Old Glory and New Wounds
The true meaning of the flag is lost in the world of sports
Far more than any other place in our daily lives, the sports arena has become an outlet for the patriotic fervor stirred by the Persian Gulf war. There is hardly a pro or college team in the land that hasn't made some symbolic gesture in support of the U.S. forces. Flag decals and patches are everywhere, from the helmets of NFL players to the backboards of NBA arenas, from the shoe of a high school wrestler to the jersey of Waad Hirmez, the Iraqi-born soccer star of the San Diego Sockers (SCORECARD, Jan. 28).
Why do sports evoke such strong feelings of country? Possibly because watching sports is a communal experience in which spectators are encouraged to express themselves loudly and clearly. There may also be some kind of association at work here: Like the troops in the gulf, athletes are young, healthy and in uniform. And as often as not, their deeds inspire us. So we expect them to wear symbols of support for our fighting forces.
February 25, 1991
These symbols can be moving and meaningful. Still, it is wrongheaded to use them as a test of where individuals stand on the war, as was done in the case of Marco Lokar, a sophomore guard from Trieste, Italy, who played basketball for Seton Hall until last week. Because of his religious convictions—"From a Christian standpoint, I cannot support any war," he said—Lokar refused to wear the American flag on his jersey.
Lokar's coach, P.J. Carlesimo, and his teammates accepted his decision, but many people did not. During a Feb. 2 game against St. John's at Madison Square Garden, Lokar was roundly booed every time he touched the ball. He received threats that unnerved him and his pregnant wife, Lara. Finally, he announced that he was leaving school and returning to Trieste.
Lokar wasn't the only one criticized for not wearing Old Glory. Acting on a sensible suggestion from NHL president John Ziegler, the St. Louis Blues put the flag of the United Nations, not of the U.S., on their helmets. There are, after all, players from many countries in the NHL, and the U.S.-led coalition in the gulf is acting to enforce U.N. resolutions.
But the Blues came under attack by, among others, sports-caster Ron Jacober of St. Louis radio station KMOX, even though the team has only one U.S. citizen, Brett Hull. "My patriotic blood boiled a bit," said Jacober, who has two sons in the armed forces. "What the Blues have done doesn't make too much sense to me."
It is unfair to pressure athletes, either foreign or American, into donning flags when the same isn't expected of others in the public eye. We best support our country by recognizing that one of the things our flag symbolizes is the right not to wear the flag.
The intolerance directed at Lokar and the Blues mocks the very values that Americans have fought and died for. As Woodrow Wilson said, "The flag is the embodiment not of sentiment, but of history, and no man can rightly serve under that flag who has not caught some of the meaning of that history."
TRACK & FIELD
If at First...
Leroy Burrell broke the 60-meter indoor record—twice
When American sprinter Leroy Burrell first broke the indoor world record for 60 meters on Feb. 13 in Madrid, the result, he said, was "commotion and controversy and a lot of hollering." So, to calm things down, the accommodating Burrell broke the record again just half an hour later.
When Burrell first ran the 60 at the meet in Madrid, he was timed in 6.40 seconds, shattering the mark of 6.50 set by Lee McRae of the U.S. in 1987. But while Burrell celebrated, the crowd of 5,000 in the Indoor Sports Palace booed, knowing that his start had been too good to be legal. There were no electronic sensors, as there are at other meets, to detect false starts, so officials eventually reviewed a videotape and determined that Burrell had jumped the gun.
Burrell immediately requested a rerun not of the tape but of the race. "Let's run again, now," he said, and back they went to the blocks. Burrell was slower this time, but not by much. With a legal start, he won the second race in 6.48 to legitimately claim the record.
Burrell, ranked No. 1 in the world last year in the 100 meters, may have needed a boost to his pride. A week before the Madrid race, he placed second to Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green in the World's Fastest Athlete competition, a made-for-television affair featuring competitors from various sports running a variety of courses. "I had trouble with the bases," Burrell said of the baseball event.
