England, on Saturday, a group hoping to discourage irresponsible drinking offered free bottles of nonalcoholic champagne to the six fans who could best pronounce the name of the visiting team: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Llanfair PG, as the team is known, is named for the village in North Wales where it's based.
As contest spokesman Tony Humphris explained, "Only those who drink sensibly stand a chance of getting their tongues around the name." Fifteen fans were selected to try pronouncing the team name, and six came close enough to win champagne. Kidderminster won the game 3-0.
Though space considerations prevent us from spelling it phonetically, we will tell you that the village's name translates to "St. Mary's Church by the pool of the white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by the red cave of the Church of St. Tysilio."
JUST CALL IT A BLOCK PARTY
Pity Pittsburgh Steeler punter Harry Newsome. His league-leading average of 45.8 yards per kick is the highest in the NFL since 1985, yet he's having a disastrous year. Newsome has had a league-record six punts blocked—nearly a third of the NFL total of 21. "People may say, 'This guy is terrible. He's had six punts blocked,' " says Newsome. "But I don't think it's my fault."
The truth is, it has been a curious NFL season when it comes to blocked punts. The number of them isn't unusually high—all last year there were 29, and the league record is 31 in a season, set in 1977—but two teams, the Steelers and the Houston Oilers, have had a hand in almost half of them. Houston's extraordinary kick-blocking unit has gotten to five punts, including two of Newsome's on Oct. 16, to tie the NFL single-season record held by four other teams. The Oilers have also knocked down two extra-point attempts and partly blocked one punt; partial blocks—on which the ball is deflected but still travels beyond the line of scrimmage—don't count in the official NFL statistics.
Newsome, a fourth-year pro from Wake Forest, gets his punts off in 2.0 to 2.1 seconds, which is considered quick. But the Steelers have had trouble centering the ball to him, and at times they have failed to provide him with even a modicum of protection. Punting breakdowns have cost Pittsburgh at least two games. Newsome stands only three blocked punts shy of the NFL career mark of 14, established by Herman Weaver of the Detroit Lions and the Seattle Seahawks from 1970 through '80.
A key to the Oilers' kick-blocking prowess has been first-year special-teams coach Richard Smith, who has infused his charges with pride and aggressiveness. Before the season, the gung ho Smith went to an army surplus store and bought 16 combat helmets. He gives one to a special-teams player every time the Oilers win.
Houston has also taken advantage of a rule change. No longer is the punting team awarded an automatic first down on running-into-the-kicker penalties. Now the penalty is simply five yards. Hence, if the punting team needs more than five yards for a first down, the defenders can go all-out for the block; they know that even if they run into the punter, he'll just have to kick again five yards farther up the field. "Now we always look to see if it's fourth-and-six or more," says Oiler coach Jerry Glanville. "The new rule has a lot to do with our success."
THEY SAID IT
•Don Nelson, Golden State Warrior coach, on his frontcourt duo of 7'4", 230-pound Ralph Sampson and 7'6", 225-pound Manute Bol: "We call them the Thin Towers."