AND THE GAMES WENT ON
While war raged in the Persian Gulf last week, games continued to be played both in the U.S. and abroad. But it was hardly sports as usual, and how could it be? Games may seem insignificant compared with war, and yet playing basketball, hockey and other sports in friendly competition—that is what young men and women should be doing instead of being forced, by political imperatives, to fire rockets and be fired upon, to dig in for combat that may cost many thousands of lives. Tragically, the pleasures of the one activity were clouded by the horror of the other.
The intrusion of war on the sporting consciousness took many forms. Before an NBA game in Milwaukee, the Bucks, the rival Pacers and the thousands of fans all joined hands with each other to symbolize unity. PGA Tour golfers tied yellow ribbons and pasted American flag decals on their golf bags. Vendors selling Old Glory and——IRAQ T-shirts did a brisk business before the AFC Championship Game in Buffalo between the Bills and the Raiders. Before a basketball game at Montana, antiwar protesters lay down on the court to delay the tip-off and then were pelted with the potatoes that the fans had brought to brandish at Idaho players.
The war broke out on Jan. 16, just as many teams were getting ready for games. In a controversial decision, University of North Carolina chancellor Paul Hardin decided to cancel the Tar Heels' basketball game with archrival North Carolina State. "This was a moment of recognition that our lives have changed," he said. "It was not a moment to play basketball." One of the UNC players, forward Pete Chilcutt, has a brother stationed in the Gulf, and teammate King Rice said, "I was disappointed that the game was canceled, but then I looked in Pete's eyes, and I knew there was no way this game should go on."
The conflict seemed to lay a hand on every team. Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey worried about his father, Conway Bailey, who is a chief warrant officer with the 260th Army Reserve Unit in Saudi Arabia. One of Bailey's rivals on Sunday, Raider guard Steve Wisniewski, has a brother, Vince, who was leading a squadron of F-16s on air strikes over Iraq. Wisconsin-Waukesha has a basketball player from Kuwait, Tarique Al-Iesa, whose father is in hiding in that occupied country. Gilad Katz, an Israeli who plays for Connecticut, fretted about his family in Tel Aviv.
The war disrupted the lives of athletes traveling or planning to travel overseas. Members of the U.S. men's and women's ski teams were recalled from Switzerland; before they made their way home, they painstakingly taped over any mention of the U.S. on their baggage, lest they be targets of terrorism.
For the most part, though, the show went on. Jim Foster, a Vietnam veteran who coaches the women's basketball team at St. Joseph's in Philadelphia, felt that playing the games was the right thing to do. "In Vietnam, the sports page showed us there was a semblance of normalcy somewhere in the world, even though where you were was crazy," he said. "It was comforting to know that sports was there to keep your mind off the war. It allows you to escape, and I think that's good."
SI senior writer Leigh Montville writes in his POINT AFTER column in this issue (page 98) that the outbreak of hostilities in the Gulf suddenly made the games we play and watch seem far less important. And nobody should be so naive as to suggest that sports can be some sort of surrogate for war. But surely they're a much better expression of human potential.
Security for a Super Bowl is always tight, but with the added threat of terrorism during the war with Iraq, Tampa police and the NFL, with the help of the FBI, will be taking some extraordinary measures for Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium. More than 500 police officers, about twice as many as usual, will be on the stadium grounds on game day. Fans will have to go through metal detectors; no radios, televisions or video cameras will be allowed through the gates, because they could be used to conceal explosives. There will be constant inspections using bomb-sniffing dogs. For better crowd control a six-foot-high chain-link fence will ring the stadium, about 50 feet outside the regular fence.
In addition, use of airspace over the stadium may be severely restricted. Pending FAA approval, the only lowflying aircraft that will be allowed within five miles of the stadium during the game will be those carrying ABC cameras or law enforcement officers. Corky White, owner of Sky-Ads, an aerial advertising company, last week estimated that he will lose $40,000 because of the airspace rules, which he called "mass hysteria."
Mass precaution is more like it. "We're going to protect 75,000 people from anything," said stadium manager Rick Nafe. "There will be two or three sets of eyes on you at all times."
SPEAKING OF SPORTS
In talking about the war in the Persian Gulf last week, journalists and military personnel frequently resorted to sports terminology. The most striking example came from ABC correspondent Bob Zelnick, who quoted a Navy source on the accuracy of the Cruise missile: "They say that you could fire one of these Tomahawk Cruise missiles off in Boston Harbor and send it through the goalposts at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., and have a better field goal percentage than Chip Lohmiller."
Lohmiller, the Redskins' kicker, hit 75% of his field goals this year, and though none of them was from as far away as Boston Harbor, they did include a 53-, a 55-and a 56-yarder.
GAME FOR THE GAMES
A group of U.S. journalists and U.S. Olympic Committee officials traveling in Cuba last week received word of the war from an unlikely source: Fidel Castro. El Comandante was making a surprise appearance at a news conference on the Pan American Games, which Cuba is hosting this August, when he was informed that Baghdad was being bombed. Castro duly reported the news, and as he answered subsequent questions about the war, the significance of the quadrennial games faded.
But the Pan Am games are important to Cuba, as indicated by Castro's presence at the press conference. Now that the Soviet Union has severely trimmed its aid, Cuba must turn to other sources to bolster its sagging economy. Tourism is one of those sources, and Cuban officials see the games as a giant step in putting an end to their country's isolation.
So strong is the national commitment that some of Cuba's finest athletes have been helping with the construction. The world-record holder in the high jump, Javier Sotomayer, has pushed wheelbarrows filled with cement at the site of the Estadio Panamericano, and Ana Quirot, the 1990 World Cup champion in the 800 meters, has worked some 30 hours moving rocks. A sign at one of the construction sites in the Pan American village reads (in Spanish): THE FIRST RECORD OF THE PAN AM GAMES WILL BE SET BY THE WORKERS—FIDEL.