Though buoyed by last week's hard-earned world record, Burrell insisted that he is looking beyond the indoor season to the World Championships in Tokyo in August and a shot at Carl Lewis's world record in the 100. If Burrell is careful, maybe he'll only have to do it once.
BASEBALL ON ICE
The Boys of Winter
In Lake Placid they skated out to the ball game
The doubleheader, scheduled for Feb. 9, was postponed because of nice weather. Fortunately, the upstate New York temperatures dropped into the mid-20s the next day, which was ideal for some old-fashioned games of baseball on ice between the Lake Placid Flaming Blades and the Cooperstown Leatherstockings.
The two teams attempted to recreate a circa-1862 game devised for the ice. The players dressed in 19th-century-style uniforms, although they did wear modern skates. The bases were marked in charcoal, and the pitcher threw a leather-covered rag ball underhanded to the batter from 45 feet away. There was no sliding, for obvious reasons.
Lake Placid won both five-inning games, 3-0 and 13-0, by virtue of having the better skaters. Said home plate umpire Tom Heitz, the head librarian at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, "If pitching is 80 percent of baseball, then skating is 80 percent of baseball on ice."
There was only one homer, by Jay Wescott of Lake Placid. In fact, he hit a frozen rope.
A Poodle Dandy
Peter proves to be the top dog at Westminster
Dog owners do not necessarily resemble their dogs. Joan Hartsock, for instance, looks nothing like a white balloon animal, which is what her exquisitely coiffed standard poodle, Peter, resembles. "I call him Peter Perfect," said Hartsock. As well she should. Last week Peter, a.k.a. Ch. Whisperwind on a Carousel, outshone 2,500 other competitors at the 115th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, at Madison Square Garden. He thus became the first of his kind—poodles, not white balloon animals—to win best-in-show since 1973.
The Westminster is the second-oldest annual sports competition in the U.S. (Only the Kentucky Derby is older.) But Westminster is as much show as competition, especially in the bench area underneath the stands of the Garden, where the dogs were bivouacked. There were fetching Afghans with babushkas tied around their heads, a line of borzois, pointers and bloodhounds waiting to use the "dogs room," vendors yelling, "Hot dogs!" and barkers selling porcelain doggie light-switch covers.
Peter, the most decorated poodle of all time, made the finals, of course, along with a toy poodle, a boxer, a Kerry blue terrier, a Scottish deerhound, an Irish water spaniel and an Old English sheepdog called Showy, who was the best canine-interest story of all, having been born in the back of her owner's car in the drive-through lane at a McDonald's. It took Dorothy Welsh, the judge for the finals, about 20 minutes to select Peter, and the crowd seemed to agree. "As poodly as any poodle I've ever seen," Welsh said.
The new champ's dignity was immediately threatened when a photographer tossed a rubber chicken drumstick across his snout to get his attention. But Peter Perfect didn't bite.
Boo-Boo by the Bay
The 49ers should eighty-six their new logo
San Francisco 49er owner Eddie DeBartolo announced last week that he was changing the team's tastefully understated helmet logo, an interlocking block SF, to a garish 49ERS emblem that resembles something one might expect to see on a children's toy or a professional wrestler's frock. This supposedly bold move into the '90s was greeted by predictable hoots of derision all over the Bay Area. Talk-show hosts were besieged by angry protests. A poll by the San Francisco Examiner, which attracted the biggest reader response since the 49er quarterback controversy of 1988 (Joe Montana versus Steve Young), resulted in 7,392 votes against the new insignia and only 583 for it. Similar polls conducted by The Sacramento Bee and the San Jose Mercury News elicited overwhelming anti-logo sentiments.
Poor Eddie. For all the great teams he has financed from his home in Youngstown, Ohio, he still can't read the soul of San Francisco. He doesn't understand that these are a people who sharply oppose any break with tradition—the 49ers have had the same helmet logo since 1962—and who, to their eternal credit, retain some feel for aesthetics in a barbaric age. The new logo is not merely ugly, it's wrong. Eddie should have learned his lesson 14 years ago when he bought the team and had the bad taste to hire as his front-office honcho the infamous Joe Thomas, a philistine who said tradition be damned. Thomas actually took down the office photos of such 49er legends as Frankie Albert, Joe Perry, Leo Nomellini, Hugh McElhenny and Y.A. Tittle. Thomas was nearly run out of town on a rail, and his successor, Bill Walsh, wisely restored historical perspective to the operation. Eddie just didn't get the message.
