Crowning a King
Some people say that War Emblem is the wrong horse at the wrong
time. They're wrong
We like our horse stories warm and fuzzy. We like to know that
even if the owners are rich, they are also sweet or aged and
deserving (all the better if they are not rich at all, but
simply lucky) and that the trainer is aw-shucks humble, with
manure between his toes. We like to know that the horse enjoys
standing benignly in his stall, munching carrots while small
children lovingly stroke the blaze on his face.
You may know by now that War Emblem, the jet-black 3-year-old who
can become the first Triple Crown winner in 24 years by winning
the June 8 Belmont Stakes, does not fit the mold. He was bought
just three weeks before the Kentucky Derby by The Thoroughbred
Corporation, owned by Saudi Arabian prince Ahmed bin Salman, a
nephew of King Fahd and an excitable horseman, whose nationality
(in these times) and purchasing power have alienated some
War Emblem's trainer is Bob Baffert, whose roots are in the
plebian quarter horse business and who has ticked off some
thoroughbred folk with his success in the Triple Crown: Baffert
saddled horses that won the first two legs in 1997 and '98 and
the last two in 2001. He is among the best at what he does and is
not afraid to speak bluntly. As he watched Preakness rival
Booklet--a smallish sprinter favored by some handicappers--grazing
the day before the race, Baffert shook his head. "Needs a bigger
boat," he said, paraphrasing a line from Jaws and dismissing
Booklet's chances. Booklet finished 12th.
War Emblem, meantime, kicks, bites and needs two grooms to handle
him. "He's hateful," says Baffert. "I don't turn my back on him."
His original trainer, Bobby Springer, calls him "just plain
Yet all this is static, signifying nothing. A thoroughbred should
not be judged by the humans around him nor by his demeanor in the
barn, but by the heart in his chest and the legs that carry him.
By those measures War Emblem should win the Belmont Stakes and
join one of sport's exclusive clubs.
War Emblem is approaching brilliance with each passing race. He
got an uncontested lead in the Derby and he also finished faster
than any horse, covering the final 1/4 mile in a superb 24.43
seconds. He didn't steal the Derby, he dominated it. In the
Preakness, War Emblem chased no-shot sprinter Menacing Dennis
through fast early fractions on a heavy track, opened up his
long, efficient stride when jockey Victor Espinoza loosened his
grip and held off closer Magic Weisner. Even while galloping out
past the wire, War Emblem never let Magic Weisner pass him.
War Emblem is learning now, relaxing on the bit. He has what
trainers call a high cruising speed, which means he runs fast
with less effort than most horses. The Belmont's grueling mile
and a half should not trouble him. He appears physically robust,
embracing the efforts of the last month, rather than being worn
down by them.
There will be fresh horses in the Belmont, including the
dangerous stalker Sunday Break, who's coming off a convincing win
in Saturday's Peter Pan Stakes. There will be speedballs sent out
to tire War Emblem and closers hoping to pick up the pieces
should he collapse. Fine. Let the would-be spoilers come, and let
the critics say, as they always do when the possibility of a
Triple Crown champion looms, that this horse is merely the best
of a bad lot. War Emblem can prove his greatness under tough
circumstances. "Fate owes me a Triple Crown," Baffert said
recently. This will be the year. --Tim Layden
Not Out at the Plate
A gay editor gets to the heart of our fixation with homosexuality
Last week Mets catcher Mike Piazza, in response to continued
speculation about his sexual orientation, told reporters that he
wasn't gay. Rather than close the issue, Piazza's announcement
led to even more frenzied discussions in the media about the
relevance of sexuality in the clubhouse. The intensity of the
follow-up didn't surprise me. Exactly one year before I had been
at the center of a similar to-do, when I revealed in Out
magazine, of which I am the editor in chief, that I was having an
affair with a well-known major league player on an East Coast
team, a relationship that continues to this day. When reporters
called me this time, however, they focused less on who my
boyfriend is than on why Americans remain so fascinated with the
presence of gay athletes in team sports.
