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ANOTHER SHOT FOR CHRISTIAN PETER...THE FOUNDERING PIRATES...BOOK ON ALI REVIEWED...HIGH SCHOOL MISCREANTS...HUIZENGA'S NHL STOCK COUP...A STRONG PERFORMANCE

Nov. 25, 1996
Nov. 25, 1996

Table of Contents
Nov. 25, 1996

Faces In The Crowd

ANOTHER SHOT FOR CHRISTIAN PETER...THE FOUNDERING PIRATES...BOOK ON ALI REVIEWED...HIGH SCHOOL MISCREANTS...HUIZENGA'S NHL STOCK COUP...A STRONG PERFORMANCE

PARDONING PETER

This is an article from the Nov. 25, 1996 issue Original Layout

There is no excuse for the vulgar, drunken and violent acts
committed by former Nebraska defensive tackle Christian Peter,
who during his five years in Lincoln was arrested eight times
and convicted four times on charges ranging from public
urination to third-degree sexual assault for groping a woman in
a bar. He is also being sued by a woman who says he raped her
twice. Facing public outrage after drafting Peter last April,
the Patriots relinquished rights to him three days later.

Since then, Peter has been trying to get his life in order. He
enrolled at Fairleigh Dickinson to study hotel and restaurant
management. He attends counseling to address his alcohol abuse,
his abusive treatment of women and his attention deficit
disorder. He has also been punished for his various offenses,
paying small fines for two violations, spending 10 days in a
Kearney, Neb., jail for grabbing a woman by the neck in a bar,
and completing 18 months' probation on the sexual-assault
conviction.

Peter has earned what the New York Giants are giving
him--another chance. The Giants say they will sign Peter to a
contract at the end of this season if he stays out of trouble.
The contract will include a one-strike-and-you're-out stipulation.

Peter has done his time, and New York will afford him an
opportunity to get on with his life. Understandably, there will
be protests. But the Giants are doing this right, requiring
Peter to spend the next six months proving he's a changed person
before he steps onto a football field. "Since Christian has been
in his counseling program, he hasn't slipped up once," says New
York general manager George Young. "If someone wants something
badly enough, he'll pay the price."

THE COBB COUNTY AGENDA

The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) made
headlines in 1994 when it moved the site of the volleyball
competition out of Cobb County after the county passed a "family
values" resolution that proclaimed homosexuality incompatible
with community standards. ACOG, it appeared, was taking a
laudable stand against intolerance. Regrettably, it turns out
that was not what the committee was doing at all.

Writing in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month, Dick
Yarbrough, ACOG's head publicist, explained that keeping
volleyball in Cobb would have meant "giving gay rights advocates
the highest-profile platform from which to rally their troops
worldwide. So we moved the event." Thereby keeping the Games and
gays out of Cobb County.

SCUTTLING THE PIRATES

After 110 seasons in the National League, the Pittsburgh Pirates
are baseball's worst-case scenario: a small-market franchise
with underfunded ownership fielding an uncompetitive team in a
large and charmless multipurpose stadium. The Pirates need help
from the game's profitable franchises, which would have been
forthcoming had not the owners failed on Nov. 15 to ratify a
labor agreement hammered out by their lead negotiator. And the
Bucs need to drum up public financial support for a new stadium.
Without that assistance, baseball in Pittsburgh--a legacy that
has passed from Honus Wagner to Pie Traynor to Roberto Clemente
to Barry Bonds--will continue its slide.

Last Thursday's trade of outfielder Orlando Merced, infielder
Carlos Garcia and pitcher Dan Plesac to the Toronto Blue Jays
for six minor leaguers makes Pittsburgh look even more like a
Triple A outfit. Since Opening Day 1996, the Pirates have
jettisoned 12 major leaguers and manager Jim Leyland and have
trimmed their payroll from $21 million to $14.5 million, which
would likely be the lowest in baseball in '97. (Consider that on
Monday free agent Albert Belle was close to signing a $10
million-a-year deal with the Chicago White Sox.) Pittsburgh
general manager Cam Bonifay is currently listening to offers for
shortstop Jay Bell, a former All-Star, and infielder Jeff King,
the team's best power hitter.

"It's not a fire sale," Bonifay says. "We want young talent that
will take us where we want to be over the next four years." But
of the 15 players Bonifay has acquired in the shake-up, only
four have big league experience and none of the minor leaguers
is considered an All-Star prospect.

The Pirates are a perfect example of why the proposed
revenue-sharing system, funded by a so-called luxury tax on big
spending clubs and a 2.5% tax on players' salaries, should be
implemented. Although the Montreal Expos contended this season
with the third-lowest payroll ($17.2 million), the talent gap
between baseball's richest and poorest teams is growing. The
three teams with the highest payrolls this season--the New York
Yankees ($61.5 million), the Baltimore Orioles ($55.1) and the
Atlanta Braves ($53.4)--were among the final four in the
playoffs. When the owners failed to approve the revenue-sharing
system, it cost Pittsburgh about $5 million in 1997.

