Was that really Jane Fonda in Russia last week, struggling up the grand staircase of her hotel with a heavy suitcase in each hand? The sight of the czarina of aerobic fitness huffing and puffing isn't a bad metaphor for the current state of the Goodwill Games, which Fonda's husband, broadcast entrepreneur Ted Turner, created nearly a decade ago. As the third edition winds up this week in St. Petersburg, the Games aren't as idealistically spry as they once were. They have an '80s label they'll never fully shed. And you can hear the sound of their labored breathing.
Turner founded the Games at the height of U.S.-Soviet tensions. He's still willing to lose millions every four years to create programming for his cable empire, and he vows that the 1998 Games will take place in New York City as planned. Yet many people in both the U.S. and Russia wonder whether there's still a place for a Goodwill Games in a world so fundamentally changed. And judging from the first week's sluggish performances, some athletes must be wondering too.
Turner reiterated his commitment to alternating sites between the two countries. "Russia and the U.S. still have the two largest nuclear arsenals," he says. "If you're going to maintain a relationship, you have to keep working at it. Everybody in a marriage knows that." Indeed, next week Turner and Russian Olympic Committee president Vitali Smirnov will be scouting out the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk as a possible host in 2002.
But does Turner really want to take the Games to one of the most remote places on earth? After '98 he should consider awarding them instead to one of the many bitterly disappointed Olympic bridesmaids—to Berlin or Beijing, for instance, where antiforeigner sentiment could use a dose of Ted 'n' Jane idealism; or to South Africa, which should be ready to host such an event eight years from now. The Games could still be staged jointly with the Russian Olympic Committee. Turner would become equal parts Red Adair and Philip Habib, a swashbuckler-envoy who blows into some hot spot every quadrennial to put out the embers of conflict with his games of goodwill.
Not at Our Table!
Former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn is evidently an aficionado of that emerging discipline gastrointestinal psychology. Commenting as an outsider on the negotiations between baseball owners and labor leaders, he said, "We're not really seeing into the bowels of the minds of the parties across the table."
If you think an inordinate number of U.S. sports figures have fallen from grace lately, just look at what has happened in the rest of the world. In Japan, where rudeness is the ultimate taboo, two of the country's most adored athletes have been denounced for deliberate disrespect. The chunkier hunk—by about 130 pounds—is 21-year-old sumo wrestler Takanohana, who two years ago became the youngest sumotori ever to win a tournament. He is so popular that his baby face is imprinted on T-shirts, coffee mugs and phone cards.
Alas, he has not lived up to his early promise, repeatedly failing to reach sumo's top rank, yokozuna. At a tournament in June he failed again, disgracing himself by spitting the ceremonial "water of strength" into the ring. The incident raised weighty questions about the 300-pounder's reverence for his sport.
Japan's other humbled heartthrob is Hanshin Tiger first baseman Tom O'Malley, a New York Met refugee whose .329 batting average topped the Central League in 1993. The handsome O'Malley is alternately dubbed "Robert Redford" and "Bill Clinton" by broadcasters and sportswriters. When he comes to the plate, TV screens flash the President's picture. He would rather be likened to Redford. "At least I know that's meant as a compliment," he says. Radio stations regularly hold contests for adoring female fans in which the prize is a date with the 33-year-old bachelor. And though he says he can't sing, he recorded the Hanshin fight song, Rokko Oroshi. The CD is selling like rice cakes. But O'Malley's honor has been at issue since a July 5 game against the Chunichi Dragons. Upset with a called third strike, he muttered, "That's horse——." O'Malley was ejected from the game and fined $1,000—stiff by Japanese standards. "He is talented enough to be the representative figure of Hanshin," said a league official. "But he disappointed people's expectations and deserved to get this penalty."