There is another issue here besides taste and tradition. In removing the city's initials from the helmet, Eddie is following a disturbing pattern in the NFL of franchises disengaging themselves from the cities of their origin. Some, of course, have done it physically. It's significant that the Oakland Raiders became merely, in Al Davis's peculiar accent, "the Raid-uhs," when that footloose proprietor started making plans to hit the road. All of this leaves one with a feeling of rootlessness and impermanence.
Eddie, unless you know something we don't, your team is not just the 49ers, it's the San Francisco 49ers. That new logo must go.
[Thumps up]To the venerable Salem Country Club in Massachusetts for hiring the first woman head golf professional at a club in New England, Mary Wilkinson.
[Thumps down]To The Ann Arbor (Mich.) News, for its demeaning classification of high school football recruits as "Prime Cuts," "Sirloin" and "Ground Sirloin."
[Thumps down]To baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, for this response to a question about Yankee owner George Steinbrenner's charges that Vincent is biased against him: "I can't think of anyone other than Saddam Hussein I'd rather have making these complaints." The tasteless comment only served to lend credence to Steinbrenner's accusations.
Even though firemen tried to restrain him, J.C. Rogers, 66, of Florence, S.C., ran back into his burning house on Feb. 3 to save his tickets to the Feb. 7 North Carolina-North Carolina State basketball game. Rogers, a longtime Tar Heel fan, not only got his tickets, but he also got to see North Carolina win 92-70. Oh, yes. His house was saved, too.
THEY SAID IT
Gary Player, on the putter he has used since 1961: "It's a marriage. If I had to choose between my wife and my putter, well, I'd miss her."
Making a List
Spring Training officially begins on Feb. 21 when pitchers and catchers start reporting to the 26 major league clubs. That does not mean, however, that players have been idle for four months. Here is a list of 10 players who did interesting things in the off-season:
1. Jack McDowell of the White Sox wrote and performed nine songs on an album by his rock group, The View.
2. Ivan Calderon of the Expos trained a stable of fighting cocks in Puerto Rico.
3. Rene Gonzales of the Blue Jays went bungee-jumping off a bridge in New Zealand.
4. Keith Comstock of the Mariners took a ballet class to strengthen his back and now says, "I lost 15 pounds, so I look damn good in my tutu."
5. John Burkett of the Giants bowled in the PBA's Pinole (Calif.) Open, and finished 74th in a field of 160.
6. Chuck Crim of the Brewers competed in nine professional bass-fishing events, finishing in the Top 20 four different times.
7. Mike Greenwell of the Red Sox built a stock car that finished third in a race in Port Charlotte, Fla.
8. Randy Myers of the Reds was the conditioning coach for the women's basketball team at Clark Community College in Vancouver, Wash.
9. Larry Walker, who wears number 33 for the Expos, married Christa Vandenbrink on Nov. 3 at 3:33 p.m.
10. Andy Van Slyke of the Pirates says he spent the off-season "pondering why the U.S. government gave a grant for a Lawrence Welk historical site."
A Name with a Kick
Former Boston Patriots placekicker Gino Cappelletti has announced he will run a kicking school in Wellesley, Mass., this summer. He will call it the Gino Cappelletti Boot Camp.
Replay 30 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
To give a midwinter putting instructional, the editors picked Billy Casper, a golfer who would still be putting competitively three decades later, albeit on the Senior tour. Elsewhere in the magazine, it was observed, "The Angels recently signed Bob Cerv and Ted Kluszewski with gobs of publicity and overly generous $30,000 contracts."
THEY SAID IT
Wall Muhammad, cruiserweight, asked if he bit James Salerno during their recent fight: "No, I'm a vegetarian."