Going for the Gold
The U.S.'s top Olympic official has profited from questionable sports business dealings
Last Thursday, USA Today reported that Robert Helmick, a Des Moines lawyer who has served as president of the U.S. Olympic Committee since 1985 and is one of two International Olympic Committee members from the U.S., had received at least $127,000 in payments during 1990 from clients who stood to benefit from the USOC's favor. Those clients included:
•The Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System, which had paid Helmick unspecified sums since 1987, including at least $37,500 in the first six months of 1990. According to Helmick, he received those payments for, among other things, helping the network acquire rights to the Pan Am Games. The USOC oversees U.S. participation in those games. TBS also sponsors the Goodwill Games, an international sports extravaganza held every four years.
•Ron Meyers & Associates, a public relations firm retained by the Brunswick Corp., a bowling equipment manufacturer, to push for the inclusion of bowling in the Olympics. In 1990 Helmick was paid $25,000 by Meyers as a consultant.
•Robert L. Seagren, marketing director for the U.S. Golf Federation. The USGF is seeking to become golf's international governing body should that sport be added to the Olympic program. Helmick's son, Rob, was secretary general of the USGF until he resigned last week. Seagren paid Helmick $50,000 in consulting fees in 1990.
Helmick, who is not paid by either the USOC or the IOC, says that there was nothing improper about these business relationships and that he had disclosed their existence to USOC executive director Harvey Schiller. But Schiller told SI that "the relationship with golf was never discussed with me." Nor, Schiller said, did he know about Helmick's association with bowling. At any rate, Schiller is Helmick's subordinate; it's unclear what he could have done even if he had known and disapproved of Helmick's activities.
Those activities are troubling. For example, Helmick has long supported the Goodwill Games, to the bafflement of some of his Olympic colleagues, one of whom said in the wake of last week's revelations, "Oh, jeez, now I understand." Helmick's business relationships were especially unsettling given his membership on the IOC Program Committee, which recommends new Olympic sports. How could Helmick have impartially considered the admission of, say, softball versus that of bowling or golf? Responds Helmick, "Everyone has his favorite sports."
But not every Olympic administrator gets paid by his favorite sports. In an SI interview, Helmick denied the accuracy of the $127,000 figure reported by USA Today but said that the 1990 sports-consulting activities that the paper detailed were "approximately consistent with what I'd been doing in prior years."
On Saturday, after an eight-hour meeting in Chicago, the USOC's Executive Committee absolved Helmick of wrongdoing, issuing a statement that read, "There is no evidence that President Helmick sought to or did influence improperly in any way the professional staff or the business decisions of the USOC." The committee said it would appoint a special counsel to examine Helmick's records, though Helmick claims to have terminated any activities that might appear to conflict with his Olympic duties. "President Helmick openly acknowledges errors in judgment concerning the appearance of conflicts of interest and has apologized," read the statement.
Said one executive committee member of Helmick: "Basically, he's on a short leash. He's badly wounded. He is going to limp along, but his chances of serving another term [after his present term expires at the end of the 1992 Summer Games] are practically nil."
Roger Maris loses an asterisk, Harvey Haddix gets one
Last week commissioner Fay Vincent brushed aside baseball's minor difficulties—finances, expansion, controversies involving umpires—and focused attention on the asterisk. The asterisk came into baseball in 1961 when the American League lengthened its season from 154 games to 162 (the National League followed a year later). That was the year that the New York Yankees' Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle took dead aim on Babe Ruth's record of 60 homers in a season. To protect Ruth from what he considered undeserving usurpers, then commissioner Ford Frick ruled that if anyone surpassed Ruth's home run total in more than 154 games, the new figure would go into the books as a 162-game record and that Ruth's 60 would be preserved with the notation "154-game schedule."
Frick did not mention an asterisk, but sportswriters did, and while the symbol has never appeared in the record book, people thought it had. Maris hit 59 homers in 154 games and added two more during the final week of the season to top the Babe. The record book followed Frick's ruling, and Maris lived the rest of his life carrying the weight of a mythical asterisk.