It's a good question. The glib answer is that the issue lies at
the nexus of three powerful cultural forces: sex, sports and
celebrity. Throw in that ever-spicy fourth
ingredient--secrecy--and you've got a mix that's irresistible to
the press, especially the tabloids. From the fan's perspective
the idea of gay athletes forces heterosexuals to confront
stereotypes of gay men as lightweight or less than masculine.
There are also issues of privacy and of how much we should know
of our athletes' personal lives. It all becomes very
complicated, which is why many observers understandably lament,
"Couldn't we all just focus on the game?"
We could. But here's what elevates the whole matter from the
semiscurrilous to the substantial: The greatest of sports
stories involve the breaking of barriers, whether athletic (the
four-minute mile, the home run record) or social
(African-Americans in the major leagues). When an active
American male team-sport star finally comes out (and, trust me,
it will happen, though I can't tell you exactly when), another
barrier will be broken. The barrier shattered this time will be
that of silence, since gay men have been playing in the major
leagues--and in the NFL and the NBA--all along.
My boyfriend (who sits steadily in the trenches listening to a
dispiriting chorus of "baseball's not ready for this") and I
find it heartening that some players already acknowledge this
reality. During last week's Piazza drama, in fact, Yankees
pitcher Mike Mussina was asked if he would accept a gay
teammate. He replied, "I'm going to make the assumption that I
already have." --Brendan Lemon
238 Playoff appearances, and counting, for Avalanche goalie
Patrick Roy, an NHL record.
194 Consecutive games in which a Devil Rays starter failed to
pitch a complete game before Joe Kennedy went the distance on May
21 Consecutive games without a loss for High Times magazine's
team, the Bonghitters, in a New York City softball league.
1,500 Tommy John "bobblearm" dolls that will be given to fans at
the Triple A Charlotte Knights' May 31 game; John, who worked in
the Knights' front office for six years until last year, won 288
major league games, 164 of them after having ligaments in his
left elbow repaired in a procedure now known as Tommy John
8 Pitchers in the last 19 years who have passed Walter Johnson's
strikeout mark of 3,508, a record that had stood for 56 years;
Arizona's Randy Johnson passed it on Sunday.
67 Personal trainers out of 115 who failed a test of fitness
knowledge at UCLA's Exercise Physiology Research Laboratory.
Vintage is vogue. Jerseys patterned after historic baseball,
basketball and football uniforms have become a must-have look for
celebs such as Billy Crystal, Rosie O'Donnell and Will Smith. The
trend even transcends historical rivalries: Celtics rookie Joe
Forte has worn a Magic Johnson Lakers jerseys after games.
The jerseys first hit the scene with fashionable rappers.
Outkast's Big Boi kicked off the current trend by sporting a
1980 Nolan Ryan Astros jersey in the 1999 video for Black Ice.
Since then the outfits have sold briskly despite price tags of
between $250 and $350. (The shirts are replicas, not actual game
jerseys; details are altered to prevent people from selling them
as the real things.) Sales for Mitchell & Ness Nostalgia Co.,
the company licensed by the NBA, NFL and MLB to make the
jerseys, have gone from $1.5 million in '98 to an expected $18
million this year. "I never did any marketing," says Mitchell &
Ness president Peter Capolino. "The nostalgia for these looks is
different from anything that's happening today on the athletic
Against advice, ex-champ Meldrick Taylor fights on
If Senator John McCain is searching for a poster child for his
boxing reform bill, he need look no further than Meldrick Taylor.
The former welterweight and junior welterweight champ will enter
a Birmingham ring on May 31 despite suffering what many in the
fight game believe are neurological problems stemming from boxing
injuries. Taylor, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, once famed for
his blinding hand speed, has never fully recovered from his
brutal '90 bout against Julio Cesar Chavez. After Chavez knocked
Taylor out in the 12th round, Taylor was hospitalized for four
days with dehydration and broken bones around his left eye.
