SECOND TIME AROUND
Attending your own funeral, which is sort of what Reggie White
did last week, is a risky business. It can be enjoyable, letting
the eulogies wash over you, but there's the very real chance
that the mourners, wallowing in their exquisite grief, won't be
quite so happy to see you alive as they were to see you dead.
Nobody likes being fooled.
This may be all the more true if your resurrection kicks in a
$2.6 million paycheck. But that's more cynical than we mean to be.
The Green Bay Packers can probably always use another defensive
lineman. (Although, would they have drafted two of them had they
thought White was going to unretire?) The rest of us, however,
might not be so forgiving. Just as mere mortals get one death
apiece, we like the idea of our athletes' getting one retirement
May 3, 1998
Anything beyond that strikes us as silly. In White's case, it
couldn't have struck us as any sillier. Last week, after two
days of listening to tributes to his Pro Bowl career while
lingering in the back of the church, White couldn't restrain
himself any longer. Rushing up to the empty casket--or at least
an open microphone--he breathlessly exclaimed, "I'm alive!" God,
whose work these days extends to personnel decisions in the NFL,
had spoken to him, he said. Well, this is good for White, who
might have gone a little more gently into that good night if a
certain broadcasting opportunity hadn't dried up in the wake of
his homophobic remarks to the Wisconsin State Assembly. But
unretiring, even after only a couple of days, is hardly ever
good for the sport. And if history is any guide, it probably
won't be that good for White. The next time eulogies wash over
him, the memorial service may be far less effusive.
Unretiring has been tried before and, with the exception of
George Foreman, who completely reinvented himself 10 years after
his first retirement, and Michael Jordan, who is, after all,
Michael Jordan, it has almost always ended disastrously. Magic
Johnson couldn't pull it off. Anybody remember Jim Palmer coming
back after a six-year layoff, bouncing his pitches in front of
the catcher? Or Mark Spitz trying to make the 1992 Olympic team?
Or Bjorn Borg? Or Sugar Ray Leonard?
The real problem with these curtain calls is that they imply a
distasteful arrogance. These guys are so good that they can make
it on the strength of their history? They can't: The games they
play are not that easy. The athlete who forgets that--who
actually believes his eulogy--deserves at least what Tom Sawyer
got from Aunt Polly upon being discovered at his own funeral: a
good cuffing. --Richard Hoffer
The Kenyan Controversy
LEVELING THE COURSE
Overshadowed in the recent storm over Kenyan runners being
excluded from some U.S. road races is this question: Should
American race directors institute policies, such as performance
bonuses for Americans, that might help U.S. runners close the
growing gap between themselves and foreign runners?
Reports of discriminatory policies against Kenyan
athletes--Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson wrote in an
op-ed piece that "many white officials of American distance road
races have grown sick of seeing Kenyans sweep the top prizes
[and] have essentially created the National Caucasian Runners
League"--largely miss the mark. True, when the Bolder Boulder
(Colo.) 10K, in which Kenyan men took six of the top eight spots
last year, introduced a team format for this year's race on May
25, Kenya was restricted to three runners. But so were all other
countries except the U.S. After the format was attacked as
protectionist and racist, organizers limited the U.S. to one
three-man team. "We came up with the team idea as a way to stir
up media attention," says Boulder's shell-shocked race director,
Bill Reef. "This has never been a 'Kenyan issue.'"
In a sport in which 12 of the top 14 men on the Professional
Road Racing Circuit are Kenyan, there's an undeniable Kenyan
issue--but it has to do with speed, not color. A Page One
article in The New York Times on April 16 pointed to a different
series, the USA Running Circuit, which pays prize money only to
Americans, as another effort to "limit the presence of the
Kenyans." It's not that, at least not exactly. As Craig Masback,
CEO of USA Track & Field, the sport's national governing body,
points out, the USA circuit, which includes this Sunday's
Pittsburgh Marathon, is in its fourth year and essentially
constitutes a national championship series. "Few if any
countries let foreign athletes compete in their national
championships," says Masback. "USA Track & Field sanctions some
3,200 other races that are open to runners from any country."
The hope, explains Masback, is that U.S. athletes, supported and
nurtured by their earnings on the USA circuit, will develop to
the point that they're competitive against the best in the
world, including the Kenyans.