A far dirtier deed was done by Mike Atherton, captain of England's woebegone cricket team and its best bowler. During a July 25 test match with South Africa, BBC cameras caught him mysteriously jamming his right hand—his bowling hand—into his trouser pocket. Atherton later admitted to having stashed a fistful of soil in the pocket to dry his sweaty hands, a fact he concealed from the referee. "Ball tampering!" cried the rabble, who consider cheating not cricket. Though Atherton was cleared of the charge of tampering, he was penalized $3,000 for being cavalier with the laws of the sport and economical with the truth.
Editorialists at the upright Times of London called for Atherton's ouster as captain—as did 100% of the respondents to a Daily Mirror poll. One paper consulted David Pycraft of the Royal Horticultural Society. Pycraft speculated that if the soil in Atherton's pocket was loamy, the captain was innocent. But sandy soil, he reasoned, meant tampering. Should Atherton resign? "I really don't know," he said. "To be honest, I've been more interested in the Tour de France."
With the suspension of four football players and the sentencing of unlicensed sports agent Nate Cebrun, both Florida State University officials and state law-enforcement authorities took steps last week supposedly aimed at cleaning up the school's athletic-department scandal (SI, May 16, et seq.).
Cebrun, who helped funnel improper payments to Seminole players, got 30 days in jail and was assessed $2,255 in fines and court costs after pleading no contest to a felony charge of failing to register with the state as an agent. His punishment was handed down a week after Paul Williams and Doug Andreaus entered the same plea for the same charges. Williams, a bagman for Cebrun and others, also got 30 days. Andreaus, who arranged improper payments to the mother and best friend of a Seminole player, was fined $1,000 and placed on 18 months probation. Florida authorities say other targets in the continuing probe include agent Steve Endicott of Dallas and Raul Bey, a Las Vegas businessman who treated several Florida State players to a $6,000 shopping spree at a local Foot Locker.
Among the players, all of whom are suspected of having received money or gifts from agents, junior tackle Forrest Conoly got the harshest penalty. University president Talbot D'Alemberte suspended him indefinitely—until he agrees to cooperate with investigators. Senior guard Patrick McNeil will sit out the team's first three games; senior tailback Tiger McMillon and senior All-America linebacker Derrick Brooks will miss the first two. But the team won't suffer. Florida State's first three opponents are Virginia, Maryland and Wake Forest.
In their report to D'Alemberte, the university's investigators suggested that he go easy on Brooks, who claims he thought Cebrun was not an agent but a "promoter"—a distinction that hardly matters to the NCAA. Brooks says he came to that conclusion after a phone call to Endicott, whom Cebrun claimed as an intimate. According to Brooks, Endicott denied knowing Cebrun. That excuse may prove problematic. D'Alemberte has said that any player who lies will be permanently suspended. Last week Endicott told SI, "Brooks never called me about Nate Cebrun or anyone."
Florida State's investigation is also remiss in its see-no-evil treatment of Seminole coaches and officials. Despite evidence that some staffers had been alerted to the improper payments, D'Alemberte and his sleuths still hold them blameless. Testifying last week before a congressional subcommittee, he proposed, ludicrously, that the pros bar college athletes who take money from agents. He later suggested that any such ban could be lifted if the athletes "made peace," possibly by paying fines to their alma maters. Why bring the pros into this? D'Alemberte should be looking closer to home.
One of a Kind
Jorge Paez has had a rough month. Last Friday night in Las Vegas, the former featherweight champion was knocked out in the second round by rising star Oscar De La Hoya. "I've never been hit that hard by a punch before," Paez said after being revived.
An even harder blow may have been the one landed to his ego a few weeks earlier. The self-styled Clown Prince of Boxing, Paez has long been one of the most, well...distinctive fighters in Southern California, as famous for his sequined trunks, Mohawk 'do and in-ring backflips as for his by-now faded fistic prowess. Hoping perhaps to cash in on Paez's celebrity, promoters at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood recently held a Paez look-alike contest. They even brought the Clown Prince himself in as a judge.
But maybe Paez is a little too distinctive. Nobody entered.
