19TH HOLE: THE READERS TAKE OVER - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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Did you plan it that way, or was it coincidence that four reports in the May 3 issue demonstrated what is wrong with professional sports today?

First, the SCORECARD item "Canadian Bone Disease" illustrated the absurdity of the number of NHL, NFL and NBA teams that qualify for the playoffs after an overlong season.

Second, another SCORECARD item told us of the demise of Boston's amateur marathon—next year we can expect rampant commercialism.

Third, the article Overloaded With Circuit Breakers, a superbly written piece, demonstrated how the greed—and stupidity—of players and promoters has turned tennis into a circus.

And, finally, the article He Won't Clean Up His Act showed how a hockey player like New York Islander Goaltender Billy Smith can swing his stick at and butt-end his opponents and commit other unsavory acts while pretending to be a big-league sportsman.

What has turned me off—and made me turn off my TV set—is just this kind of greed and commercialism on the part of owners, promoters and players, accompanied by violence on the part of some players. Why don't we simply bring on the gladiators, stage a mammoth version of the Roman games, sell tickets at $100 a seat and get on with it?

Hats off to SI for serving as the conscience of the sports world. E.M. Swift has captured the essence of hockey violence in the persona of Billy Smith. But don't blame Smith or the Islander management.

Every year football has tougher controls on violence. Baseball has strict beanball and interference rules. Basketball has a third official. What about hockey? Who protects the Smiths and the Williamses and the Jonathans from one another? Hockey has become a contest in which only the fittest can survive. And at the moment, Billy Smith is obviously quite fit.
Wayne, N.J.

Thank you for your exceptional article on Billy Smith. I'm an avid Islander fan who loves to watch him frustrate opponents with his terrific goaltending abilities and also punish them for going into his territory. He has brought a brand-new concept to hockey with his offensive goaltending techniques.

He's a unique and honest individual who doesn't try to hide his emotions or deny or excuse his reputation as a physical player. And for those who don't like Billy's style of goaltending, I can only say, "Have a nice time watching the Islanders win their third consecutive Stanley Cup." Go, Billy!
Stormville, N.Y.

Hallelujah! Just when it was beginning to look as though SI viewed hockey as a game played by Wayne Gretzky and a cast of extras, you redeemed your collective selves with a terrific profile of the man we Islander fans know and love as Battlin' Billy. Billy Smith has been the backbone of the Islanders, possessing the ability to rally them by his actions and to single-handedly keep them in many a game when the defensive corps has taken a mental vacation.

Granted, Smitty isn't exactly a textbook goalie, but to term him a "goon" isn't fair, either. He does what he feels is necessary to do a job the best way he can and, in the process, has become the best at what he does. Smitty is the greatest thing on ice since...since...beer.
Norwalk, Conn.

I always thought that Billy Smith was just an ordinary goon. Then I read E.M. Swift's article and discovered that Smith even slashes his teammates in practice. Oh, nice guy. I realize now that I was wrong—Smith is an equal-opportunity goon—and a disgrace to the game of hockey. I think his toughness might be feigned, however. After all, anyone who drinks his beer on the rocks, as Smith appears to be doing in your opening picture, can't be too tough.
Dubuque, Iowa

Tell Billy Smith, whom you pictured reclining in a bathtub, to go soak his head! A hockey player who deliberately slashes and butt-ends people has no business being in the NHL—or in SI!

It's difficult for me to see any redeeming virtues in the article about Billy Smith, your disclaimer in SCORECARD of the same issue notwithstanding. The urge of youngsters to imitate a winning NHL goalie and his goonlike tactics, which you discussed in detail, perpetuates the violence that SI abhors.
St. Albans, Vt.

Glenn Resch says Billy Smith can be blamed only to a point for his on-ice brutish-ness and points the accusing finger elsewhere. I disagree. Being an amoral jerk is a matter of individual responsibility.
Albany, N.Y.

You can count me among those who are fed up with the remarks of the critics concerning the NHL playoff system (SCORECARD, May 3). John Kieran's 1930 column proves one thing: For at least 52 years the NHL has had a consistent, clear-cut and straightforward system for determining who its champion is. Regular-season games are the means by which teams are positioned in the championship playoffs.

I agree wholeheartedly that the NHL's playoff system may not be right for football, basketball or baseball, but the NHL has enough problems without being criticized for creating a playoff system that, at least for hockey fans, provides an interesting regular season and a dynamite finale.
Northampton, Mass.

It seems to me that lots of people go to games simply to view the athletes, enjoy the competition and discuss with friends what they would have done if they were coach. The game is the focus. I seldom think about how a particular game relates to the playoffs, which are simply an adjunct to the season.
Charlotte, N.C.