Afterward, Taylor was seldom able to slip punches as he slogged
through a 13-6 record in nine years, and his speech became
Concerned about the possible onset of what doctors call dementia
pugilistica--brain damage caused by repetitive head trauma--New
Jersey's boxing commission has refused to license Taylor. He has
also avoided fighting in other states, such as Nevada, that
require neurological tests before licensing. Most recently Taylor
backed out of a January card in Atlanta. "I explained the
neurological exams that needed to be taken, and that was the last
I ever heard from him," says Georgia Boxing Commission head Tom
Mishou. (Taylor was unreachable for comment.)
Friday's fight will take place in Alabama, which not
coincidentally is one of the few states without a boxing
commission. Taylor, 35, had been scheduled to fight Willie
McDonald (13-27-1), but when matchmaker Harry Barnett was told
by SI that McDonald has been suspended by the nationwide
Association of Boxing Commissions for neurological reasons,
Barnett said he'd line up a new opponent for Taylor by fight
time. Regarding Taylor's health, Barnett dismissed concerns,
saying the boxer's speech seems perfectly normal. "I understand
him completely," says Barnett. "I have a harder time
understanding Mike Tyson." As for the main event, Barnett says,
"it should really tell us where Taylor is at." --Mike Fish
Why his name rings a bell The 40-year-old from Brooklyn won the
World Series of Poker in Las Vegas last Friday, taking home the
$2 million first prize.
Why you care Varkonyi pulled off what every penny ante player
dreams of. A self-described "unemployed amateur poker player" who
had dropped $30,000 in various tournaments since 1995, Varkonyi
became the ultimate Vegas survivor, outwitting, outplaying and
outlasting 631 others (including such notables as Johnny Chan),
the largest field in World Series history. On the final card of
the Texas no-limit hold 'em event, Varkonyi's opponent, Julian
Gardner of Manchester, England, drew a flush. Varkonyi pulled a
full house (10s over queens) to win. The prize is more than each
of the winners of the Masters, Wimbledon and the Kentucky Derby
Resume As a computer sciences undergrad at MIT, he honed his card
skills playing against fellow students. In May, Varkonyi (who's
married to Olga, 27, a Russian interpreter) won a satellite
tournament and qualified for the World Series for the first time.
Credo "I finally earned my Ph.D. in poker. The only way to learn
is to get experience, as with anything in life."
RECOVERED By Philadelphia police, the copy of the Eagles'
defensive playbook that was stolen from linebacker Shawn Barber's
car last week. The playbook was in a leather bag, along with
Barber's cellphone, $20,000 worth of jewelry and other items.
After tracing a signal from the phone, police found the bag in a
sewer. The jewelry hasn't been recovered, but police have
arrested a suspect.
SIDELINED After heaving an octopus, Tigers closer Matt Anderson.
The pitcher entered a May 20 octopus-throwing contest at Comerica
Park hoping to win tickets to a Red Wings playoff game. Anderson
didn't win the contest, and that night he was unable to pitch due
to a torn muscle in his right shoulder. He'll be out for up to
DROPPED Onto the roof of Seattle's Safeco Field from a
low-flying Cessna, a container filled with the cremated remains
of an undisclosed Mariners fan. The container, which was
supposed to open and disperse the ashes, malfunctioned and,
after bouncing off the roof, was found outside the stadium.
Several people who saw the incident--which did not occur during
a game--feared a terrorist attack; one witness dialed 911.
SIGNED By China's men's soccer team, an open letter urging fans
to keep expectations low even though China is in the World Cup
for the first time. "Our deficits in strength and skill seem to
dictate that we won't get too far," the letter said.
CHARGED With driving under the influence, former UCLA hoops star
JaRon Rush, whose once promising career has hit on such hard
times that he was waived from the ABA and the NBA Developmental
League (SI, Feb. 18). When Rush was stopped, his blood alcohol
level tested at .31, nearly four times the legal limit.