There should be room for talented foreign runners to shine--and
earn a living--in the U.S. The Boston Marathon, which has been
won by Kenyan men for the past eight years and has even served
as the Kenyan Olympic trials, has shown, as has the New York
City Marathon, that foreign runners can be embraced and promoted
by an American race. Cash bonuses for U.S. runners and
Americans-only races, which some observers think build the
confidence of U.S. competitors, may well be necessary, however,
if distance running is to get back on its feet in the U.S.
Whether American athletes use the extra money to close the gap
or to merely settle for a better-paid mediocrity remains to be
GOOD TIMES FOR CHARLIE
At a gap in the fence leading from the stable area to the
Churchill Downs racetrack, the 3-year-old colt named Indian
Charlie stopped and raised his head as though posing for the
cameras that were clicking all around him. Holding the end of a
lead shank clipped to the horse's bridle, trainer Bob Baffert
stepped back and looked admiringly at his tall, striking bay
colt. "He's the man, and he knows it," said Baffert, a few days
before this Saturday's Kentucky Derby. "He's brilliant. And he
loves this track. Believe me, this horse is the man."
That's saying a lot for a horse with only four career starts.
But in his last race, the nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby, on
April 4, Charlie easily defeated his talented stablemate, Real
Quiet, by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:47, equaling the record for the
race. Charlie has the pedigree to go the mile and a quarter, the
tactical speed to stay close to the pace and the maneuverability
of a polo pony in heavy traffic. And he has connections: Baffert
and Charlie's rider, Gary Stevens, teamed up last year to win
the Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm.
Still, the 124th renewal must be considered a wide-open race,
rendered slightly weaker by injuries to Event of the Year and
Lil's Lad. Nick Zito has trained two Derby winners this decade,
Strike the Gold (1991) and Go For Gin ('94), and this year he
could win his third with Halory Hunter, a stretch-running
chestnut owned by Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino. Another
chestnut, a well-bred colt named Old Trieste, scorched through a
six-furlong workout in 1:09 flat last Sunday, one of the fastest
training runs ever by a Derby contender at the Downs. Hanuman
Highway, an Irish-bred bay, has his chance as a long shot. Last
year's Horse of the Year, Favorite Trick, probably lacks the
bloodlines to sustain him through 10 furlongs.
It says here that Baffert is right. Indian Charlie is the man.
A $1 Million Shot
JURY RED-LIGHTS THE CASE
The most controversial--and expensive--goal in the 10-year
history of Miami Arena was not scored by the Florida Panthers or
any of their NHL opponents. It came off the stick of Randy
Giunto, 40, of Hollywood, Fla., who last week was awarded $1
million in a court case stemming from a promotional contest.
Giunto took the $1 million shot, a 118-footer from the far blue
line, during the second intermission of a March '94 game. The
contest rules that Giunto had picked up at a local Blockbuster
called for him to shoot a puck "through" a 3 1/2-inch wide,
1 1/2-inch high slot. A form he was given minutes before he took
the shot said it had to go "completely through."
Giunto's shot appeared to enter the opening partway, but
Panthers officials say the puck deflected off an edge of the
slot. Giunto went home with only a year's supply of Coke and
videos. A few weeks later he attended another Panthers game, at
which, he says, he was told by a team employee that he had
gotten "screwed." Giunto studied a videotape, determined that
the puck had gone at least partway through the slot and hired a
lawyer. That's how a six-member Miami-Dade County District Court
jury came to be goal judges.
"I have no idea how something that doesn't go in counts as going
in," says David Carlisle, lawyer for the contest's sponsors (the
Panthers, Blockbuster Entertainment and Coca-Cola), who claim
that Giunto's shot never even entered the slot and may appeal
the verdict. But Giunto's lawyer, Richard Diaz, persuaded the
jury not only that the puck did enter the slot but also that, as
he says, "through and completely through are two different
things." Adds Diaz: "There's no question this was a trial of
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Being the starting quarterback for a marquee college football
team might get you a few magazine covers and a shot with the
homecoming queen, but it doesn't guarantee you a place in the
NFL draft, as four such signal-callers--Florida State's Thad
Busby, Miami's Ryan Clement, Penn State's Mike McQueary and
Notre Dame's Ron Powlus--found out two weeks ago when they went
unchosen in the seven rounds of picking.
