CSONKING THE NFLPA
Fed up with the dismal state of labor relations in his sport, Hall of Fame running back Larry Csonka is trying to form a new union to replace the NFL Players Association. Last week Csonka, 43, who now runs a gas station and a promotional firm in Lisbon, Ohio, mailed packets of information about his would-be union, the United Players of the NFL (UPNFL), to 1,200 NFL veterans. If a majority of NFL players return cards expressing their approval, the UPNFL will become the players' bargaining agent—a role previously filled by the NFLPA—and begin negotiating a new basic agreement with management. The NFLPA's last agreement with the NFL expired on Aug. 31, 1987, and since then negotiations have been sporadic.
Csonka's bid is complicated by the NFLPA's uncertain status. The NFLPA moved to decertify itself last November in hopes of strengthening the players' legal case for free agency, but the union's certification hasn't yet been terminated by the National Labor Relations Board. The NFL maintains that the NFLPA is still a functioning union and has sued to bring the NFLPA back to the bargaining table.
Csonka says that he founded the UPNFL after hearing too many players complain about the NFLPA's ineffectiveness. "I don't want to fight [NFLPA executive director] Gene Upshaw," he says. "I have nothing against him. He's just surrounded himself with people who've given him bad advice, and his union is mismanaged. The bottom line is this: There's absolutely no reason we shouldn't have a labor agreement in this sport."
May 27, 1990
Csonka, who says he has been encouraged in his efforts by both players and team officials, promises that the UPNFL would present an agreement to players for their approval within 90 days. "This is such a crucial time for players," he says. "They're getting drug-testing crammed down their throats. They've had an expanded season forced on them. Their benefits are being eroded. It's all because they have a union that can't get a labor agreement."
Attempts by other groups to supplant the NFLPA have flopped, and it's a long shot that the UPNFL will get the majority support it needs. Even if it did, it is by no means certain that Csonka could negotiate a deal that players would find acceptable—especially under the gun of a self-imposed 90-day deadline. Nevertheless, Csonka is unassailable on one point: NFLPA membership is clearly restless.
There's a tavern outside Edmonton called the Bruin Inn. For the duration of the Boston-Edmonton Stanley Cup finals, the bar has changed its name to the Bruins Out, Oilers Inn.
UP, UP AND AWAY
Drew Bell's personal record for the pole vault is eight inches. That's his father's estimate; at age two, Drew hasn't yet vaulted over a standard crossbar.
Drew is the son of 1984 Olympic bronze medalist and former world-record vaulter Earl Bell, whom he often watches train. At 21 months—much to the surprise of Bell and his wife, Phyllis—Drew picked up a yardstick and, using a correct vaulter's grip, began trotting around the Bells' house in Jonesboro, Ark., saying, "Pole vault, pole vault." Soon he was vaulting into piles of pillows and imitating all his dad's vaulting mannerisms, including the chalking of his hands.
Drew has big shoes to fill. His father, who began vaulting at age five into a backyard sawdust pit and set the then world record of 18'7¼" in 1976, is still going strong at 34, and Drew's 68-year-old grandfather, William Bell, who started vaulting with a bamboo pole back in the 1930s, can still clear nine feet.
"I'm not pushing Drew to be a vaulter," says Earl. "With all the bumps and lumps I've taken, I'd be happy to see him become a piano player." Nevertheless, when Pacer, the company that makes Bell's poles, heard about Drew's ardor for the sport, it sent him a three-foot-long, custom-made pole believed to be the shortest fiberglass model in the world.
Atlanta Falcon coach Jerry Glanville has agreed to appear this fall in an episode of the HBO series 1st and Ten, which focuses on a fictional NFL team called the California Bulls. Glanville, playing himself, will take over as the Bulls' coach, only to be bowled over on the sideline and forced to undergo knee surgery. Alas, something will go wrong during surgery—no, Bengal coach Sam Wyche isn't the surgeon—and Glanville the TV character will die.
"When I told my wife about the script, she was pretty shaken," says Glanville. "But I told her, 'Dying in surgery will be great. Just think: Elvis Presley made a lot more money after he died than when he was alive.' " And given his habit of leaving game tickets at the will-call window for Presley and other deceased celebrities, Glanville can now start leaving tickets for his TV persona.