DIED Of a heart attack, Paul Giel, 69, the Minnesota halfback who
finished second in the 1953 Heisman race and later pitched in 102
games for four major league teams. As Minnesota's athletic
director from '71 to '88 Giel hired coaches Herb Brooks and Lou
Not Standing Pat
A star NFL player leaves the game to serve his country
Last week Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, 25, told the team that he
was leaving football to enlist in the Army, with plans to attend
Ranger School after boot camp. It's a remarkable story: Star
athlete walks away from the game in his prime, leaving millions
in cash on the table, to put his life at risk in service of his
country during wartime. It is one, however, that you won't hear
from Tillman. Given the chance to self-promote and wrap himself
in the American flag--on Memorial Day weekend, no less--Tillman
instead quietly declined to speak publicly about his career
No surprise. His decisions to leave pro football and to decline
interviews are pure Tillman. The guy is a fearless nonconformist
who has long refused to measure his life against ordinary
standards. I met Tillman late in 1997, when he was a senior at
Arizona State. He would soon be graduating after just 3 1/2 years
with a 3.82 GPA, and he had been named Pac-10 defensive player of
the year as an undersized (5'10", 202 pounds) linebacker. "It
doesn't do me any good to be proud," Tillman said that year,
"because I'll start being happy with myself and then I'll stand
still and then I'm old news."
At the end of one interview with Tillman, I asked him if he had
ever been arrested for anything, a question that unfortunately
has to be asked with athletes today. Tillman didn't hesitate to
admit that he had been charged with felony assault after beating
up a kid while defending a friend during his senior year in high
school. He spent 30 days in a juvenile detention facility, and
his conviction was reduced to a misdemeanor upon his release.
Here's the point: Since Tillman was underage at the time, his
arrest record was sealed, and he didn't have to tell me anything.
But he did, because he's honest. And smart. He learned from his
mistake and never repeated it.
There were doubts about whether Tillman was big enough or fast
enough to play college football, but he played superbly. There
were much deeper doubts about whether he could play in the NFL,
but he has been a four-year starter and in 2000 set a franchise
record with 200 tackles. You cannot keep him off the football.
Last spring he turned down a $9 million, five-year offer sheet
from the Rams and accepted a one-year deal with the Cards for a
little more than $500,000 out of loyalty.
Tillman says he'll resume his NFL career in three years, and
Tillman does what he says. In 1994 when then Arizona State coach
Bruce Snyder was recruiting Tillman, Snyder suggested redshirting
him in his freshman year. "I'm not redshirting," Tillman told
Snyder. "You can do what you want with me, but in four years, I'm
gone. I've got things to do with my life."
Now we know what things Tillman was talking about. Big things.
Wouldn't you want him in your foxhole? --Tim Layden
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
MAY 31-JUNE 6
SATURDAY 6/1--ESPN CLASSIC 10 AM--Classic NBA Finals Weekend
Get ready for 31 straight hours of NBA Finals games, including
four featuring Michael Jordan breaking the hearts of non-Bulls
fans across America.
SATURDAY 6/1--FOX 1 PM--Red Sox at Yankees
The network that brought you Darva Conger vs. Olga Korbut offers
up another down-and-dirty brawl as the AL archrivals meet in
Fox's 2002 baseball debut.
SATURDAY 6/1--HBO 10 PM--Evander Holyfield vs. Hasim Rahman
The fight all of America is talking about...is not this one.
This is the other heavyweight bout this month.
WEDNESDAY 6/5--ESPN2 4:55 AM--Portugal versus United States
Which will be the bigger World Cup test for the U.S? Holding down
Portuguese scoring sensation Luis Figo (the 2001 FIFA World
Player of the Year) or getting fans to watch at this ungodly
TUESDAY 6/4--ESPN 8 PM--Stanley Cup finals
After seven weeks of playoff games, here are the ones that really
count. Hockey's holy grail, accompanied by its team of handlers,
will follow this series wherever it goes.