Bucs owner Kevin McClatchy says that by 2000 he would like to
field a contending team in a baseball-only 33,000-seat ballpark.
He hopes that park will be built largely with public funds. But
no government funding proposal is in the works. And it's not
easy to persuade taxpayers to build a new home for a last-place
team in a sport threatened by lockouts and strikes.

After four straight losing seasons in which Pittsburgh's
attendance has dropped to this year's 1.3 million, no one is
sweating out the labor unrest more than the Pirates. For as long
as there is no labor deal, the Bucs' woes won't stop here.

KIDS, IT'S JUST A GAME

Mike Cito, the Albuquerque football player who was expelled from
St. Pius X High School for wearing a chin-strap buckle honed to
razor sharpness in an Oct. 12 game against Albuquerque Academy
(Scorecard, Nov. 4), is contesting his expulsion. Bernalillo
County district attorney Bob Schwartz hasn't gotten around to
the case; he says that, with all the violent crime in
Albuquerque, Cito's situation is not a priority, and perhaps
he's right. But the buckle incident is emblematic of what has
been a disquieting autumn in high school sports.

On Sept. 17 two boy soccer players at New Jersey's Pinelands
Regional High in Little Egg Harbor were arrested and detained
overnight on assault charges after a brawl during a game with
Manchester Township High. In the fight, a Manchester player was
kicked repeatedly in the head and suffered a concussion.

On Nov. 8, three weeks after Cito's buckle left several
opponents slashed and bloody, Gilbert Jefferson, a linebacker at
Wingate High near Gallup, N.Mex., was arrested outside the
school's stadium for attacking referee Allen Bainter. Moments
after being ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct in the fourth
quarter, Jefferson took a running start of 30 yards and crashed
into Bainter from behind, knocking the referee unconscious.
Bainter was hospitalized and treated for a concussion. Jefferson
is expected to be charged with aggravated battery.

And then last Wednesday, in a nonviolent but nonetheless
troubling incident, Providence's Central High was stripped of
its just-won state soccer title because its star goalie had
graduated from the school's vocational division in June and had
played this season under a different student's name.

Although the vast majority of high school programs operate free
of such events, this fall, from New England to New Mexico,
sportsmanship has been thrown for a loss.

GOLDEN PANTHERS

Everyone already knew that Wayne Huizenga, owner of the Florida
Marlins and Panthers, was a capitalist par excellence: He built
Waste Management Inc. and Blockbuster Video into billion-dollar
ventures before entering the world of sports. But last week's
public stock offering in the Panthers may prove to be his sports
legacy. In a single day Huizenga sold nearly six million shares
in the Panthers, roughly 49% of the team, at prices that
fluctuated between $10 and $12 a share. He thus reaped $67.3
million for less than half the ownership of an NHL team that
last May was valued at $45 million by Financial World magazine
and that claims to have lost more than $25 million during the
last fiscal year. Further, Huizenga, who paid a $50 million
franchise fee to join the NHL in 1993, retains firm control over
his first-place team.

The other major league team whose shares are publicly traded,
the Boston Celtics, is valued by the stock market at $125
million, roughly the average worth of an NBA franchise. By
contrast, the latest private deal for an NHL club--the sale of
the Winnipeg Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes) in 1995--brought
just $70 million. "The idea that the Panthers are worth more
than the Celtics is absurd," says Peter Russ, a stock analyst at
Shelby Cullom Davis & Co. "But there's a certain amount of
Panther hysteria, since they went to the Stanley Cup finals last
year. And there's a belief that Wayne Huizenga can walk on water."

Part of the reason Huizenga made his offering was "to give the
fans an opportunity to own shares in the team they root for,"
according to Stan Smith, a spokesman for Huizenga Holdings. And
when people want a piece of their hometown team, they often
don't care much about what it costs. Such blind investing
undoubtedly jacked up the value of the Panthers' stock, but
there's also reason to believe it has good long-term prospects:
Two days after the offering, the Panthers broke ground on an
arena scheduled to open in 1998. The new venue, with 50 more
luxury suites and 5,000 more seats than the Miami Arena, should
help stanch the franchise's losses, which the offering
prospectus blamed partly on the Panthers' unfavorable lease.

No other NHL clubs have approached the league about offering
stock to the public. After Huizenga's bonanza, however, it's
only a matter of time before they do.

STRONG STUFF

Stan Pleskun wants you to believe in yourself. "You never want
to give up, no matter what happens," says Pleskun, a 6'2",
280-pound construction worker-cum-professional strongman from
South Brunswick, N.J. It is his hope that through simple feats
of strength, he will inspire others to "conquer the things that
have held them back, like smoking, drinking and drugging."

