"THEY SHOULD BE FOR YOU"
It's the journalist's mission to write about people, not for them. Unfortunately, this distinction appears difficult for some to grasp. Among those having trouble getting the point at the moment are:
•Jet Quarterback Richard Todd, who pushed New York Post writer Steve Serby into a locker to protest what he felt was negative coverage (page 24). Of Serby and other sportswriters, Todd said, "They should be for you."
•Bob Trumpy, NBC telecaster and former Cincinnati tight end, who defended Todd's actions by saying on TV, "There comes a point as a player where you're so frustrated from the bad press, what can you do?" Answering his own question, Trumpy said, "These are athletic people, they are big people and you have to expect something like [Todd pushing Serby]."
•Clemson Athletic Director Bill McLellan, who spurned requests from ABC for comment on charges by two football recruiting prospects that Clemson had offered them money and, for good measure, threatened to keep the Tigers' Nov. 7 game against North Carolina off ABC if the network aired interviews it had conducted with the two.
•ABC-TV Sports publicist Donn Bernstein, who, while denying that the network's subsequent failure to air the offending interviews had been influenced by McLellan's threat, said with tortured logic, "It would not have been fair to use the interviews with the two kids without any response from Clemson."
•Kerry Sipe, managing editor of the Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress, whose sports editor, Gary Cramer, was fired last week after writing a series critical of the University of Virginia's football team (1-9 this season) and its coach, Dick Bestwick, with whom Cramer had feuded. According to Cramer, Sipe had told him that Bestwick wanted the paper to put somebody else on the football beat and had mentioned at the time of the sacking "that I had had three years to iron out my differences with Bestwick and had been unable to do so." Bestwick acknowledged that he complained to Cramer about what the coach considered to be negative coverage of the Cavalier football team. Cramer said the "complaint" consisted, in part, of Bestwick "physically pressing his nose against mine and telling me he was going to 'kick my ass.' "
As these examples suggest, strong support exists for the notion that sportswriters and sportscasters should be cheerleaders for the teams they cover. The reason this notion takes hold, of course, is that they all too often are cheerleaders. Thus, former NFL Coach John Madden, now a TV analyst, noted on a recent Giant-Packer telecast that "every time somebody does something [during a game], we say what a great guy he is." Whereupon Madden said what a great guy Green Bay Kicker Jan Stenerud was. In point of fact, not all people involved in sports are so great, not all the time, anyway. The fact that journalists who dare to suggest as much are pushed, threatened and fired only serves to prove the point.
THE THREATENED-PURSE SYNDROME
Some cynical boxing observers don't think it was an injury, as official word had it, that prompted Gerry Cooney to withdraw from his Dec. 5 tuneup against Joe Bugner. They believe Cooney was simply afraid of jeopardizing his $10 million fight against Larry Holmes next March, a fear kindled by the latter's recent close call against Renaldo Snipes. This dark theory is succinctly expressed by Ferdie Pacheco, the NBC commentator and former ring physician, who says, "The Snipes right that knocked down Holmes gave Cooney a severe back injury." Thanks, Doc. Next case, please.
It was 1 a.m. when passersby in Troy, N.Y. saw the shadowy figure of a man throw a heavy object off the Troy-Men-ands Bridge, then speed away in his car. Summoned to the scene, police and firemen looked out into the murky waters of the Hudson River. They saw nothing. Witnesses provided police with the mystery man's license-plate number, and it was traced to William Biette, 37. He came clean. He said he was a 180-average bowler who had had such a frustrating night on the lanes, averaging just 156 for four games, that he told his bowling companions he was going to throw his ball off the nearest bridge. Which he then proceeded to do. The police didn't press charges, sympathetically noting in their report that Biette had heaved the ball into the drink because it had "let him down earlier in the evening."
The Albany Times-Union was somewhat less solicitous. Its story of Biette's tantrum was accompanied by a photo of the bridge with a dotted line superimposed to show the path of the ball falling toward the water. The dotted line wasn't straight. The artist had impishly drawn it with a sweeping hook, the sort of hook that wouldn't pick up a 7-10 split in a million years.
A QUESTION OF BLAME
The Boston Herald American recently polled readers for their views on who's to blame for the disappointing showing this season of the New England Patriots, who have a 2-10 record. The poll elicited 759 responses, with Patriot Coach Ron Erhardt, owner Billy Sullivan, General Manager Bucko Kilroy and the Pat players, in that order, being most often singled out as the culprits. Other readers mentioned the weather, the Russians, defective footballs and Richard Nixon. Nine fans shrewdly blamed the opposition.
The poll angered Sullivan, who has feuds going with both Boston papers. Two weeks ago he filed a $5 million libel suit against The Boston Globe and columnist David Farrell over an Oct. 4 story alleging that Sullivan had used his influence during World War II to get a "soft" job in public relations at the U.S. Naval Academy and quoting the late Richard Cardinal Cushing as saying he had "never got a dime" out of three Patriot charity exhibition games. As for the Herald American's poll, Sullivan wrote a letter to the paper suggesting that it similarly survey readers about who's to blame for the paper's own woes, which include an estimated loss last year of $10 million. High on Sullivan's own list of nominees was Herald American Editor Donald Forst, who reportedly came up with the idea to run the poll on the Patriots.