Some of the facilities, like the velodrome and the tennis courts, are already completed. Construction at other venues, however, looked hopelessly behind schedule or shoddy. The Estadio Panamericano, which one official said was 96% complete, has rows of concrete seats that sag in the middle. One journalist from the U.S. quipped that it was the only stadium in the world that comes with a built-in Wave.
A huge sign on the yet-to-be-completed natatorium read FIDELIDAD. But it was hard to have fidelidad—fidelity—when the last letter on the sign was only half a D. The loop had fallen off.
SWIMMING ON LINE ONE...
Before Cornell's men's and women's swimming teams could board a bus to Princeton last week for a dual swim meet, a blizzard in Ithaca, N.Y., snowed in the Big Red's machine. Rather than postpone the meet, Cornell coach Joe Lucia called the Tigers' coaches, Susan Teeter-Eggert and Rob Orr, and suggested that the schools compete by phone. The teams would swim the events in their respective pools and then compare the results. Simulated telephone meets aren't entirely new, but being a thoroughly modern fellow, Lucia proposed that the results be exchanged by fax. The Princeton coaches agreed to the plan.
The swimmers went for the scheme, too. According to Teeter-Eggert, the coach of Princeton's women's team, one team member even asked if she could fax a picture of her face to Ithaca so she could intimidate her opponent. To create the atmosphere of an actual competition, the Tigers went through all of their pre-meet rituals before the fax race. Orr gave the men's team his usual pep talk, and then his swimmers gathered in the tunnel outside the pool for its traditional group cheer. Meanwhile in Ithaca, some of the Cornell swimmers psyched themselves up by making fun of the Princeton cheer.
For the record books, not to mention the phone bill, the Princeton women dominated by a score of 180.5-106.5, and the Princeton men won by an even bigger margin, 164-71.
They won so easily, in fact, that they could have phoned in the results.
GEORGES ON HIS MIND
Congratulations to Joan and George Foreman of Houston on the birth of their eight-pound, 13-ounce baby boy last week. In keeping with the family tradition, they christened him George. So the 42-year-old, 265-pound heavyweight now has four sons: George II, George III, George IV, and, yes, George V. The ex-champion, who will fight current champ Evander Holyfield for the undisputed crown on April 19, is, of course, George I.
And what name would the Foremans have given the baby had it been (gasp) a girl? "Her first name would have been Judy," said the father, "but her middle name would have been George."
THE RIGHT THING
Alan Wiggins, who helped lead the San Diego Padres into the 1984 World Series, died on Jan. 6 at the age of 32, reportedly of AIDS-related diseases. The only former Padres teammate who bothered to attend Wiggins's funeral in Los Angeles was Steve Garvey.
LOVING THE U.S. WHILE ACHING FOR IRAQ
Professional soccer in the U.S. seems a kind of national orphanage, played as it is by so many refugees from one broken country or another. Chile, Northern Ireland and Liberia—all are represented in the Major (indoor) Soccer League. So is Iraq, in the person of Waad Hirmez, a midfielder for the San Diego Sockers. His family home, standing or not, is only a mile from Saddam Hussein's presidential palace in Baghdad.
At first, the 29-year-old Hirmez seems a less than tragic footnote to the war in the Persian Gulf. He left Iraq for good as a high school student back in 1979 and has returned only once to visit. He has long since gathered his immediate family about him in San Diego. He could scarcely be any more Americanized. A U.S. citizen, he drives a black BMW with vanity plates that read SOKRS 11. He is a crowd favorite, known for his 75-mile-per-hour kicks and his ceremony of climbing over the boards to high-five the crowd. To him Baghdad is a hazy memory.
But Hirmez can travel only so far from his homeland. On a day when Iraq was being pounded by rockets, Hirmez was sitting in the stands after practice when some teammates suddenly pelted him with M&Ms and shouted, "Incoming!" and "SCUD!" The humor was jaw-dropping, but apparently not unusual by soccer standards, and Hirmez joined in. When Victor Nogueira—he's from Mozambique—leaned on the arena air horn and shouted, "Air raid!" Hirmez shouted back, "You are on my terrorist list." But then he said, quietly and abruptly solemn, "They think it's a joke. But I don't think so. It's my blood, too."
Waad had meant to take his mother, Suad, back to Baghdad earlier this year to see the grave of his father, Shakir Ajou. He had been a prosperous contractor in Baghdad, but while the rest of the family migrated to San Diego, Shakir had to stay behind because men were not allowed to leave during the Iran-Iraq war. The last time Waad saw his father was during his brief trip home in 1982. Shakir discouraged his children from visiting after that.
As time went on, the government began taking as much as $30,000 a month from Shakir's bank account for Iraq's war fund. "They called it a donation," Waad says. His father seemed healthy before he died nearly two years ago, at just 61, of "natural causes." Waad believes he died out of sheer disappointment in his country.
Last week Waad went home at night and watched coverage of Baghdad's bombing with his family. There have been reports that the presidential palace has been destroyed. Who knows about the family house? "Luckily my mother doesn't understand English," says Waad. "We don't translate everything. It would kill her, too."
Before Friday evening's game against St. Louis, he asked a reporter about that night's bombing. He seemed confused by the violence. "All those buildings," he said, "probably not standing. Now I won't even have a chance to see my father's grave." His eyes were those of a true orphan.
THEY SAID IT
•Dr. Arnold Scheller, Celtics team physician and a reserve major with the 1125th U.S. Army Hospital unit, which may be called up for service in the Persian Gulf: "The team I'm taking care of will be different, but it still wears green."