JUST A THOUGHT
At a ceremony in which he and three other former top college student-athletes (Delaware baseball player Steve Taylor, Tulsa football player Howard Twilley and UCLA basketball player Jamaal Wilkes) were inducted into the GTE Academic All-America Hall of Fame last week in Los Angeles, quarterback-turned-announcer Joe Theismann made a simple, sensible proposal. Theismann, a B + student in his days as a sociology major at Notre Dame, suggested that in its future Bo Knows ads Nike spend a few seconds pointing out that between seasons, Bo Jackson has been finishing his studies at Auburn. Youngsters would be reminded that, besides knowing sports and Diddley, Bo also knows how to hit the books.
The Toronto Blue Jays' stadium, the SkyDome, which opened last June, features 70 hotel rooms that look out onto the field. Unfortunately, some guests don't seem to realize that players and fans can look into the rooms. At least twice this season guests have failed to close the curtains while engaging in what might politely be called X-rated activities. Hotel officials say from now on they'll give guests a list of "common sense regulations," including a warning to be more discreet during ball games.
CAPS AND GOWNS
DR. JOLTIN' JOE
"You are, unabashedly, our hero," Columbia president Michael Sovern told Joe DiMaggio last week in awarding the 75-year-old Yankee Clipper—a high school dropout—an honorary doctor of laws degree. "Joe D! Joe D!" chanted members of the class of '90, who presumably knew Joltin' Joe from reading their Hemingway ("I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing," said the aging Cuban fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea) or from listening to their parents' Simon and Garfunkel albums. "I don't think even their parents could have seen me play," said DiMaggio, who retired in 1951. "Probably their grandparents did."
EAST GERMAN REUNION
There were more than a few moist eyes in the audience when swimmer Peter Berndt, the most prominent East German athlete ever to defect to the U.S. (SI, Jan. 21, 1985, et seq.), addressed his fellow graduates from the University of Alabama's college of communication. Among those on hand was Berndt's once estranged father, Friedhelm, who had flown in from East Germany for the ceremony.
Berndt, 26, a former world-record holder in the 400-meter individual medley, said that although he never regretted his decision to steal away from his teammates at the Oklahoma City airport following a 1985 meet, he had feared that it was something "I could never adequately explain to loved ones whom I might never see again." Berndt, whose mother died of leukemia in 1981, didn't speak to his father for more than three years after his defection and then only briefly on the phone. An embittered Friedhelm Berndt did not understand why his son had fled.
Then, last fall, the world changed. On Nov. 9, the day the Berlin Wall began to come down, Berndt stayed up until 4 a.m. watching the TV coverage. In March he returned to his East German hometown of Potsdam, bringing along Becky Patterson, the Birmingham woman who, along with her husband, Tom, had adopted him. Berndt's relatives greeted him with champagne, and gradually the rift with his father healed. Friedhelm saw that his Americanized son was indeed happy with his new life.
Berndt, a public relations major with a 3.198 average, hopes to become a world-class triathlete before moving on to other career plans. He vows to stay in closer touch with his father from now on. Says Friedhelm Berndt, "How could I have been so wrong about what Peter did?"
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Former jockey Ron Turcotte rode Secretariat to the Triple Crown in 1973. Five years later he was paralyzed from the chest down when thrown from his mount in a race at Belmont. Now 48 and living quietly in the tiny town of Drummond, New Brunswick (SI, Dec. 25-Jan. 1), Turcotte, a seventh-grade dropout, decided last year to pursue his high school equivalency certificate through a program across the border at Van Buren (Maine) High. Inspired by his wife, Gaetane, and daughter Ann, both of whom have taught school, he earned his certificate in less than a year; he's now considering college. Said Turcotte after receiving his diploma last week, "This was something I always wanted to do. I'd put it off long enough."
THEY SAID IT
•Don Zimmer, the Chicago Cubs' manager, after his team went 4-4 on a recent road trip: "It just as easily could have gone the other way."
•Millie Schembechler, on her husband's move from Michigan football coach to president of the Detroit Tigers: "Now Bo can finally buy the players he wants."