Two weeks after Magic Johnson's revelation, the sports world struggles over what to do next
Sports in general and the NBA in particular have begun, ever so gradually, to return to normal in the wake of the Nov. 7 news that one of their icons had tested positive for HIV. Even the Los Angeles Lakers have held up well, with four victories in five games, since their captain, Magic Johnson, announced his retirement after contracting the virus. Still, the impact of Johnson's disclosure has been earthquakelike—widespread and devastating at first, followed by frequent aftershocks.
At week's end, Johnson, in conjunction with the NBA, was making plans to create the Magic Johnson Foundation to raise money for AIDS research and education. The NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball, NCAA and the national high school athletic federation are all expected to join with the foundation in its fund-raising efforts.
November 25, 1991
Johnson's announcement has forced sports executives, heretofore removed from the ethical concerns presented by AIDS, to address some thorny issues. Some have allied for mandatory AIDS testing of athletes; the NBA, in conjunction with its Players' Association, will soon announce a program to provide voluntary confidential testing. Dr. David E. Rogers, vice-chairman of the National Commission on AIDS—whose newest member, appointed last week by President Bush, is Johnson—has signed on with the league as a consultant to work with team physicians. NBA commissioner David Stern hopes that Rogers will be able to allay some of the fears around the league. There have been concerns raised, for example, that a bloody battle under the basket could result in an HIV-positive player's passing the virus to an opponent. But Rogers has already informed team physicians that the chances of contracting the virus through an exchange of bodily fluids while playing a sport are infinitesimal.
In the last two weeks, Johnson has been both praised for his forthrightness and excoriated for the promiscuity he detailed in his Nov. 18 SI story. The public is still struggling with labels, like hero and victim, to describe him. But Johnson is not a hero because he contracted a virus, nor is he less of a victim because of the way he was exposed to it. The heroic part for Magic can begin now, in the manner in which he brings public awareness to a worldwide scourge.
A novel deals, eerily, with an HIV-infected NBA player
He's a 12-year NBA veteran, a former first-round draft pick and the captain of his team. He has played in 10 All-Star Games, including one as a rookie. He is a former league MVP and Rookie of the Year, and he has led the league in assists. He is told that he has been infected with HIV. His wife is pregnant, and she tests negative for the virus. After his doctor informs him that he has been infected, he says, "I want to go public with this." A press conference is held, at which he announces, "Yesterday I learned that I have contracted the AIDS virus."
All these statements could be made of Magic Johnson, but they also apply to the fictional Michael Silverman, protagonist of Miracle Cure (British American Publishing. $20), a novel written by Harlan Cohen, whose first novel. Play Dead, is also set in the NBA. Miracle Cure was released on Oct. 24, two weeks before Johnson's announcement that he had tested positive for HIV. Says Coben of the extraordinary similarities between Johnson and Silverman, "It's just a very bizarre coincidence." Coben adds, "I wish my scenario had never gone beyond fiction."
Stanford's women beat UCLA to stay undefeated
The 7,253 fans who jammed into Maples Pavilion at Stanford last Friday night were so obnoxiously loud that at any moment you expected a Duke basketball game to break out.
But this was a women's volleyball match, featuring unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Stanford against fifth-ranked and defending national champion UCLA. Those on hand included some rowdy men of Phi Delt, dressed in black; the Stanford Dollies (the school's unofficial dance troupe); and the notorious Cardinal band, whose drum major wore a pale yellow tutu over his sweat pants. Their cheering was loud, but they didn't have to keep it up for long.
The Cardinal thrashed the Bruins 15-2, 15-1, 9-15 and 15-8 in a match that took less than two hours. It was the second time this season that Stanford beat UCLA, which before this year had gone undefeated in Pac-10 play since 1987. With a win over USC Saturday night, the Cardinal clinched at least a tie for the Pac-10 title and extended its record for the season to 25-0.
Stanford is led by the 1990 NCAA Player of the Year, junior Bev Oden, the youngest of the fabulous Oden sisters. Kim, who starred for the Cardinal from 1982 to '85, and Elaina, who played for Pacific from '85 to '89, are now members of the U.S. national team. Volleyball observers say that Bev, because of her combination of size (6'2"), quickness and strength, is potentially the best player in the family.
