Most public comment on the Peterson-Kekich affair, aside from the plethora of jokes, went along the lines of, "It's their own business. It's a private matter. If they weren't ballplayers, there wouldn't be such a fuss."
But they are ballplayers, and there's the rub. It seems terribly obvious to say it, but an intense interest in athletic heroes exists precisely because they are heroes. They do things the fan only dreams of doing: catch a touchdown pass, hit a home run, drive in for a layup. Sure, the fan is interested in intimate details about athletes' lives, but at the same time he is uneasy about this humanizing process. Why do so many fans, union members among them, resent athletes going on strike and squabbling about raises and fringe benefits? Heroes are men apart, a juvenile fiction, an ideal representation of ourselves. When they betray human foibles, when they are shown to have problems and worries and personal disasters similar to our own, they are diminished—and so is the fan.
It is neither arch nor sentimental to say that thousands, possibly millions, of youngsters were stunned and distressed to hear about Peterson and Kekich. Does that really matter? Yes, it does; it matters a great deal. An interest in sport almost always begins in childhood, and retention of that interest is, at least in part, an attempt to recapture the joys of our youth. Sport is a diversion, fun, something to augment our lives or relieve the pressures. When an athlete's dirty linen is washed in public, it hurts the child in all of us.
Does the athlete then have a responsibility oft" the field as well as on? Probably. In the old musical comedy Damn Yankees, the earthy, lecherous ballplayers tell of their rejection of temptation in a song that has more than a modicum of truth in it:
We've got to keep our minds on the game.
We've got to think about the game!
The game! The game!
We've got to think about the game,
The game, the game!
Booze and broads may be great,
Though they're great they'll have to wait,
While we think about the game!
Jacques Plante, veteran National Hockey League goalkeeper, took Foster Hewitt and his son out to dinner. Therefore, says Ken McKenzie of Hockey News, seated around the table were the father, the son and the goalie host.
Any pretense that college sport is "for the kids" was abandoned at Rider College in Trenton, N.J. when Basketball Coach John Carpenter dropped five players from his squad for the last two games of the season for the simple reason that they were seniors. "He told us we'd practice Sunday at three o'clock," said Bruce Rembert, one of the seniors. "But we found a note on the door. The 10 underclassmen on the team would practice, but the five seniors would not and would not practice Monday, either. Instead, there would be a meeting.
"At the meeting he told us he wanted to look at the players he would have next year. He said if we wanted to make the trip to the next game [against Catholic University in Washington], we could go on the train, and he'd pay for everything. But we would be nothing more than spectators."
Captain Bill Clark, another senior, said, "He made it clear that we would sit in the stands, not on the bench. It was like we wouldn't even be associated with the team."
Carpenter replied, "Saying I would pay their way to Washington was correct, but saying I would make them sit in the stands was erroneous. They could sit on the bench. They just weren't going to play."
He said he expected criticism, but added. "When you coach, you've got to take a little heat. When you're not able to run your own team, it would be time to get out."
COFFEE, TEA OR ZAP!
Atlanta has a woman hockey player. Not the NHL Flames, but the Eastern Airlines Embers in the Atlanta Amateur Hockey League. Patty Lynch is a 24-year-old stewardess who grew up playing hockey in Port Huron, Mich. The daughter of a high school coach, she is the only woman on the airline's 16-person team and one of only five Embers who had ever played the game before the team was founded two months ago.
The style of play is rough but loose—the Embers lost one game 27-6—and, says a male opponent (all of Lynch's opponents are male), "She knocked me on my rear end three times the other night." Nonetheless, Lynch says that when a puck hit her in the nose one night and blood ran down to the ice, "It was nice to be a woman. Both benches came to the rescue and everyone was so relieved that I was O.K. If it had been a guy, no one would have paid much attention.
"I try to act like a lady on the ice" she adds, "although it's difficult at times. It's kind of tough to hit the big guys, but the little ones I go after."
If that doesn't work, Lynch, a 5'6", 123-pound center, has other plays. "Like on a face-off to open the game, I look up and open my eyes wide and blink. Sometimes it works. One guy told me if I wanted to be fair, I'd paint a mustache on my face."
In fact, Lynch—who dresses alone before the men enter the locker room—doesn't wear much makeup at all while playing: only false eyelashes. "I realize you can't try to look like a debutante on the ice," she says.
Forest Hills, bastion of traditional grass-court tennis in the U.S., has decided to dig up its time-honored turf and install an artificial surface. Charles Rider, president of the West Side Tennis Club, which is Forest Hills' formal name, says, "I regret it in some ways. Esthetically, grass is pleasing, and it is a faster surface, which I think is more fun. But we had 128 players in the men's division last year and 90 or so women, and they play singles, doubles and mixed doubles. It's like a gang war out there, and grass is very perishable. Too, most tournaments today are not played on grass.
