Boats and Bikes
The speedboat accident on March 22 that claimed the lives of Cleveland Indian pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin was a baseball story. Last week's finding by Florida authorities that Crews was legally intoxicated when he was driving his 18-foot craft was a boating story.
Some people don't get the message about the perils of driving a boat while drinking. The National Marine Manufacturers Association reminds boaters that the lack of lanes and traffic signals on the water can, even for the sober, make driving a boat more difficult than driving a car. Accordingly, the Miller Brewing Company has joined boating groups in a campaign to persuade boaters to embrace the designated-driver concept that has gained acceptance among automobile drivers.
Bicyclists are another group that is lax about basic safety rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 950 bicyclists are killed each year in the U.S., a toll largely attributable to the fact that only 10% of cyclists wear helmets. The CDC urges that states make helmets mandatory. To date, New Jersey is the only state that requires helmets, and even then only for children under the age of 14; Georgia is expected to adopt a similar law beginning July 1 for those under 16. That all cyclists should wear helmets is another message that isn't getting across.
The retirement last week of Patrick, Adams, Norris and Smythe, not to mention Clarence Campbell and the Prince of Wales, came as another sign that the NHL is rejuvenating itself under new commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bettman changed the league's eccentric division names to more user-friendly designations: Patrick Division to Atlantic Division, Adams to Northeast, Norris to Central and Smythe to Pacific. The two conferences will also have geographically explicit names: East and West. In addition Bettman ushered through a realignment plan that makes more sense; for example, Tampa Bay, which had been grouped in the Norris with Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota, among others, will play in the Atlantic, which will also include the Miami expansion team. In the new setup the top eight teams in each conference will make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Realignment can be a risky business. Just ask former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, whose attempt to make the National League conform to the realities of the map cost him his job. Bettman persuaded his owners to put the good of the many over the demands of the few, a rare occurrence in pro sports these days.
Last Saturday's Grand National in Aintree, England, was a fiasco. The race was declared void, forcing the return of $115 million in wagers, after a horribly botched start resulted in eight horses' unofficially completing the 4½ miles while nine horses waited at the start and others in the field of 40 wandered aimlessly around the course. But then misadventure and the National, the world's most prestigious steeplechase, have been stablemates throughout the event's 156-year history.
In 1885 one of the favorites, Zoedone, collapsed during the National, and it was determined that she had been poisoned. The 1948 winner, Sheila's Cottage, celebrated by biting off the finger of her jockey, Arthur Thompson. In 1956 the Queen Mother's horse, Devon Loch, was leading when, 50 yards from the finish, he went down, legs splayed; the reason for Devon Loch's contretemps remains a mystery, which is fitting, since his jockey was Dick Francis, now the author of best-selling horse-racing whodunits. In 1967 a horse named Popham Down balked at a fence, causing a pileup of more than 20 horses and allowing a 445-1 shot, Foinavon, to come from far back to win.
Then there was the 1951 National, which became a shambles when the starter began the race before most of the field was set. There were so many spills that only three of the 36 horses finished. Of that foul-up, Vian Smith wrote in his 1969 book, The Grand National: A History of the World's Greatest Steeplechase: "There was a feeling among those within the sport and outside it that such a mess couldn't have happened elsewhere. Blunder and confusion became associated with Aintree from that day." Last week's debacle only strengthens that association.
For years CBS college basketball analyst Billy Packer has defended bullying coaches, sniped at college sports reformers and too often spoken of the "athleticism" of black players and the supposed braininess of white players. Now, in an interview with Basketball Weekly, which generously describes him as "one of the most forward thinking figures" in the sport, Packer offers his views on gender equity.
"If you're a college president why not just say, '[For] all our students on campus, we only have one team in all sports and everybody (men and women) is eligible for the team'..." says Packer. "If men and women want to go out for a team, go ahead—you'd have one hockey team, one football, one basketball. That's true gender equity." Asked whether he was serious, Packer said, "It would make an awful lot of sense."
A Year's Pay Is Now Their Daily Bread
The NBA socked Orlando Magic rookie star Shaquille O'Neal with a one-game suspension without pay last week for fighting, a punishment that, based on his annual salary of $3 million, set Shaq back by $36,585. Not all that long ago, 36 thou would have been a princely salary for most pro athletes for a whole season, as three former NFL offensive linemen ruefully attest in Peter King's story on page 46. Just how much have sports salaries skyrocketed in recent years? Consider these differences between 1972, the year of O'Neal's birth, and today.
1) In '72, thanks to the NBA's bidding war with the new American Basketball Association, the top NBA rookie, Bob McAdoo, earned $333,000. O'Neal pulls down that much in 10 games.
2) Hank Aaron, baseball's top money earner in '72, made $200,000. Barry Bonds, who's now No. 1, at $7.29 million per, will equal that haul five games into this season.
3) Joe Namath's $250,000 salary put him atop the '72 NFL money list. Dan Marino earns that amount in one game.
4) Bobby Hull jumped to the World Hockey Association in '72 for $275,000 a year. Today Mario Lemieux requires barely three games to make that sum.
5) Boxing's biggest draws in '72 were Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali: They had earned $2.5 million each for their epic 15-rounder won by Frazier in Madison Square Garden the year before. In his one-round KO of Michael Dokes this past February, also in the Garden, it effectively took Riddick Bowe just 50 seconds to make that much.
6) Mark Donahue's purse for winning the '72 Indy 500 was $218,767. The '92 winner, Al Unser Jr., roared past that figure after 35 of the race's 200 laps.
7) The '72 PGA champion, Gary Player, earned $45,000. And '92 winner Nick Price? He needed just 11 holes of the 72-hole tournament to reach that sum.
They Wrote It
•Tim McDonald, in the Florida Times-Union, after Vinny Testaverde (above), a six-year bust with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signed last week with the Cleveland Browns: "Testaverde looks like a quarterback, acts like a quarterback, he even talks like a quarterback. But he's got the heart of a placekicker."
With a front-page headline IRON MALIK, the New York Post reported last week that Mike Tyson was converting to Islam and changing his name to Malik Abdul Aziz. But Tyson's lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, said that the imprisoned boxer has simply become interested in religion generally. "He told me, 'When my Islamic teacher comes to me, I talk about Islam,'" said Dershowitz. " 'When you come to me, we sometimes talk about the Jewish faith.' "
They Said It
•Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, on last week's strip in which Charlie Brown (below) hit his first home run after 43 years as the comics' most hapless jock: "I think it's a mistake to be unfaithful to your readers, always to be letting them down."