With Oden and senior hitter Kristin Klein (whose father is former NFL tight end Bob Klein), the Cardinal was far too much for UCLA and Natalie Williams, the Bruin star whom Volleyball Monthly chose as its Player of the Year last season. Williams had 22 kills against Stanford, but nine of those came in the fourth game. "We got off to a slow start and just didn't play well at all," said Williams. "I know we can play a lot better. We'll see these guys again."
Most likely they will. Because the early rounds of the NCAA championships are regional competitions, the Cardinal and the Bruins figure to meet again in December at Maples Pavilion. The drum major has until then to find a new outfit.
There are more allegations of improprieties at Auburn
The case of former cornerback Eric Ramsey, who claims that he received illicit financial benefits from Auburn football coaches and boosters during his college career and that he has tape recordings to prove it (SI, Oct. 7, et seq.), took several puzzling twists last week.
Privately, Auburn officials have been saying they think the tape recordings may have been edited and spliced. That suggestion gained credence when The Montgomery Advertiser reported on Friday that last September when Ramsey played portions of a tape for the newspaper, "Mr. Ramsey implied he had copied snippets of several tapes onto one tape." Ramsey's attorney, Donald Watkins, told the Advertiser that "teaser" or "preview" versions of the tape do exist but so do "meatier" versions.
Originally, Watkins said he would release the contents of tapes implicating Auburn coach Pat Dye on Sunday. Then last Friday he said that he would not do so. He told the Advertiser that he wouldn't make the release because NCAA investigator William Saum, who was to have listened to the tapes at the same time as reporters, had been taken off the case, and no one had replaced him. However, NCAA communications director Jim Marchiony said Friday that no such change in investigators had been made. Watkins did not return SI's calls.
Meanwhile, another former Tiger player, fullback Vincent Harris, told SI, "Auburn is corrupt to the core. Everything Eric Ramsey says is true." Harris, who lettered from 1986 to '88, leveled the following charges:
On "three or four occasions" he asked assistant coach Bud Casey for $50 to $60, and Casey obliged. Says Harris, "I was just testing them to see how much I could get." Casey says, "I can't comment."
When Harris received more than $400 in parking tickets in 1986, he went to Dye and said, "I'm not paying these. They're not my problem." He says Dye told him, "Go see Coach Hall." Harris claims that he then went to see defensive coordinator Wayne Hall and that Hall "was kind of mad at me for getting all those tickets, but he gave me the money." Asked about this, Hall says, "We have been instructed to say, 'No comment.' " Dye says, "My lawyer has put a gag in my mouth."
When the engine in his '74 Pontiac threw a rod, Harris went to Casey, who told him, "Okay, cuz, we'll take care of it." The car was fixed within a week. Harris says he has no idea how much the repair cost or who paid for it. Casey declined comment.
Harris has a list of 30 Auburn players who, he contends, were receiving improper benefits—as much as $12,000 a year plus a car. He refused to provide all the names, but said that two former teammates, Stacy Danley, who was recently cut by the Seattle Seahawks, and James Joseph of the Philadelphia Eagles, were paid. When confronted with these allegations, Joseph said, "No comment," and Danley denied Harris's charge. In fact, Danley said that on two occasions he asked for money—once from Dye for a $40 part for his car, another time from Casey for $400 in campus parking tickets—and that both times he was turned down. "I would have loved to have been paid, and I would have accepted," says Danley. Notwithstanding Harris's claims, of the dozen other current and former Auburn players SI contacted, none could confirm that Casey or Hall made illicit payments.
With his accusations, Harris, who quit the Tiger team in 1988, clearly turns up the heat on Auburn. "The point is, if you were a good nigger, you got lots of stuff at Auburn," says Harris, who is black. "If you weren't, you didn't."
—DOUGLAS S. LOONEY
Turkey bowling is coming to a grocery near you
When we last heard from the sport of turkey bowling (SCORECARD, May 30, 1988), it was still in its basting stage. Now, more than three years later, turkey bowling, which involves knocking down 10 two-liter bottles of Coke by sliding a frozen turkey at them from 45 feet away, and its creator, 32-year-old former supermarket stock boy, Chippendales dancer and Los Angeles Ram cheerleader, Derrick (DJ) Johnson, have attained a measure of national recognition.
"I have to admit, this thing has mushroomed into total stupidity," says Johnson. Indeed, the sport that was created by Johnson and a group of bored stock boys working the overnight shift at a Newport Beach, Calif., supermarket has turned into a full-time career for Johnson, who has raised some $25,000 for charity by enlisting sponsors for his fowl play.