At the same time, three signal-callers you didn't see on TV
every other Saturday got snapped up--albeit well after the
much-publicized duo of Tennessee's Peyton Manning and Washington
State's Ryan Leaf. The Detroit Lions traded three draft picks to
secure Eastern Michigan's Charlie Batch near the end of the
second round, the Jacksonville Jaguars grabbed Middle
Tennessee's Jonathan Quinn in the third, and Nevada's John
Dutton went to the Miami Dolphins in the sixth. Thus was
revealed one truism of NFL scouting: Watching a player in person
is always important, but it's crucial when it comes to
"Seeing quarterbacks line up against one another is more
important than watching players at any other position," says New
York Giants coach Jim Fassel. "When a quarterback stands next to
every other prospect, it doesn't matter if he's from a small
college or a major college. If he's 6'4" with quick feet and can
make all the throws he'll need to make in your program, you know
he's got the tools to be a quarterback."
What about the competitiveness and game-management skills that,
say, Busby picked up by leading the Seminoles in big games?
Scouts scour game tapes for signs of such intangibles, but say
they pale in importance next to physical tools. Teams believe
they can evaluate some of a quarterback's personal qualities
(like confidence) during interviews.
The Lions liked Batch from studying film of Eastern Michigan but
really fell in love with him when, at the February scouting
combine, he lined up alongside the best of the quarterback crop
(except Manning and Leaf, neither of whom worked out) and threw
as well as any of them. When quarterback coach Jim Zorn worked
Batch out privately in March, he found a mobile quarterback who
had a good deep arm and was well-versed in the passing game. It
wasn't politically correct to say that Michigan's Brian Griese
(who went to the Denver Broncos in the third round) wasn't the
best college quarterback in his state. But that's how the Lions
felt, Griese's Big 10 pedigree be damned. --Peter King
SPIKE LEE'S 'GAME' FACES
Spike Lee's He Got Game has a few surprises, the most rewarding
of which is the measured performance of Milwaukee Bucks guard
Ray Allen, a first-time actor. As high school hoops phenom Jesus
Shuttlesworth, Allen, 22, never seems out of his league, even in
his scenes with the accomplished Denzel Washington, who plays
his father, Jake. Less of a surprise is the work, in a
supporting role, of Los Angeles Lakers forward Rick Fox, who has
already earned acclaim (SI, Sept. 8, 1997) for his role as
Jackson Vahue in the HBO prison series, Oz.
Here's another surprise: the participation of a number of
big-time college basketball coaches playing themselves. The
movie deftly portrays the exploitation of and the pressures put
on young potential millionaires like Shuttlesworth, yet there
are several coaches (Arizona's Lute Olson, Arkansas's Nolan
Richardson, Georgetown's John Thompson, Georgia Tech's Bobby
Cremins, Iowa's Tom Davis, Kansas' Roy Williams, Syracuse's Jim
Boeheim, Temple's John Chaney, as well as retired North Carolina
coach Dean Smith) hyperbolizing Shuttlesworth's talents and
pleading for his services--i.e., doing what they have to do in
this distasteful business of hustling for young talent. It's not
only art imitating life but also a case of self-promotion
BACK IN THE GAME
The competitive spirit never left UNC Charlotte freshman Charles
Hayward, even when he learned last year that he was suffering
from acute myeloid leukemia (SI, Jan. 26) and was told he might
never play basketball again. Though chemotherapy did not
immediately send the disease into remission and a bone-marrow
match couldn't be found, Hayward never lost faith. Now, just six
months after the diagnosis, Hayward, 20, is alive and apparently
leukemia-free thanks to the chemotherapy that eventually worked.
Though a relapse is still possible, Pablo Gonzalez, the
oncologist at University Hospital in Charlotte who oversaw
Hayward's treatment, remains optimistic that the 6'8" forward
will be in uniform next season. "I've never seen anybody who
didn't have to be hospitalized as a result of chemotherapy,"
says Gonzalez, "but Charles didn't. He showed none of the
serious side effects."
A few weeks into practice last fall Hayward, the most highly
touted recruit in UNC Charlotte history, began falling a step or
two behind teammates in practice. Tests revealed the disease.
Because Hayward had no health insurance, the school raised more
than $40,000 for his expenses. Following the diagnosis the 49ers
left an empty chair on their sideline with his name and number
on it. Hayward went to a few home games, but watching wasn't
like playing. "The support was great, but I was just so far away
from it all," he says.
