THE MINNESOTA AFFAIR
I would like to make it perfectly clear that as athletic director of the University of Minnesota I do not condone the acts of physical violence and crowd reaction that led to early termination of the Ohio State-Minnesota basketball game in Williams Arena on Jan. 25. In fact, I deeply regret them. This was the first time in more than 80 years of University of Minnesota basketball that a game here had gotten beyond the control of officials.
I must however, strongly protest the reporting of William F. Reed (An Ugly Affair in Minneapolis, Feb. 7). Any reaction from Minnesota fans in the waning moments of the game is far overshadowed by the nationwide reaction he has precipitated by his highly inflammatory rhetoric and strongly biased editorializing to the discredit and detriment of the university, its athletic department, its basketball program and Coach Bill Musselman.
Reed cites as the pith of Musselman's philosophy the message, "Defeat is worse than death because you have to live with defeat." This slogan is not original with Musselman. It is one of more than a dozen slogans in the dressing room. Strangely enough, no one had seen fit to point it out as objectionable until Reed used it to his own purpose.
Careful study of three different movie film versions of the Bob Nix-Luke Witte incident at halftime clearly show Witte passing Nix (who was standing still) and deliberately clipping him in the face so hard his head snapped back. Two players and an assistant coach rushed to call this to the attention of the officials, but they were ignored. Reed states: "Later, Musselman claimed that was the incident that incited his players." The Minnesota players unanimously concur. In the dressing room at half-time Musselman counseled his squad, "Try to forget it. Let's concentrate on winning."
Reed also writes, "When Ohio State Guard Dave Merchant moved in on a retreating [Corky] Taylor, Jim Brewer hit Merchant with a combination of punches and then, along with [Clyde] Turner, chased him down the sideline." Brewer did take after Merchant, but before he as much as touched him, he was knocked to the floor by two on-rushing Ohio players.
Reed describes the whole incident as "a cold, brutal attack, governed by the law of the jungle." Representatives of the black community have taken an active interest in the affair and deeply resent this as a thoroughly distasteful slur on their race. I must agree.
Reed next goes on to say, "Musselman made no attempt to stop the fight and show ed no remorse afterward." Any set of films will clearly show Bill Musselman, a full nine inches shorter than Clyde Turner, making every possible physical effort to restrain him. Afterward, Musselman tried to speak to Fred Taylor outside their dressing rooms but was rejected by words that could not be put into print. Obviously Mr. Reed chose not to make note of this. Musselman also went to the university hospital where he apologized to Mark Minor and talked to Assistant Coach Bob Burkholder. He further checked with the chief of surgery on the condition of the players.
We ask how can Reed and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED justify his misrepresentation of the facts?
•The facts speak for themselves. First, Reed did not say that Luke Witte was blameless and he quoted Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke's conclusion that only in the Witte-Nix incident "were charges of excessive physical contact against Ohio State's players at all justified." Next, TV film strips clearly show that before Jim Brewer and Clyde Turner chased Ohio Stale Guard Dave Merchant down the sideline, they took punches at him and knocked him to the floor. As for the term "law of the jungle," the dictionary defines it as "a system or mode of action in which the fittest survive..." and it has no racial connotation. Finally, Musselman's reaction in his postgame interview with SI's reporter and other members of the press was anything but remorseful.—ED.
I saw the filmed account of the Corky Taylor-Ron Behagen attack on Luke Witte on a TV news program and was appalled. I read William Reed"s account and was further appalled to discover that Commissioner Duke had concluded that Taylor's was an "unsportsmanlike act" and that the Minnesota Athletic Senate had decided to suspend Taylor and Behagen only until Feb. 15. I am most appalled, however, to find that these two are not in jail.
William F. Reed's account of the Minnesota-Ohio State fracas was nearly as emotional as the game itself. The violent behavior of several Minnesota players was shocking enough, but perhaps even more revolting are the hypocrisy and self-righteousness exhibited by some Ohioans and their apologists.
Luke Witte should not have been manhandled as he was, of course, but neither he nor those who regard him as a martyr should have expected that he could forever use his elbows for fists with impunity.
You say Bill Musselman's philosophy "generated the tension that exploded into violence" (SCORECARD, Feb. 7). I say that Bill Musselman's philosophy is basically no different from that of any coach who wants to win. The ability to "psych up" players, to motivate them, is generally looked upon with envy and admiration by fans and coaches alike.
Your attempt to transfer the blame for the brawl from the individuals directly involved to the coach and university officials was misdirected. The real responsibility for this pathetic and shameful fight lies with society itself. The all-encompassing emphasis that we have placed on winning in major college athletics has distorted our sense of values. The "victory at all costs" philosophy comes not from Musselman but from us. How often does SI feature a team that is not a winner? How many Coach of the Year awards are given to losers? How many losing coaches find themselves looking for another job? Bill Musselman cannot be condemned for doing well what we have all asked him to do—produce a winner.
J. MICHAEL DADY
As one who covered Big Ten sports for 35 of my 45 years in the newspaper business, may I commend SI for complete candidness in connection with the disgraceful brutality of Minnesota players and fans in the assault on Ohio State's athletes? But let me also declare that this is a new trend under Coach Bill Musselman of the Gophers. I have covered a variety of sports at Minneapolis without ever witnessing anything remotely approaching this frightfulness. An immediate formal apology from President Malcolm Moos, or at least from Coach Musselman, should have been forthcoming as a matter of course. None was.