Despite turkey bowling's newfound cachet, several corporations have done their best to knock the stuffing out of the sport. Butterball, the only brand of turkey that Johnson uses, has become his nemesis. "I hear from them once a year or so," says Johnson, who prefers the Butterball birds because the handles affixed to their packages make them easier to fling than other turkeys. "They've threatened to sue me unless I stop associating their name with the sport. But I tell them that when I buy their turkeys, I can do whatever I want with them. Besides, I tell them that if they worked with me, they'd probably sell more turkeys than ever. Some people just take themselves too seriously. Pepsi paid me $3,000 not to use their bottle. Come on guys, loosen up."
While Johnson has gobbled up most of the attention he has gotten, he is still a little puzzled by it. "Can you imagine? People recognize me on the street and ask me for my autograph. This gets bigger every year, and I still haven't figured out why," he says. But mindful of the season, Johnson adds, "I am thankful."
[Thumb Up]To the Continental Basketball Association, for joining with the National Consortium for Academics and Sports at Northeastern University to provide CBA players with free tuition to complete undergraduate degrees. In return, players must take part in programs promoting education.
[Thumb Up]To the University of California athletic department, for donating $100,000 of its television revenue from its football game against Southern Cat to a fund to aid victims of last month's fire in the Berkeley area.
[Thumb Down]To Red Auerbach, former Boston Celtics coach, for allowing the name of former Celtic Paul Westphal to be misspelled throughout his new book, Red Auerbach MBA-Management By Auerbach. Auerbach writes that "Westfall" was a player he "really liked...both as a person and a ballplayer."
There's Air Force One, the President's plane, and now there's North Stars Won, the charter plane for Minnesota's 1991 Stanley Cup runner-ups. On Oct. 19, after the North Stars were defeated 5-2 by the Los Angeles Kings, the plane was delayed on the runway at L.A. International Airport. Said one player, "The tower can't find us. They should be looking for North Stars Lost."
Making a List
Tattoos. In some cultures they are decoration, in others they're an indication of status. Sometimes they're the indelible reminders of a drunken evening or a tour in the merchant marine. Here are half a dozen athletes, none of whom has gone to sea, who sport tattoos.
Greg Foster, Washington Bid-Benoit Benjamin, Seattle let center—The word BOWIE on his left arm. A friend once told him that he looked like Sam Bowie, now with the New Jersey Nets. Bullet coach Wes Unseld said of the tattoo, "The kid didn't think ahead. If he'd gone with 'Wes,' his minutes might be better."
Christopher Bow man, 1989 U.S. men's figure skating champion, who's known for his lack of discipline—A devil in diapers surrounded by the words NOBODY'S PERFECT on his left arm.
Mitch Williams, Philadelphia Phillie pitcher—Speedy Gonzales and Tasmanian Devil on his light leg. His father has a Tasmanian Devil, too, and a Yosemite Sam. "My younger brother has Gumby and Pokey," says Williams. "Our family has never been accused of being all there."
Benoit Benjamin, Seattle SuperSonics center (below)—The phrase NOIT I & II beneath a bulldog on his left arm. The II was added this summer after the birth of Benoit Jr.
Darryl Strawberry, Los Angeles Dodger outfielder—The name LISA on his left arm. Lisa is Strawberry's estranged wife, who has a tattoo of a D inside the outline of a strawberry on her back.
John Marzano, Boston Red Sox catcher—The names of his daughters, Dominique and Danielle, surrounding a picture of Pebbles, Fred and Wilma Flintstone's bone-barretted daughter, on his left shoulder. "I know some people are in altered stales when they have this done, but I was sober," Marzano says. "I can't tell you how much it hurt."
THEY SAID IT
Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steeter coach, expressing disapproval of quarterbacks-who scramble: "We don't want jazz musicians. We want classical musicians."
Alan Kulwicki, stock car racer, on racing Saturday nights as opposed to Sunday afternoons: "It's basically the same, just darker."
Replay: 10 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
The cover of our Nov. 30, 1981, issue, the college basketball preview, featured North Carolina coach Dean Smith and four starters from the team that would go on that season to give Smith his only NCAA championship. Smith said that he didn't know who the fifth starter would be, but we surmised that it would be a freshman from Wilmington, N.C., named Michael Jordan, who has made up for the cover omission with 20 subsequent appearances.