In Defense of the Jerk
Like it or not, heckling has a place in sports. You got a problem
Clever heckler is an oxymoron. Most all hecklers are loudmouthed
boors. The only bigger jackasses in the seats are the sycophants
who hold up signs with the letters of the network televising the
game, spelling out something like NETS BEAT CELTICS, keen
observations on that order. But at least they're quiet oafs,
letting their way with words speak for them.
But hecklers. They are, as we say, part of the game. Most times
they're only intrusive, individual versions of a loud recorded
version of We Will Rock You. Sometimes, though, hecklers do grow
offensive, as they did last week in Boston, where a nitwitted
number of the clam chowder cognoscenti bellowed, "Wife beater!"
at the Nets' Jason Kidd. To be sure, Kidd had once assaulted his
wife, Joumana, who was herself in attendance with their
three-year-old son, T.J. (a classic case of valor over
discretion), but the sports etiquettists were up in arms. Look,
they howled, it's fair game to attack a player for his game, but
not for anything personal.
Probably, yes, this is the standard for decency, and most times
it is upheld. Some, though, have suffered worse than the Kidds.
Perhaps the most tasteless heckling in American sports history
came in February 1988, when Steve Kerr was a senior guard at
Arizona. His father, Malcolm, had been murdered by terrorists in
Beirut in January 1984. Heartless Arizona State students screamed
"PLO!" at the bereaved young Kerr as he manfully carried on upon
June 9, 2002
Duke students have become famous for being inventive with their
invective. At various times, saluting rival players who have been
caught at some malefaction, Dookies have hurled women's
underwear, aspirin, pizza boxes, sneakers and condoms onto the
court. (You do not need to know the particulars.) For an opponent
who had suffered a collapsed lung, the Dookies yelled, "IN-hale!
EX-hale!" Go on, it's O.K. to laugh at that. That's pretty good.
And the kid had recovered.
Professionally--witness L'affaire Kidd--the most profuse taunting
has occurred in the grittier Metroliner cities. The bar for
mean-spiritedness was raised, surely never to be reached again,
by Philadelphia fans at old Shibe Park. There, so the grand old
story goes, between games of an Easter doubleheader, children
were allowed into the outfield to search for eggs. And, yes, the
fans from Brotherly Loveville booed their own local tykes who
performed poorly in the hunt.
Yet it is a curious grandstand we now inhabit. At the same time
that society has grown more politically correct, it has also
become less civil. "As soon as you struck out, not only were you
a bum," Hank Greenberg said once, "but you're a Jewish bum." Only
the worst creeps with large lungs dare shout out ethnic slurs
today. But at the same time the ears of children are burned by
the coarsest vulgarities shouted in public unison. And, of
course, what with talk radio, everybody's a bleeping expert,
ready to express loud, idiotic opinions. Sometimes we long for
another high-decibel burst of We Will Rock You.
Now, incivility has even reached gentlemanly golf, where churlish
America-first louts taunt the chunky Scot, Colin Montgomerie.
Golf Digest will distribute buttons reading BE NICE TO MONTY at
the U.S. Open next week.
Fair enough. But heckling, in its place, judiciously exercised,
is an honorable pursuit. Namby-pamby golfers could stand a bit.
If some of the chokers on Masters Sunday had heard a few choice
raspberries at Amen Corner, maybe they would have had their
nerves bounced out of their throats. After all, look at what
heckling did for Jason Kidd's game. --Frank Deford
Mountain of Trouble
Heavy climber traffic multiplied the Mount Hood casualties
Mount Hood tops out at a benign 11,240 feet, less than half the
height of Everest. It's an hour's drive from Portland and has no
regulations as to how climbers negotiate routes on the popular
south face. Up to 10,000 people flock there annually, and Hood's
accessibility--"People can just drive up and start climbing," says
firefighter and veteran climber Jeff Pierce--is a big reason it
has claimed 31 lives in the past two decades. That toll includes
the fatalities of last Thursday, when three climbers and a rescue
helicopter met their end in a frightening sequence, much of which
was broadcast live on TV.