Having analyzed the videotape of the Ohio State-Minnesota melee, both in slow motion and stop action, I most certainly agree with William F. Reed's account of the events of that game. However, his verbiage reminds me of how Jefferson Davis might have described the Civil War. He cast Ohio State as a modern-day Joan of Arc and Minnesota as the most odious villain since Dillinger.
It takes two to make a fight, and while I find what happened at Williams Arena most deplorable, I insist that Musselman wears no horns and Ohio State Coach Fred Taylor wears no halo.
There is precedence to support the philosophy that "defeat is worse than death," but the Gopher basketball coach (and other adherents) should be reminded that the vanquished are supposed to kill themselves, not the victors.
Your Feb. 7 article on Jerry West (A Teddy Bear's Picnic) was a fine tribute to an exceptional athlete. The success he has enjoyed and the recognition he has received are remarkable in the light of the adversity he has encountered.
But I found your story significant for another reason. In a basketball season tainted by incidents such as the one involving the Ohio State-Minnesota game, the character and strength of Jerry West is timely indeed. Too often ugly incidents such as this one cloud the public's view of the sport. Jerry West's classic jump shot and, regrettably, Luke Witte being kneed and stomped, are the public sides of basketball. But in your article on West you have described the unseen and equally important elements of the game: the frustrated super effort by West in the '69 NBA finals, the congratulations and affection from opponents, the locker-room jive. Any boy who has played basketball knows these things well. You are right, we do identify with Jerry West.
RANDY ST. CLAIR
Frank Deford's splendid article on Jerry West was a revealing excursion into the private as well as the professional world of one of my favorite people. I doubt if there ever has been an athlete in professional sport who has so consistently responded to pressure situations or performed as well in clutch games as West. It is readily apparent why Jerry is held in such high esteem by other players in the NBA. This warm, personable guy enhances this appeal by supplementing his rare talent with a disarming humility.
Being a fan of the Lakers since they came to Los Angeles, and being of Mexican-American descent, I strongly resent your statement that the fights may be Jerry's "favorite event of all since he can usually attend them without anybody bothering him. The paying customers are Chicanos and don't know Jerry West from Gump Worsley from Birch Bayh." All my friends, great Laker fans, would most certainly know Jerry from Gump and Birch, and your racist implication that Mexicans do not know any sport other than boxing did nothing but turn me off to your magazine.
Santa Susana, Calif.
SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS
I commend Mark Mulvoy for his fine article concerning our St. Louis Blues (Old Surge Becomes a General, Jan. 31). The consensus is that the fracas in Philadelphia provided the Blues with a good shot in the arm, although this dosage could have been administered in a more subdued and less dramatic manner. Needless to say, it was Coach Al Arbour who injected the team with the subtle spirit that was finally displayed at the Philadelphia game. In addition to Arbour's brilliant coaching ability, the Blues' management has fared well in the way of trades. Sid the Third's exchange for Jack Egers, Andre Dupont and Mike Murphy has proved invaluable to the Blues' lineup.
I will agree that Bob and Bill Plager, Phil Roberto, Garry Unger, Jack Egers and Mike Murphy have helped to make Al Arbour's job an easier one. But you failed to point out the two most important factors in the Blues' new success, Barclay Plager and Jacques Caron. Bare blocks about 15 shots a night and usually adds an assist or a goal. Caron is as acrobatic as Minnesota's great goalie, Gump Worsley.
MIKE L. McKIM
If Sid Salomon III will stick to playing golf and let Al Arbour do the managing, the St. Louis Blues may yet win the Stanley Cup.
Your article about the great showdown between handball champ Paul Haber and racquetball champ Bud Muehleisen (The Great Mano a Raqueta, Feb. 7) was very entertaining. Having played both of these games for some time, I have come to some conclusions concerning the relative skills required. It took me six years to reach a reasonable level of competence in handball, but only six months to attain roughly the same level in racquetball. Surely the area of the hitting surface is one of the most important factors. Could there be any doubt about the outcome of a match in which these same two men played but used each other's weapons? Doughnuts for Dr. M.!
Battle Creek, Mich.
It's too bad a neutral ball was not used for the match. The handball is just too live for a racquet, and I am sure that this was the factor in Haber's winning. He could never have won with a racquetball.
RICHARD D. McBRIDE, D.D.S.
Long Beach, Calif.
Your created image of me as a four-flushing promoter of the Muehleisen-Haber match has been a source of considerable embarrassment to me, my family and my business associates.
To clear the record, I am not wealthy. And as to the remark that I am "all pinstripes and big bills," I don't own a pinstripe suit and the biggest bill your staff writer saw was a five-dollar bill when I. took him to lunch.
And would it have hurt you to mention Memphis State University, whose officials were nice enough to let us use their new $3 million athletic complex for this match?
IN DANIELS' DEFENSE
I do not think your description of Terry Daniels (Back-to-School Time for Terry Daniels, Jan. 24) was fair. Granted, Joe Frazier beat him soundly. But Ron Fimrite made Daniels appear as a stupid young fool who doesn't take boxing seriously. This is not true. Anyone who dares to step into the ring with Joe Frazier must take the sport seriously. And once he did step into the ring to take the fury of Frazier's punches, Daniels proved himself a brave, mature man.
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