Birth of a Nation
This is an article from the Sept. 28, 1992 issue
The Olympic flag completed its journey from Barcelona to Atlanta last week, officially opening the all-important construction-boondoggle and political-catfighting seasons in that city. Somebody shoot a flaming arrow, and let the Games begin!
Actually, flaming arrows figure to be wildly unfashionable in Atlanta, a city that not only burned to the ground once but also might become the first host to what would be yet another new Olympic nation—the American Indians.
In the months before the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Games, the world seemed to constantly reinvent itself. Athletes from Croatia, Lithuania and Ukraine, which a year earlier had been only a gleam in various nationalists' eyes, marched shoulder to shoulder in Barcelona with Slovenes, Latvians and Bosnia-Herzegovinians.
This fall a group called UNION (Unite Now Indian Olympic Nation) will attempt to keep that pattern of change going by applying to the International Olympic Committee to have Native Americans admitted to the Atlanta games as a separate team. As UNION founder Matt Spencer points out, teams from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam, which are U.S. territories, competed in Barcelona. If they can have their own teams, why can't American Indians?
The National Congress of American Indians endorsed the plan at its convention in June, and hundreds of Native Americans have joined UNION, among them Teresa Thorpe, granddaughter of Jim Thorpe of the Sac and Fox-Potawatomi tribes, who won the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics.
"Little Indian kids have the same Olympic dream as white kids," says Steve Lopez, a Native American journalist and the West Coast director of UNION, "but because of the high suicide rate, poverty and alcoholism, they haven't had the chance to open the door to that realm. We're trying to open it for them."
Fran‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√ºois Carrard, the director general of the IOC, says the chances of an American Indian team's being recognized are remote. "The practice is to recognize sovereign states," Carrard says. But there is nothing in the Olympic charter to prevent a Native American delegation from being included. UNION plans to approach U.S. corporations and sports franchises that have used Indian names—the Atlanta Braves leap to mind—to help fund an Indian Olympic training center.
When Philippine president Fidel Ramos welcomed the champions of the Little League World Series home to Malacanang Palace three weeks ago, he told the team from the provincial city of Zamboanga, "Because of your athletic determination, you have placed the Philippine flag higher than everybody else's." But when the coach of the team, Eduardo Toribio, admitted last week that eight of the 14 players on the winning team were ringers brought in from cities as distant as 700 miles from Zamboanga, officials at Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pa., stripped the Philippine team of its title and awarded it to the team from Long Beach, Calif., which had lost 15-4 to Zamboanga in the title game.
The Manila Standard said the scandal "has made our country hang its head in shame." Said Hector Navasero, president of the Philippine Amateur Baseball Association, "It's sad. It looks as if we're a land of cheaters."
But Armando Andaya, administrator of Little League baseball in the Philippines, was unrepentant. Before resigning he thundered emptily at Americans who had "scrounged around for some reason to overturn the victory" and grumbled that it was "only here in the Philippines people question us about these things."
It was true that the revelations came about not because of any protest from Long Beach but as the result of courageous work by Philippine journalists. A radio commentator called for the public hanging of one of them, The Philippine Inquirer's Armand Nocum. And according to the Inquirer, the father of one of the Zamboanga players threatened Nocum's life.
Inquirer columnist Al Mendoza was among the first to report that Zamboanga's victory may have been tainted. "I hate to be a killjoy," Mendoza wrote last week. "I could be guillotined for this, hanged by the public plaza. If a killjoy deserves either one of [those], so be it. If truth shall prevail, for truth had always been my beacon, then to hell with death."
Ordinarily an Olympic medal is worth its weight in gold on the lucrative European track circuit. But this summer a number of European meet directors barred two top U.S. shot-putters, apparently to convey an antidrug message. One promoter said his ban of the Americans was prompted by their past suspensions for using banned substances, but inasmuch as the athletes had already served their time, such blacklisting amounts to vigilante justice.
Mike Stulce of the U.S., the gold medalist in the shot put in Barcelona, and another American, Randy Barnes, the world-record holder in the event, completed two-year suspensions earlier this year—Stulce for taking testosterone and Barnes for using anabolic steroids—and both expected to be permitted to compete in European meets. That's the way it has worked in the past. But when Wayne Souza, the lawyer who represents both Stulce and Barnes, contacted the directors of Grand Prix meets in Zurich, Berlin, Brussels and Turin, he discovered that no one wanted his athletes.
As a result Stulce hasn't competed in a single meet since winning the Olympic title, and Barnes has been idle since his suspension ended on Aug. 7. A case can be made that bans against track and field athletes caught using performance-enhancing drugs should be stricter, but meet promoters aren't the ones who should be making such decisions. Enforcing drug rules is the job of the sport's national federations, not a group of fast-talking philistines.
Hannibal the Animal
Although he has yet to race, a leggy, jet-black thoroughbred at Belmont Park has already attracted a great deal of attention because of his name—Hannibal Lecter. The colt's trainer, Bob Klesaris, was not thrilled when he learned in August that his new charge was named after the sociopath who liked to dine on his victims' flesh in The Silence of the Lambs. "I had mixed feelings," Klesaris admitted nervously. His ambivalence was obviously not shared by a clocker from The Daily Racing Form, who watched one of the horse's recent workouts and noted, "Hannibal Lecter was eating up the ground."
Pity the plight of Jason Taylor, a would-be freshman linebacker for the University of Akron. In high school he had a 3.85 grade point average and had college football recruiters lining up at his door. But four days before his first college game and only one day after classes at Akron had begun, the NCAA swooped down on Taylor and declared him academically ineligible.
The NCAA took its action when it learned that Taylor was educated at home for the past three years by his mother, who based 85% of Jason's studies on standardized materials created and graded by the Illinois-based Christian Liberty Academy, an accredited primary and secondary institution that has on its rolls more than 22,000 students who are receiving their education at home. The NCAA doesn't recognize grades for English, math, social-science or lab-science courses taken at home, and although it has made exceptions in a few instances, it is balking in Taylor's case because his SAT score of 830—freshmen need a minimum score of 700 to be eligible—didn't jibe with his eye-popping grades. By the NCAA's reckoning someone with an 830 SAT score would normally have an average of about 2.175, which is still above the NCAA's minimum of 2.0.
Mike Farris, president of the Virginia-based nonprofit Home School Legal Defense Association and the Taylors' lawyer on their appeal of the NCAA decision, insists the NCAA is misinterpreting its own rule. "[The bylaw] refers to a kid who has taken an extra course or two by correspondence," Farris says. "It doesn't mean that a student whose entire program is through home schooling gets zero credit. It just makes no sense."
Taylor's schoolwork more than satisfied the Woodland Hills, Pa., school district, where he lives, and the NCAA now concedes that when it made its ruling, it was unaware that Taylor's home schooling was monitored by Christian Liberty. It has rightly agreed to reconsider his case and possibly restore the scholarship that constitutes Taylor's only chance of going to Akron.
—DESMOND M. WALLACE
They Said It
Reggie Johnson, 256-pound Denver Bronco tight end, on his 34-yard return of a San Diego Charger squib kickoff: "When I started out I looked like Barry Sanders, and when I finished I looked like Colonel Sanders."