White Cliffs of Rover
First came Caesar and his centurions. Then came Hitler and his V bombs. The next foreigners to launch an assault on Britain may be Ted Erikson and his mutt, Umbra the Wonder Dog. Erikson wants to be the oldest human—and the only one with a dog—to swim the English Channel.
Erikson, a 66-year-old retired chemist from Chicago, already has three 21-mile Channel crossings under his Speedo. In 1965 he set the record for a double crossing: 30 hours, three minutes. The mark stood for 10 years, until it was broken by his son, Jon. "Umbra carries on a family tradition," Erikson says, adding, "I don't know if dogs were made for swimming, but they do have webbed feet."
The 4-year-old Labrador-greyhound mix was rescued—if that's the word—as a stray in 1992 and has been splashing around with her master ever since. In fact, Erikson claims, the Channel crossing was Umbra's idea. "She wants to see if she can swim as far as I can," he says. "Her only limitation on distance is me. I have trouble keeping up with the sucker."
With the proposed plunge still a year away, Erikson and Umbra are training with daily 2½-mile sets—he swimming freestyle, she using the doggie paddle. So far their longest open-water swim has been 5.5 miles, a distance they completed in two hours, 40 minutes. Erikson says he feeds Umbra glucose pills when she looks fatigued. But what if she were to sink? "That's a good question," Erikson says. "I don't know."
Not surprisingly, Erikson's plan has its opponents. More formidable than unpredictable seas or stinging jellyfish are animal-rights groups that have taken umbrage at the treatment of Umbra. They're joined by the Channel Swimming Association, which refuses to sanction the crossing, and the British Coast Guard, which has a special ministry to deal with "unauthorized and unorthodox crossings."
An even greater Channel Challenge may be British quarantine laws, which would detain Umbra in kennels in England for six months before she could dip a paw into the surf. Erikson threatens to "sidestroke" the rule by starting from France and, 21 miles later, whisking Umbra back out to sea before immigration officials can impound her.
M.L. Carr, the Boston Celtics' new chief of basketball operations, has barely been on the job long enough to have business cards printed, yet he has already pepped up the team's moribund roster. Since taking over in June, Carr has signed free-agent forward Dominique Wilkins and traded with Milwaukee for forwards Blue Edwards and Derek Strong, and at week's end he landed free-agent center Pervis Ellison. But Carr's boldest move came last week when he offered the Chicago Bulls a future first-round draft pick for the rights to talk to Double A outfielder Michael Jordan. Carr is confident he could persuade Jordan to come to Boston. "I wouldn't let him sleep until he said yes," Carr says.
Alas, the Bulls resisted Carr's sales pitch. But give the guy credit for a nice try. He's a throwback to a time when Boston had the most aggressive, creative front office in the league. The Celtics are back in the game again, even though they'll have to play it without Jordan.
Rudy, Rudy, Rudy
Nearly 20 years ago a Notre Dame tackling dummy named Rudy Ruettiger got his 15 minutes—well, make that 27 seconds—of fame when he was put in for the final play of a Fighting Irish rout of Georgia Tech and sacked the quarterback. An indefatigable self-promoter, Ruettiger got Hollywood to stretch those 27 seconds into last year's Rudy, a cloying 93-minute paean to persistence. Now he has gone back to that shallow well and hauled out Rudy's Rules, a 153-page "game plan for winning at life," in which he offers such original homespun homilies as "everyone should dream" and "don't be afraid to fail." His greatest discovery, however, may be in identifying the "Rudy" in all of us—in everyone from Vincent Van Gogh to Michael Jordan to Bill Clinton. Very few people, asserts Ruettiger, make it in life without a struggle. "The rest of us are Rudys," says Rudy. "And you know what? Being a Rudy is good enough."
And sometimes enough is enough.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Lee Smith, the $1.5 million-a-year reliever for the Baltimore Orioles, admitted he has been stockpiling autographed bats in his locker so he "can sell them during a strike."
They Said It
Philadelphia Phillie first baseman, after learning that his abdominal pain resulted from a strained stomach muscle: "At least now I know I have a muscle in my stomach."