The incident showed that often even experienced climbers can do
little to help themselves. Pierce has summited Hood a dozen
times, and he arranged last week's climb up the south face for
five firefighting colleagues, one of whom, Cleve Joiner, brought
his son, Cole, 14. Pierce, Cole and Jeremiah Moffitt were on the
same rope, traversing a glacial crevasse when a rope party of
four ahead of them lost its footing and began tumbling backward.
Picking up speed, the climbers took out a party of two. "They
were all tumbling, tangled up in one big ball," says Chad
Hashbarger, who was in Pierce's group but had not begun to cross
Within seconds Pierce, Cole and Moffitt were swept into the
crevasse along with the six others. All nine came to rest on or
near a ledge about 15 feet below the surface. Pierce had a
punctured left calf, Moffitt had a concussion and deep bruises,
and Cole was unhurt. Three others were killed: John Biggs of
Windsor, Calif., and William Ward and Richard Read of Forest
Grove, Ore. They had hit the lip of the crevasse, an unyielding
ice wall, at high speed. Dennis Butler, also in Pierce's group,
says, "You wouldn't drive a car as fast as they were going."
By the time rescue squads arrived, the survivors had made it out
of the crevasse. Two of the injured were choppered away, and
another helicopter was set to airlift Moffitt when it
inexplicably lost power and tumbled 1,000 feet down the slope.
Flight engineer Martin Mills was thrown from the copter, which
rolled over him three times; he's in stable condition. Others in
the chopper had minor injuries.
As happens after all climbing tragedies, people wonder what could
have been done to avoid it. For Pierce and his party, the answer
is, not much. "When you're in the backcountry, things outside
your control happen," says Pierce. And when the backcountry is as
busy as Hood's, one party's problems can fast become another's.
6 Times that Dodgers ace Kevin Brown, who is on the 15-day
disabled list with a sore right elbow, has been on the DL since
signing a seven-year, $105 million contract in 1998.
7 Games that Kevin Mitchell, the 1989 NL MVP and now manager of
the Class A Sonoma County Crushers, has been suspended by the
Western Baseball League for throwing a punch at Solano Steelhead
third base coach Larry Olenberger; Mitchell believed Olenberger
was stealing signs.
36 Percentage of 3,000 male English soccer fans in an online
survey who said they won't have sex the night before a World Cup
match because of superstition.
999 to 1 Odds, posted by Caesars Tahoe, on Charles Barkley's
winning next month's American Century Celebrity Golf
Championship, the longest shot in the 70-plus player field;
former Pirates pitcher Rick Rhoden (8 to 5) is the favorite.
4 NCAA 100-meter titles for 5'2" USC senior Angela Williams, who
is the first sprinter of either sex to win an event four times at
the NCAA outdoor championships.
JACK KEROUAC'S FANTASY BASEBALL GAME
Long before he became a leader of the beat generation and created
characters such as Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise in his 1957
novel, On the Road, Jack Kerouac conjured up Sky Tibbs and Wino
Love, imaginary players in a baseball board game that he invented
at age 13. The game, which is now on display at the New York
Public Library, featured six teams, which Kerouac named after
automobiles. Matchups between clubs such as the St. Louis
Cadillacs and the Washington Chryslers unfolded according to a
system similar to later baseball games like Strat-o-Matic;
Kerouac, who grew up in Lowell, Mass., would toss an eraser onto
the game board and, depending where it landed, refer to a
player's card to determine the outcome of the play. Players all
had complex skill ratings, and Kerouac kept meticulous statistics
and also wrote a league newsletter. "He wields a long black bat
that spells destruction for every pitcher he has met," Kerouac
wrote of Tibbs, a centerfielder for the Pittsburgh Plymouths.
"At home, Jack spent most of his time alone," says John Sampas,
the brother of Kerouac's deceased widow, Stella. "He even wrote a
short story, 'Ronnie on the Mound,' based on the outcome of one
of his games." Kerouac, who died of an abdominal hemorrhage in
1969, at age 47, played the game throughout his life.