But for 30 years it has been Maris's 61 homers—not Ruth's 60—that have been recognized by sluggers as the record to shoot for. Thus, Vincent and an eight-man committee on statistical accuracy that he chaired issued last week's epic proclamation: No more double listing.
The committee resolved another burning debate, too, voting unanimously to define no-hitters as games of nine innings or more that end with a team getting no hits. That ruling deletes from the no-hitter list 38 rain-shortened games in which pitchers did not allow a hit and 12 games in which pitchers threw nine no-hit innings only to give up a hit in extra innings. What the committee is telling Harvey Haddix is that 32 years after he pitched 12 perfect innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Milwaukee Braves, he didn't really throw a no-hitter because he allowed a hit in the 13th and lost 1-0. In another inspired move, the committee chose to continue classifying Boston Beaneaters pitcher Vic Willis's effort in 1899 as a no-hitter, despite considerable evidence that he allowed a hit (SCORECARD, Sept. 9).
So Maris is the record holder, and Ruth is not; and Haddix didn't really throw a no-hitter, and Willis did. Forgive us if we react to all this with a big ho hum. People remember great performances for the remarkable achievements they are. It doesn't matter where they're placed in the record book.
—ROBERT W. CREAMER
The Devils' Due?
An arbitrator's ruling may hasten an NHL strike
The St. Louis Blues, their star defenseman Scott Stevens and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) were reminded last week just how suffocatingly restrictive the NHL's free-agency rules really are.
When Stevens bolted from the Washington Capitals to sign with St. Louis a year ago, the Blues were forced to give the Capitals five first-round draft choices as compensation. Then, two months ago, the Blues delved into the free-agent market again, signing winger Brendan Shanahan, a free agent who played the last four seasons for the New Jersey Devils. An arbitrator ruled last Wednesday that the price for signing Shanahan would be even steeper: Stevens himself.
Of course, the Blues didn't plan it that way. In a procedure similar to baseball's salary arbitration, the Blues and the Devils submitted compensation proposals in the wake of the Shanahan signing to an arbitrator, who was then obliged to accept one of them.
The Devils asked for Stevens, while the Blues offered an inequitable package of players and draft picks. "The Blues got greedy," says one NHL general manager.
But to the NHLPA, the issue isn't whether the Blues may have lowballed with their offer but whether teams will pursue free agents if it costs them blue-chippers. What team will sign a free agent if by doing so it risks losing one of its stars?
The arbitrator's ruling came as the league and the NHLPA were negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the current one, which expires on Sept. 15 (SCORECARD, Sept. 2). The players were already chafing under the NHL's tough free-agency rules, and though a strike seems unlikely, the Shanahan ruling has only increased players' bitterness. St. Louis's Brett Hull suggests that the decision was punishment for the Blues' audacity in signing Stevens and Shanahan. He says, "The message was clear: Don't sign free agents."
[Thumb Up]To Otis Smith of the Orlando Magic, for launching a $1.5 million fund-raising drive for the Otis Smith Foundation, which sponsors activities for underprivileged youth.
[Thumb Up]To the NCAA, for creating a $3 million fund for needy student-athletes out of its $115 million take from the 1991 men's basketball tournament. It also gave $25,000 to each Division I school for "academic enhancement." The proceeds from the tournament used to be divvied up solely on the basis of tournament performance.
[Thumb Down]To The Topps Company, Inc., for announcing that it will no longer include sticks of bubble gum in its packages of trading cards. The company says the gum sometimes stains the cards, decreasing their value to collectors.
Last month the French sports daily L'Equipe ran a list of baseball games appearing on television over the weekend. Included among the National League entries was a game between Cincinnati and Metz.
THEY SAID IT
Lee Corso, ESPN college football commentator, on the University of Hawaii's poor record on the mainland: "Hawaii doesn't win many games in the United States."
Replay 15 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
The 24-year-old Jimmy Connors made the cover of our Sept. 20, 1976, issue when he defeated Bjorn Borg to win his second U.S. Open. After losing to Connors in the semis, Guillermo Vilas said of his opponent, "Is impossible for player to play so good so long." At the time, Vilas was referring to the duration of Connors's rallies, not his career.