Cuba's national women's basketball team beat Old Dominion 71-68 last week in Norfolk, Va., as demonstrators angrily protested the presence in the U.S. of athletes representing Fidel Castro's country. In contrast to this confrontation was a unique situation in Montreal, where Cubans and Americans were teammates in the World Cup Boxing Championships. SI's Bob Sullivan explains:
The format for the biennial amateur competition called for teams to enter on a continental basis. The North American team, one of 10 in the tournament, had been selected during four days of trials in September in Shreveport, La. Fighters from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic had vied for spots on the 12-man team but all were eliminated; the team that wound up at a three-week training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo. consisted of seven Cubans and five U.S. boxers. By virtue of this breakdown, Cuba's Alcides Sagarra became head coach, an American, Joe Clough, his assistant.
"In Shreveport our guys had watched the Cubans line up like they were in the military and had snickered," Clough said. "Now, with 'AT handling the training, we had to line up. Nobody snickered." But Clough added that Sagarra turned out to be less rigid than he first appeared to be: "He said he was going to have a four o'clock workout, and I said, 'No, that's too late. Noon.' And he said, 'O.K.' That's when I knew we were going to be all right."
By the time the North American team arrived in Montreal, the Cuban and U.S. fighters were quite comfortable with one another. Lightweight Angel Herrera, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, excitedly ran up to a couple of U.S. boxers to show them a Havana newspaper with their photos in it. After grooving on some Latin-rhythm tapes belonging to middleweight Jose Gomez, light welterweight James Mitchell of the U.S. reciprocated by giving the Cuban fighter a Commodores tape. Of the Cubans, who, like the U.S. boxers, were black, Mitchell said, approvingly, "They were soul brothers...originally."
During the bouts at Maurice Richard Arena, a sensible protocol prevailed. When a Cuban was fighting, Sagarra did the talking between rounds in the corner, while Clough administered the water and towels; when a U.S. fighter was up, the two coaches switched roles. The battle for the Cup quickly came down to North America vs. an all-Soviet team designated as Europe I (there also was a Europe II team consisting entirely of Bulgarians), and this produced the odd spectacle of Cubans cheering for U.S. boxers to knock out Russians. Many Americans in the crowd similarly cheered for the Cubans, with one exception. As the host country, Canada had been allowed to enter its own team, whose star, Toronto's lead-with-the-chin Shawn O'Sullivan, made it to the finals. After twice taking eight counts in the first round, the gritty O'Sullivan, a light welterweight, roared back to decision another Cuban Olympic gold medalist, Armando Martinez, to the crowd's thunderous approval. The U.S. spectators got swept up in the O'Sullivan fever for the same reason they'd previously cheered Cubans: In this strange World Cup competition, sport was above other allegiances.
Herrera, Gomez and two other Cubans won individual titles. Three U.S. boxers advanced to the finals, and while only heavyweight Carl Williams won, it was his unanimous decision over Aleksandr Jagubkin of the U.S.S.R. that clinched the team victory for North America, 41 points to the Soviet Union's 36, with Canada and South America next with 10 apiece. At a binational victory party in a Montreal hotel, it was agreed that Cuba would keep the World Cup trophy for a year, then send it to the U.S. There was also talk about a trip to Havana by a U.S. boxing team scheduled for late February. "But we'll be enemies then," said an American. Replied a Cuban: "Only in the ring."
THE MIGHTY (5-11) GREY CUP FINALIST
The fact that the Cincinnati Reds, with the best regular-season record in baseball, failed to qualify for the 1981 postseason playoffs demonstrated just how flawed the major leagues' split-season format was and raised the embarrassing question: What did all those regular-season games mean, anyway? But then, the same question can be asked in other sports. The latest case in point is the Canadian Football League, in which six of the nine teams make it into the post-season chase for the Grey Cup, Canada's equivalent of the Super Bowl.
This year's CFL playoff qualifiers included the Ottawa Rough Riders, who were 5-11 during the regular season. No matter. The Rough Riders beat the Montreal Alouettes, who had an even worse 3-13 record, in the Eastern Division semifinal and then upset the heavily favored Hamilton Tiger-Cats 17-13 in the division finals on a fourth-quarter pass that resulted in a touchdown when two Hamilton defensive backs collided. That put Ottawa in Sunday's Grey Cup against the Edmonton Eskimos, who boasted a 14-1-1 regular-season record and were 22½-point favorites to win an unprecedented fourth straight Grey Cup. The Roughriders led the faltering Eskimos 20-1 at halftime only to lose 26-23 on an Edmonton field goal with three seconds to go in the game, thereby failing in their bid to outdo the rags-to-riches story of the 1937-38 Chicago Black Hawks, who won the Stanley Cup despite a regular-season record of 14-25-9.
THEY SAID IT
•Jack Rothrock, Greensboro, N.C. businessman who played center for Guilford College in a 60-6 loss to Bear Bryant's Maryland team in 1945, the first of Bryant's 314 coaching victories: "The thing I remember is that the crowd sang Maryland, My Maryland after each touchdown, even the four that they called back. By the end of the first quarter I knew all the words."
•Ted Watts, on his role as the Oakland Raiders' punt-return specialist: "It's like embalming. Nobody likes to do it, but someone has to."