Symbols of faith or vanity items? Major leaguers disagree
The Vatican recently denounced celebrities who wear bejeweled
crosses as fashion items. An editorial from the Vatican news
agency Fides asked, "Is it consistent with the Gospel to spend
millions on a copy of the sacred symbol of the Christian faith
[when] people all over the world suffer and die of hunger?"
Although the Vatican singled out Hollywood celebs such as
Jennifer Aniston and Cher, the edict could have been directed at
many baseball stars, including Barry Bonds, who wears a
diamond-studded crucifix in his left ear. Some players concur
with the church's stance. "I see so many people wearing crosses,
and they have no clue what it means," says Royals pitcher Paul
Byrd, a vocal Christian who doesn't wear a cross. "It's not a
religious thing but a fashion statement." Adds White Sox
infielder Tony Graffanino, who also forgoes a crucifix, "I
worship the man Jesus Christ. I don't need a good-luck charm to
However, others think the Vatican is overreaching its bounds.
"Right now," says Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who wears
two small crosses around his neck, "I think the church has some
other things they should be concerned with." Rockies catcher
Bobby Estalella, who wears a prominent crucifix, agrees: "This
was given to me by my grandmother. I wear it for good luck, and I
never would stop wearing it, no matter what the Vatican says."
Bonds, who homers and walks religiously, refused to comment.
Of all the Hurricanes fans cheering on their team's improbable
run to the Stanley Cup finals (page 50), not one is more loyal
than 11-year-old Tyler Kessler of Raleigh. And of all the players
he roots for, Tyler is most ardent about Ron Francis, 39,
Carolina's Hall of Fame-bound center. "It was the first time he'd
smiled in months," said Tyler's mother, Colleen, after Francis's
May 3 goal against the Canadiens. "Ron has the ability to make
him do that."
Last year Tyler, who is undergoing treatment for cancer of the
lymph nodes, was a guest of the Ron Francis Family Night Out
program, which treats seriously ill kids at Duke Children's
Hospital to a 'Canes game. Like all other guests, Tyler got top
treatment: a limo ride to the arena, roses for his mom, dinner at
The Arena Club, seats in Francis's luxury suite and a visit to
the locker room. The inspiration for the program came from
Francis's learning-disabled brother, Ricky, 37. Ricky had
seizures as a boy, which forced the Francis family to spend many
nights in hospitals. "I know what the families are going
through," says Francis. "I just hope that for a few hours they
can enjoy themselves." Francis, who also chairs the Sault Ste.
Marie, Ont., Special Olympics Summer Games (in which Ricky
competes), recently got the NHL Foundation Player Award for
community service. "The tough part is, not all the kids make it,"
he says, "but there are many more positives than negatives."
SUED For defamation, former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning
and his father, Archie, by former Tennessee trainer Jamie Ann
Naughright. She claims that in the 2000 book Manning, written by
Peyton and Archie, Peyton falsely alleges that she has a "vulgar
mouth" and that she overreacted to a mooning
incident--inaccuracies that, she says, forced her to leave her job
at Florida Southern in January. Naughright is seeking more than
$15,000 in damages. Manning could not be reached for comment.
FAVORED By Albuquerque baseball fans, the name Isotopes for the
Triple A team that will come to the city next season. The
name--inspired by an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer
uncovers a plot to move the Springfield Isotopes to
Albuquerque--is one of five being considered by the club, which is
relocating from Calgary. In a poll by The Albuquerque Tribune,
Isotopes received 57% of the vote, easily the highest total.
DISQUALIFIED From a Wisconsin sectional track meet, the Stevens
Point Area High girls' 800-meter-relay team because a runner wore
a white sports bra with black trim. State rules require bras to
be a solid color. After a protest by parents, officials
reinstated the team for the state meet.
