No article has ever moved mc as much as Gary Smith's Av Time Runs Out (Jan. 11), about former basketball coach Jim Valvano. I grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and regularly attended North Carolina State games. I was in awe of Valvano. His enthusiasm and one-of-a-kind personality seemed to cast a magical aura on the entire town, including non-basketball fans. If anyone can beat cancer, it is Vee.
In sharp contrast to the witty and exuberant television analyst and former coach we usually see, Smith shows us a thoughtful and reflective Valvano. While it is natural to reassess one's life when faced with one's own mortality, Valvano seems to be overly harsh on himself when he says that his life has amounted to nothing because he has devoted it to sports. It is sad to think that Coach Vee has underestimated how much he has contributed to the development of his players and to the enjoyment of millions of basketball fans.
Although nobody deserves to suffer from such an insidious disease, we should not canonize Valvano now that he has cancer. Your article glosses over the facts about Valvano's coaching career. His teams always lacked discipline, and his recruiting history is filled with lies and deceit. Many college coaches have been successful without using players who are academically hopeless and threats to society when off the court.
I have deep sympathy for Valvano because of his physical condition, but as the author of Persona! Fouls, which is mentioned in Gary Smith's article, it is difficult for me to forgo comment. The article implies that Valvano was the victim of a vicious smear by me and by the Raleigh News and Observer, that he didn't do anything wrong and that Personal Fouls might have caused his cancer. Defending oneself against a cult hero dying of cancer is a no-win situation, but I nevertheless thought it appropriate that your readers know what Smith's article didn't tell them.
February 22, 1993
Two weeks after the publication of Personal Fouls, which detailed a conspiracy of corruption between North Carolina State chancellor Bruce Poulton and athletic director/coach Valvano, Poulton resigned and Valvano was fired as athletic director. This didn't happen because of minor, excusable offenses, like his players' selling sneakers, as Smith's article would have you believe. It happened because the coaching staff ran roughshod over the entire university, abusing players, professors and administrators, some of whom had the courage to speak out as sources for the book. All the abuses were orchestrated by Valvano, with the blessing of chancellor Poulton.
Before the publication of Personal Fouls, Valvano, the university and the attorney general of North Carolina threatened a lawsuit to prevent its publication. The book came out anyway, and there were no suits. After publication Valvano changed tactics, distancing himself from anything his players, assistant coaches or boosters might have done and doing everything he could to whitewash himself. Smith's article perpetuates the myth of Saint Jim.
St. Petersburg, Fla.
Driving and Drinking
The tragedy of John Daly (SCORECARD, Jan. 11) points up an interesting dilemma, largely restricted to golf. Because of the time required to play a round of golf, and because golf is often played at private clubs, alcohol is frequently introduced as part of the competition. This isn't the 19th hole featured in so many jokes; it's the golf cart full of beer that cruises the course during club and charity tournaments and weekend play. It's the bar set up at the 5th and 15th holes at many clubs, the coolers designed as sidecars for golf bags. In an era when spectator-sports arenas are restricting drinking and smoking to designated areas, the tradition of playing golf on four or five beers is an anachronism the sport doesn't need.
The PGA should be commended for its effort to help Daly, but all players would benefit if golf clubs, just as they ban spikes from their clubhouses, banned alcohol on the courses.
RICHARD H. TUBBS JR.
I live in South Dakota and am a fan of our nearby CBA team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. At a recent game I noticed one of the Skyforce players had a symbol burned into the biceps on both arms. The symbol was shaped like the Greek letter sigma. On the cover of your Jan. 25 issue, Dallas Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith has the same symbol burned into his left arm. Can you tell me what the symbol stands for?
•It stands for a black college fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma. Smith, who was a member of the Phi Beta Sigma chapter at the University of Florida, recently told the St. Petersburg Times that his fraternity brothers had used a coat hanger that had been held over fire to burn the insignia into his arm. "Didn't hurt much," said Smith. "Smelted like bacon cooking. I like it. My fraternity means a lot to me."—ED.
Letters to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED should include the name, address and home telephone number of the writer and should be addressed to The Editor, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, N.Y. 10020-1393.