Not these days. He plays in pickup games and lifts weights
almost every day. "My shot is a bit off right now, but you just
wait until I have a chance to work on my game all summer,"
Hayward says. "Believe me, I'll be ready."
--That gutsy Jayson Williams could've played the Bulls with one
more hand than he had.
--That more big leaguers took as much time preparing as Nancy
Lopez, who prepped for days to throw out a first pitch in Atlanta.
--That the smokin' pitching of Curt Schilling, who has quit
smokeless tobacco, gives kids something not to chew on.
Gold medals represented when Sacramento Kings doctor Eric Heiden
checked out Houston Rockets star Charles Barkley for a hernia.
St. Olaf wrestlers who tossed their letter jackets at the feet
of college president Mark Edwards after he announced plans to
eliminate the sport.
Bulbs blown out on a leftfield light standard at Charlotte
County Stadium, a minor league ballpark in Port Charlotte, Fla.,
that can't be replaced by workers because protected ospreys are
nesting on the standard.
Midwest schools--Mankato State, Bemidji State, Wisconsin, Ohio
State, Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State--scheduled to launch
women's hockey programs within the next two years.
Weeks of suspension handed down by the Andover and District
Sunday League to Melvin Sylvester, an amateur soccer official in
London who, after punching a player, threw himself out of a game.
New sports magazines launched in 1997, a total surpassed only by
the 111 new sex-related titles.
SHOULD THE NCAA HAVE ABOLISHED THE SUNDAY EXEMPTION?
Never On Sunday was a charming movie. It should not have been an
NCAA policy. The obligation to adjust all championship schedules
to accommodate any school with a policy against playing on
Sunday was an affront to schools with non-Christian
affiliations. Further, the scheduling adjustments needlessly
complicated the academic calendars of all competitors. It was
about time the NCAA finally recognized a true separation of
church and court. --R.O.
The Sunday rule showed that the NCAA could be broad-minded and
that the dollar didn't dictate every decision in college sports.
In this area, at least, schools still saw a bigger picture. The
NCAA could have adjusted the rule--and embraced all faiths--by
changing the word Sunday to Sabbath. Everyone from Brigham Young
to Yeshiva would have been covered. Instead, the NCAA left one
more impression that what it really worships is Mammon. --Ivan
Juiced balls? Juiced bats? Juiceless pitching? Smaller strike
zones? Creatine? Whatever the reason, college baseball is on a
run-scoring binge that has made 20-run games commonplace and
safe late-inning leads nonexistent. Batting averages, home runs
and ERAs, all of which have been rising for a quarter century,
have surged more dramatically in the last three years than in
any three-year span--including the one following the
introduction of the aluminum bat in 1974. Here are the NCAA
1973* 1976 JUMP 1995 1998 JUMP
BA .266 .282 +.016 .289 .305 +.016
Runs/Game 5.07 5.65 +.58 6.20 7.22 +1.02
HR/Game .42 .55 +.13 .70 1.03 +.33
ERA 3.46 3.91 +.45 5.19 6.14 +.95
All stats per team *Last season wood bats required
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Pegasus Gold, a Spokane, Wash.-based mining company that paid
$32 million to settle lawsuits over environmental damage in
Montana (including the devastation of six trout streams) and
filed for bankruptcy in January, has requested legal permission
to give its top executives more than $1 million in bonuses.
The arrival of spring means that in city parks across the
country hordes of in-line skaters will be hitting the
pavement--figuratively and literally. More than 30 million
Americans own in-line skates. May 17-23 is National Inline
Skating Week, so you still have time to gear up and join in.
Here are some sites to help you get rolling and share your tales
with newfound skating friends.
The International Inline Skating Association home page has a
certified-instructor directory, reviews of the most
roller-friendly public parks, and details about National Inline
Skating Week festivities, which begin with the Skate of the
Union at the Pentagon.
This comprehensive web-zine, Blur, is a one-stop source for
training tips, upcoming events and features on skating stars.
Check out the profile of skating shutterbug Jack Gescheidt,
whose photos (left) include a series of nude skaters on city
Share skate sites, shopping tips and even wipeout tales in this
page's chat rooms.
sites we'd like to see
Updates on Michael Jordan's retirement waffling (with link to
Gil Morgan Fan Club's home page.
THEY SAID IT
North Carolina star, on his decision to leave school early for
the NBA: "There's not much more to accomplish, other than maybe
winning a national championship."