WEDNESDAY 6/5--NBC 9 PM--NBA Finals
Fans of West Wing reruns will have to wait as the Finals--a.k.a.
the coronation of the Western Conference champion--begins
tonight with a prime-time matchup.
THURSDAY 6/6--ESPN 8 AM
French Open Women's Semifinals
Scarf down a breakfast croissant as you watch the tournament's
four surviving femmes battle it out in Paris. Last year Jennifer
Capriati took out Martina Hingis (page 68) in the semis before
winning it all.
--NBC's Underrated Voice
--We Want a Woman
--A Wilting Rose
The fourth-quarter comeback by the Celtics wasn't the only
masterly performance at the Fleet Center last week. NBC
play-by-play man Mike Breen proved once again why he's one of the
best--and most underrated--voices in the business. Breen conveyed
the extraordinary events of the final period without resorting to
hyperbole. After the buzzer Breen provided a brief, high-energy
end note ("The Boston Celtics with the greatest fourth-quarter
comeback in NBA playoff history!") and then did something which
network announcers rarely do: He shut up and let the pictures
speak for themselves. All postseason Breen's even-keeled play
calling has made the hysterical cries of analyst P.J. Carlesimo
somewhat tolerable. For this alone Breen deserves an Emmy.
Sure, ESPN should be congratulated for its upcoming Women and
Sports Weekend (June 21-23), which commemorates the 30th
anniversary of Title IX. But here's a suggestion that would carry
more significance than a weekend of programming: Give one of the
network's best and brightest female broadcasters--say, Pam Ward,
an anchor and women's college basketball analyst, or Lisa
Salters, a reporter who excels on Outside the Lines--the same kind
of high-profile daily talk gig that Unscripted host Chris
Connelly currently enjoys.
It's disturbing to see Fox's Chris Rose--a young broadcaster who
earned respect as an anchor on the now defunct National Sports
Report--get behind the mic for the farcical Celebrity Boxing.
Maybe it shouldn't be surprising because in July, Rose began
hosting Fox Sports's infantile Best Damn Sports Show, Period. At
this rate he'll soon be calling the action on Temptation Island
3. --Richard Deitsch
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON On June 16 several jocks will get to
celebrate Father's Day with a dad who knows what the life of a
pro athlete is like. Of the men below, who is not a
second-generation professional athlete?
a. Jay Foreman, Texans
b. Jalen Rose, Bulls
c. Keith Tkachuk, Blues
d. Daryle Ward, Astros
POP-A-SHOT Of the NBA players who also had a son who played in
the league, who scored the most career points?
THIS WEEK'S MATCHUP Pair the famous athlete with his athlete
1. NBA player Harvey Catchings a. hockey's Meaghan
2. decathlete Rafer Johnson b. basketball's Tamika
3. sprinter Lennox Miller c. volleyball's Jenny
4. NHL Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler d. track's Inger
CALL TO ORDER Put these NASCAR father-son combos in descending
order of combined Winston Cup victories.
a. Bobby and Davey Allison
b. Buck and Buddy Baker
c. Dale and Dale (Jr.) Earnhardt
d. Ned and Dale Jarrett
ANSWERS LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: c. John Tkachuk, father of Blues
forward Keith, made his living as a Boston firefighter;
Foreman's father, Chuck, played for two NFL teams as a running
back from 1973 to '80; Rose's father, Jimmy Walker, played for
three NBA teams from '67 to '76; Daryle Ward's father, Gary, was
a big league outfielder from '79 to '90 with four teams.
POP-A-SHOT: In 16 seasons with the Syracuse Nationals and
Philadelphia 76ers, Dolph Schayes scored 19,247 points. His son,
Danny Schayes, had 8,780 points for seven teams in 18 NBA
seasons. THIS WEEK'S MATCHUP: 1. b; 2. c; 3. d; 4. a. CALL TO
ORDER: a. the Allisons (103 Winston Cup victories); c. the
Earnhardts (82); d. the Jarretts (78); b. the Bakers (65).
extraordinary." --SWING MASTER, PAGE 22