LARRY FLEISHER (1930-89)
Larry Fleisher was a man of modesty and quiet self-assurance. When he died last week of an apparent heart attack, he left a legacy that labor leaders of greater ego and less brilliance might only dream of. In 27 years as head of the NBA Players Association, Fleisher not only won formal recognition for the union but also negotiated agreements that created a large measure of free agency, cut the draft to only two rounds, established a model antidrug program and improved average player salaries from less than $10,000 to more than $600,000, the highest in any pro sport. What's more, he achieved all this without ever calling a players' strike.
Fleisher thrived on late-night negotiating sessions, going at knotty issues with sleeves rolled up. He was rarely strident, though as former NBA guard and player rep Dave Wohl recalled last week, "he knew when to drop a terse public hint of what could happen if demands were not met." For a sports labor leader, Fleisher could be unusually statesmanlike, exhibiting concern for the economic health of the league as a whole. To help financially weak franchises, he accepted a cap on player salaries in 1983, but linked the cap to a proviso guaranteeing players 53% of league-wide revenues.
Fleisher was deservedly criticized for representing individual players (among them, John Havlicek. Jerry West and Bob Lanier) while he led the union. This conflict of interest may have prompted Fleisher on occasion to act in the best interests of his big-name clients instead of those of the rank and file. By the same token, the reported $500,000, four-year deal Fleisher negotiated for Bill Bradley in 1967 helped open the door to today's huge salaries.
May 14, 1989
Fleisher deserves a fair measure of credit for the NBA's current prosperity. "He took vast amounts of money out of the owners' pockets for the players at the bargaining table," said Wohl, "but never so much that they were unwilling to sit back down across from him the next time. He knew the league had to survive for the players to reap the benefits."
To celebrate Professional Secretaries Week, radio station WMGX in Portland, Maine, sponsored a four-event competition called the Office Olympics. More than 100 local office workers gathered downtown to compete in the typewriter heave (Richard Sobocinski of the Bath Iron Works won by shot-putting a 15-pound Smith-Corona portable an impressive 36'6"), the floppy discus throw (Charlene Jordan, who works for a real estate appraiser, flung a computer disk 47 feet, Frisbee-style), speed filing (Gloria Barnes, who's employed at a law firm, filed 24 folders alphabetically in 67 seconds) and telephone lying, in which each competitor was asked to concoct an excuse as to why the boss couldn't come to the phone. The winning entry in that final event came from Sonya Roach, who works for a sheet-metal manufacturer: "I'm sorry, the boss can't take your call because we have only one line in operation and the boss's wife is having a baby and we're expecting a call from the hospital any minute."
For that fine fabrication, Roach, like the other winners, received a paid day off from work.
Someone has painted a line of graffiti at the Van Cortlandt Park riding stables in New York City. It reads: MAY THE HORSE BE WITH YOU.
THE STANTON LETTER
The staggeringly racist letter written by Roger Stanton, publisher of Football News and Basketball Weekly, to NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw in response to the April 25 NBC News special Brokaw hosted on black athletes, cannot be dismissed as easily as its author would wish. In his letter, which was reprinted in the Detroit Free Press, Stanton took NBC to task for failing to mention on its show that black players "traditionally lack discipline and they are the ones most likely to get into trouble." He blamed black athletes for "the vast majority" of the unlawful and unethical activity that goes on in college sports, and characterized black athletes as lazy, emotionally unstable and intellectually deficient. "I guarantee you that if you gave 20 white college football players an TQ test and 20 black college football players an IQ test, the whites would outshine the blacks every time," wrote Stanton. He noted that only one black quarterback has started in a Super Bowl, Doug Williams of the Redskins in 1988, "and that may have been a fluke. Frankly speaking, the quarterback is a very intricate position and there are not very many blacks who are qualified to be quarterbacks."
Stanton issued an apology after the letter became public, saying he "made a terrible mistake" and that "it wasn't the real Roger Stanton speaking." Did the devil make him do it? Stanton's journalistic trademark has long been his toadying, knee-jerk defense of even the most egregious transgressions of members of the sports establishment. That, too, was evident in an almost unbelievable conclusion of his letter to Brokaw: "The bottom line is, despite you taking a cheap shot at professional sports because they do not have blacks in executive positions, there is really no bigotry in sports."
THE WISCONSIN FISHING WAR
Since late April, the lake country of Northern Wisconsin has been rife with protests and violence. Police in riot gear have had to protect native Chippewa Indians engaged in their age-old practice of spearfishing from mobs of angry locals who claim that the Chippewa are harvesting too many of the fish prized by sportsmen—muskellunge and walleye—and thereby endangering tourism, the area's principal industry. Says state Representative James Holperin, "It's tearing the north apart."
The Chippewa have spearfished in these waters for hundreds of years. They go out in boats at night and, using lights to illuminate their prey, stab at fish with wooden spears to which barbed prongs are attached. Spearfishing is prohibited for non-Chippewa; it's too easy, and if everybody did it, there wouldn't be enough fish left for sports fishermen. But in treaties dating back to the mid-1800s, the Chippewa retain the right to hunt and fish by traditional methods. A 1983 federal appellate court ruling upheld their right to do so both on and off their reservations.
Some non-Indians have objected to off-reservation spearfishing since the '83 court decision, but they have never expressed their displeasure as violently as this spring. Protesters have pelted Chippewa with rocks, beer cans, ball bearings and racial epithets, and through Sunday more than 200 protesters had been arrested. At Big Eau Pleine Reservoir, one man held up a sign that read, SPEAR AN INDIAN, SAVE A WALLEYE. Another yelled, "Let's scalp 'em!" and the crowd cheered. At Squirrel Lake, protesters buzzed Chippewa fishermen with motorboats. At Lake Nokomis, hecklers yelled, "Go home!" at the Indians, to which one Chippewa responded, "This is our home."
Until this year the Indians negotiated the size of their catch and the length of their season with the state Department of Natural Resources. As a rule, their spearfishing season lasted about two weeks, and they claimed about 20% of the annual allowable-catch limit in each lake. That left enough for hook-and-line anglers to legally take five fish per day in most lakes. In March, a federal judge, citing the 19th-century treaties, ruled that the Chippewa could unilaterally set the length of their season and the size of their harvest. Taking full advantage of this, the Indians initially declared that they would take 100% of the annual limit in some lakes and would fish year-round, but in a meeting with Thompson in April, they agreed to cut their catch to between 55% and 60% of the annual limit.
The annual limit itself has been lowered this year to protect walleye stocks. Because of that and the Chippewa harvest, the state has had to limit hook-and-line fishermen to as few as one fish per day in some lakes and to no more than three in others. Resort owners complain that the lower limits will hurt their business by influencing sportsmen to go elsewhere. "You're going to have a lot of people going broke," says Dennis Flowers, owner of the Big Musky resort in Springstead. Fearing that, Wisconsin congressmen have introduced federal legislation that would restrict the Chippewa catch to 10% of the annual limit in exchange for compensation—probably money.
As of Monday, all but two bands of Chippewa had voluntarily suspended spearfishing for the spring season as a goodwill gesture. It is to be hoped that those in Wisconsin who believe the Chippewa should limit their spearfishing in the future won't again try to make their point through displays of hatred.
THEY SAID IT
•Sean O'Grady, former lightweight champion and USA Network analyst, noting that many boxers go without showers for days before their bouts: "Talking to a fighter at a weigh-in is like learning to swim. You have to remember to turn and breathe, turn and breathe."