DIED From cancer, Wes Westrum, 79, the New York Giants catcher
seen on the cover of the first SI. Westrum, a defensive whiz who
played 11 seasons despite a .217 batting average, later managed
the Mets ('65-67) and San Francisco Giants ('74-75), and had a
260-366-1 record. With his death, all three men on the Aug. 16,
1954, cover--Westrum, the Braves' Eddie Mathews and umpire Augie
--After surgery for breast cancer, Faye Dancer, 77, a star of the
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and the model for
All the Way Mae, Madonna's character in A League of Their Own. An
outfielder and pitcher in the '40s, Dancer was known for
cartwheeling on the field and swan-diving into puddles. "The fans
paid my way," she said. "I wanted them to get their money's
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
JUNE 7-JUNE 13
SATURDAY 6/8--NBC 5 PM--The Belmont Stakes
A mile and a half separates War Emblem from immortality as the
dark bay colt seeks to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and
the first since Affirmed in 1978.
SATURDAY 6/8--PPV 9 PM--Mike Tyson vs. Lennox Lewis
The first great heavyweight bout of the millennium or a charade
worthy of WWE? It'll cost you $54.95 to find out.
SATURDAY 6/8--FX 10:30 pm--World Beer Games
Sixteen teams from around the world battle for the title of Best
Beer Nation. Events include the pint chug and the pint curl, but,
alas, no belching contest.
SUNDAY 6/9--ESPN2 2:25 AM--World Cup Soccer: United States vs.
You may wreck your week staying awake for this one, but, hey, the
Yanks need all the support they can get: They're playing the host
country in Taegu, South Korea's third-largest city.
WEDNESDAY 6/12--NBC 9 PM--NBA Finals: Game 4
The state that brought you Sinatra, Springsteen and the Sopranos
hosts its first NBA Finals, as the Nets hope to claw past the
heavily favored Lakers.
THURSDAY 6/13--HBO 10:30 PM--On the Record with Bob Costas
Can Costas engage Barry Bonds on baseball's steroids controversy?
Regardless, there's an allure to his other guest--a former high
school wrestler named Tom Cruise.
MONDAY 6/10--ABC 8 PM
Stanley Cup Finals: Game 4
The story of a Hurricane: Lord Stanley's Cup will be contested on
Tobacco Road for the first time as underdog Carolina and its
standout goaltender Arturs Irbe try to overcome the star-studded
Red Wings' offense.
--Olympic Drama of '72
--The Day of Plenty
--Mr. Miss Universe
--The game pitted capitalism against communism at a tense time in
the cold war, and its outcome was decided by arguably the most
controversial call in Olympic history. That's the dramatic
outline for HBO's superb documentary :03 Seconds from Gold (June
18, 10 p.m.), which examines the final moments of the gold medal
basketball game between the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the 1972
Games. In this meticulously researched and thoughtful one-hour
piece, the candid interviews with Soviet players and the stirring
archival footage are especially compelling.
--In terms of the confluence of high-profile events--from War
Emblem's Triple Crown bid, to baseball interleague play, to Game
3 of the Stanley Cup finals, to World Cup Games involving Italy
and Brazil, to closing rounds of the French Open, to the Mike
Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight--this Saturday will rank among the
greatest, or at least most packed, days in the history of
televised sports. That doesn't necessarily mean historic ratings.
"It's an interesting day, but you won't get a huge number of
people watching their TVs," predicts former CBS Sports chief Neal
Pilson, who says many of the events lack mass appeal. "If you
look at days where you had the World Series and a big football
doubleheader, you'd see cumulative ratings that will be much,
much larger than this weekend's."
--Here's a vote for Phil Simms to be the permanent host of the
Miss Universe Pageant. The smooth CBS football analyst deserves
the job for keeping a straight face as he read the show's inane
script (Did you know Puerto Rico is "fun in the Caribbean sun"?)
off the teleprompter last Saturday. --Richard Deitsch
"I never felt abandoned, thanks to the brotherhood of Olympians."
--UNBREAKABLE SPIRIT, PAGE 34