Pleskun, whose nom de grunt is Stanless Steel, put on a show
last week at tiny Princeton Airport. Before about 60 spectators
huddled on the tarmac on a blustery afternoon, the 39-year-old
Pleskun ran through some of his repertoire, bending a railroad
spike and lifting 625 pounds--"a monstrosity of weight," he
assured an observer--two inches off the ground with one finger.
For his finale Pleskun positioned himself between two Cessnas
and took hold of ropes attached to the tails of the planes. The
engines roared and the wings quivered, but Stanless stood like a
rock, and neither plane budged.

Later, a spectator asked Pleskun to perform one of his signature
stunts, the bending of a penny with his fingers. Pleskun
declined. "I'm a little tired and weak, so I'm not going to do
any more feats of strength," he said. "Thanks for coming."

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Peter, no model citizen at Nebraska, is getting a chance in New York. [Christian Peter in game]COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW MCCLOSKEY [Vitamins spilling from bottle]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN DYKES With Garcia, manager Leyland, Merced and others no longer members of the crew, the Pirates face stormy seas. [Drawing of Carlos Garcia, Jim Leyland and Orlando Merced in rowboat with pirate ship in background]COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE KLUCKHOHN [Kirby Puckett playing pool] COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF WARNER BOOKS [Cover of book The Tao of Muhammad Ali by Davis Miller]COLOR PHOTO: CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP The unbudgeable Pleskun, a.k.a. Stanless Steel, hopes his feats of strength will inspire fans to let their spirits take flight. [Stan Pleskun holding ropes tethered to two airplanes]

GO FIGURE

161,000,000
Dollars' worth of business generated in New York City in two
weeks as a result of the World Series and the marathon.

125
Dollars being asked by the University of Memphis for each
three-inch piece of Liberty Bowl goalpost torn down after the
Tigers' 21-17 upset of Tennessee on Nov. 9.

5,000,000
Teeth that will be knocked out in sporting activities in 1996,
according to the National Youth Sports Foundation.

1,000,000
Dollars to be paid by the New Balance shoe company to any U.S.
man or woman who breaks the American marathon record in '97.

40,000
Pounds of scoreboard that crashed to the ice during a
maintenance check at Buffalo's new Marine Midland Arena,
injuring no one but forcing postponement of last Saturday's
Sabres-Bruins game.

5
Bottles of vitamins allegedly shoplifted by Ralph Underhill, who
last Friday was dismissed because of the incident after 18
seasons as basketball coach at Wright State.

KIRBY'S POCKETS

Future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett retired because his vision
was failing, but he's still doing good with balls and sticks.
His charity pool tournament last Saturday drew stars like Ozzie
Smith and Bobby Bonilla to Minneapolis and raised $530,000 to
battle children's heart disease. Puckett, despite his glaucoma,
reached the finals. Chalk up another hit.

SCOUTING REPORT

REQUIEM BY A LIGHTWEIGHT

The Tao of Muhammad Ali, by Davis Miller, Warner Books

No doubt there were a vast number of troubled, insecure,
undersized boys coming of age in the 1960s and '70s who looked
to Muhammad Ali as a hero and inspiration. Mercifully only one,
Davis Miller, has gone on to publish a book chronicling his
obsession with the Greatest.

In his 306-page exercise in self-indulgence Miller, a
44-year-old freelance journalist, sometime kick boxer and
one-time video-store manager, recounts in rambling detail his
fixation on Ali--from childhood afternoons spent watching the
champ's fights on TV to a chance encounter in Louisville in 1989
to repeated ingratiating visits with Ali and his family in
recent years. "Many of the events that have defined my life have
been related to Ali," writes Miller with heavyweight
understatement.

Throughout this literary equivalent of a stalking, Miller weaves
a sentimental autobiographical narrative. After giving up on
professional kick boxing, he tells us, he decided to become a
writer, "snatching every moment I could to dance the two-finger
strut on the ancient typewriter my mother had used in
secretarial school." The bulk of Miller's keyboard dancing has
focused on Ali. Over the past few years he has published in
several magazines a series of variations on the piece, "The Zen
of Muhammad Ali," that eventually gave rise to this book.

In The Tao, Miller proclaims his intention "to propose a new Ali
mythology" and to counteract accounts of the former champ's
failing health. And he does offer recent views of Ali, still
vibrant and alert, that provide an uplifting contrast to the
prevailing doom and gloom. But most of these accounts are of
private moments between Ali and Miller and, as Miller concedes
in his author's note, "some chronology and numerous details have
been changed for dramatic effect." Later in the book Miller
says, "The shining details provided by my writer's imagination
...are always more real than confirmable phenomena, than the
'facts.'"

A writer with that attitude is like a fighter who only
shadowboxes. The combinations look good in the mirror, but they
have no impact.

--R.O.

THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US

Britain's "Tatler" magazine, a 287-year-old publication covering
fashion, society and the arts, has hired Claus von Bulow as its
rugby correspondent.

THEY SAID IT
Oliver Miller
Dallas Mavericks forward and former Toronto Raptor, on how he
feels he'll be received in Toronto when he plays there later
this season: "I'm kind of scared about how the fans are going to
accept me back. But who cares? They're just fans."