"The change is something the players want," Rider says, "and I think we have to conform to what they want. But there was no ultimatum, as some stories implied. The players hoped we would change, but they weren't going to come after us with a racket if we didn't."
The switch to the new surface will benefit Chris Evert and Ken Rosewall and others who play a defensive, back-court game. Some deplore this, but Bill Talbert, who directs the Forest Hills tournament, disagrees. "The new surface," he says, "will help the player with beautiful ground strokes. We're going to have a much better game to watch."
When the Oakland Raiders selected Southern Mississippi's Ray Guy in the first round of the NFL draft, they not only picked up an outstanding triple-threat kicking specialist but a player so skilled in other aspects of the game that he could eventually take over the duties of two or three men currently on the squad. At first Oakland will use him only to kick off and punt (George Blanda still has the field-goal franchise) in the hope that he will displace Jerry DePoyster, who averaged only 37 yards a punt in 1972 and finished last in the league. As a senior in college, Guy led the nation with a 46.2-yard average, including one 93-yarder, and his 44.7-yard career average was second highest in NCAA history.
He also kicked a 61-yard field goal, which means in time he may nudge the ageless Blanda into retirement. Currently only two men in the NFL—Cleveland's Don Cockroft and San Diego's Dennis Partee—regularly handle both punting and field-goal attempts. Having a player like Guy around who can do both means Oakland can afford to carry another quarterback or an extra defensive back, although Guy has talents in those areas, too. At Southern Mississippi he intercepted 18 passes in his career and last spring was even considered the team's No. 2 quarterback. He is 6'3" and 192 pounds and a baseball pitcher good enough to have been drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. Some athlete. In any case, he is certainly a surer tackling safetyman and a better emergency passer than, say, Miami's Garo Yepremian.
According to Today's Health the 10 American cities with the cleanest air—perhaps one should say those with the least dirty air—are, in order, Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, San Antonio, Kansas City, Mo., Memphis, Houston, Toledo, Columbus, Ohio and Boston.
The pole vault is either the most exciting boring event in sport or the most boring exciting event. Pole vaulters, often the best athletes at a track meet, are also prima donnas, showboats, hams. The long minutes while they stand at the top of the runway psyching themselves for a superhuman try or possibly thinking about what they had for breakfast stretches the event to interminable lengths. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, for memorable instance, the pole vault lasted from 10 o'clock one morning until 10:30 that night.
Now Payton Jordan, the Stanford track coach and former coach of the U.S. Olympic team, has come up with a pole vault traffic light. The device sits on a golf cart near the runway. An amber light alerts the next vaulter that it is his turn. When the light turns green, he has three minutes to vault. If he fails to make his attempt before the light turns red, that's it. He has had his turn and the next man moves in.
It seems to work. Jordan says, "Usually the pole vault is still going after everything else is over, but in our first meet, with Fresno State, the vault was finished 30 minutes before the last event."
BONO ON BONE
New York Giant Fullback Charlie Evans has broken his left leg seven times, first as a youngster, later in college, still later in professional ball. The earlier fractures were all of the fibula, the smaller of the two bones in the lower leg, but the last was of the tibia, or shinbone, a much more serious matter. Evans is a superior blocking back, but as such he runs into situations conducive to cracking bones. The Giants' team physicians, Dr. Rudolph Bono and Dr. Anthony Pisani, decided enough was enough. If Evans would not stop breaking his leg they would make it unbreakable. Or at least a little less fragile.
"They felt my left leg was not getting enough calcium because of impeded blood flow," Evans said. Dr. Bono operated on the player and removed a portion of the sympathetic nerve that controls arterial blood flow to the leg.
"The operation is old as the hills," the doctor says. "It's usually performed on elderly people with circulatory problems. The improved circulation will increase the body temperature of Charlie's leg about 5°."
"That's the truth," Evans says. "You can feel the difference with your hand."
"It should bring his calcium metabolism up to a proper level," Dr. Bono explains. "He still has a broken tibia to heal and atrophied muscles to rebuild, but he should be ready when camp opens in July."
And, warm leg willing, go through an unfractured season next fall.
THEY SAID IT
•Golden Richards, Dallas Cowboys' second draft choice, asked where he got the name Golden: "My mother and father gave it to me."
•Reggie Smith, Boston Red Sox outfielder, asked about the New York Yankee wife-swapping deal between Pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich: "If this had happened 11 years ago, Mama never would have let me play ball."
•Joe Gilmartin, Phoenix sportswriter, on Connie Hawkins, temperamental Suns star: "The Hawk is a work of art. Some nights he's poetry in motion; other nights, still life."