It's a sad comment on the state of contemporary sports that SI's coverage of this year's Boston Marathon was limited almost exclusively to discussing the controversies over prize money and commercial sponsorship of the race (SCORECARD, May 3). Almost overlooked was the magnificent duel between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley, who matched each other, virtually stride for stride, over the whole 26-mile, 385-yard course and provided a thrilling finish.

Yes, amateurism may be dead at the Boston Marathon, and the race's future will probably be shaped more in law offices and boardrooms than on the road from Hopkinton, Mass. But on a recent flawless spring afternoon thousands of marathon fans were treated to an uplifting spectacle and, if only temporarily, forgot the squabbles over money and commercialism while witnessing the purest level of sporting excellence.
Derry, N.H.

I have just finished reading your article on the alphabet-soup chaos that is professional tennis (Overloaded With Circuit Breakers, May 3). I grew up in the game, was ranked sectionally and nationally, played for UCLA and was on the pro circuit (1972-76). I have never lost interest in the friends and acquaintances I made, and I haven't forgotten the national and international rankings and prize money I earned. But after reading the overwhelmingly damning facts presented in your article about the sleazy goings-on in the sport of late, I was left with a feeling of devastation.

Where is the joy of tennis? What happened to all the champions who gave so much back to the game that nurtured them and gave them educations and allowed them to see so much of the world and paid them so well? Where is that 110% commitment to each match that often made even early-round victories life and death struggles?

I'm not naive. I know that tennis is a big-bucks business now. And I would be the last person in the world to begrudge anyone a substantial profit—even a huge profit—for providing world-caliber entertainment. But tennis cannot survive today's irresponsible "take the money and run" philosophy. Can't the players and agents and federations and promoters see they're killing the goose that laid the golden egg?

As a participant and a fan, I don't want to witness the funeral of professional tennis. But I can already hear death rattles.
Pasadena, Calif.

This letter is in reference to your SCORECARD item "Left in the Starting Blocks" (April 19) about the Waverly (Ohio) High basketball team that started a game against Athens High trailing by 7-0 because the wrong uniform numbers for Waverly's starters had been entered in the official scorebook. As a result, five technical fouls were assessed. Athens made all five of the free throws and then scored a field goal on the ensuing in-bounds play.

A similar thing happened in the 1971 district round of the Wisconsin high school basketball tournament, when Wild Rose High played Tri-County High of Plainfield. Wild Rose Coach Jim Erdman wrote down 11 of 12 numbers incorrectly. Consequently, Tri-Countv shot 11 free throws, making seven, and then scored upon putting the ball in play. Tri-County thus led 9-0 before Wild Rose even touched the ball. But unlike Waverly, which went on to lose 72-49, Wild Rose came back to win 72-49.

Here in Wild Rose we're still trying to figure out why one number was entered correctly and hoping that we own a world record.
Wild Rose, Wis.

•In his own defense, Erdman, now principal of Wild Rose, says that his team had gotten new uniforms two days before the tournament began and the jersey numbers—with one exception—had all been changed. Erdman also questions the officials' interpretation of the rule in his case. He maintains that technical fouls should have been assessed only against his five misnumbered starters, with additional free throws meted out to the opposition as incorrectly entered substitutes got into the game. Then again, Erdman recalls that he used all 12 players, so the result might well have been the same.—ED.

It is a fallacy to believe that no one remembers the name of Paul Revere's horse, as suggested in a letter from Landon Manning in your March 29 issue. There was a humorous, yet excellent, article on the subject in the April 1973 issue of Smithsonian by Richard W. O'Donnell. He stated that the mare Revere rode was owned by Samuel Larkin and that its name was Brown Beauty. O'Donnell quoted the official genealogy of the Larkin family as follows: "The mare was loaned at the request of Samuel's son, Deacon John Larkin, and never returned to her owner."

I hope this clears up the confusion about the anonymity of this Boston thoroughbred.
Quarryville, Pa.

•Unfortunately, it doesn't. Historians at the Paul Revere House in Boston say that while there is a great deal of detailed information on the ride—from Revere and from witnesses whose accounts corroborated Revere's—the name of the horse, which was borrowed from the Larkins, wasn't recorded. The story that it was called Brown Beauty is a "traditional" one, the historians say. However, they add that the name is most often associated with Revere's own horse. Alas, there apparently is no documentation to confirm or refute that version, either. Incidentally, another historian. Esther Forbes, stated in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, that the Larkin horse Revere rode was most likely a Narragansett pacer.—ED.

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