BACK TO THE DARK AGES
The American Medical Association classifies dependency on cocaine and other "psychoactive" substances as an illness and recommends that it be treated as such. The U.S. Government follows that counsel in dealing with federal employees who have such a dependency. Over the past couple of years pro sports leagues have somewhat tempered their traditionally authoritarian approach to objectionable behavior and have offered cocaine abusers the prospect of rehabilitation rather than knee-jerk punishment. The number of athletes who have responded by seeking help indicates that cocaine abuse has become distressingly widespread in pro sports. At the same time, it's encouraging to think that many of those athletes have been helped by the sports establishment's relatively enlightened approach.
Last week major league baseball returned to the dark ages when the Los Angeles Dodgers, acting "in coordination and consultation" with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's office, fined Pitcher Steve Howe $53,867 and put him on probation for three years because of "continued or renewed involvement with illegal drugs after rehabilitation treatment." Howe had spent five weeks after last season at The Meadows in Wickenburg, Ariz, being treated for cocaine and alcohol abuse and had started the '83 season by pitching extraordinarily well for the Dodgers. But on May 29 he checked into the Care Unit Hospital in Orange, Calif. for further treatment. Players on the disabled list are supposed to be paid, but because the $53,867 assessment against Howe was calculated to equal his salary for the 30 days he was out of action for his treatment at Care Unit, it amounted to a docking of his pay. Without quite saying so, the Dodgers and Kuhn's office had, in effect, arbitrarily determined that Howe's drug dependency was no longer to be dealt with as an illness.
Bob Wirz, a spokesman for Kuhn, tried to justify Howe's punishment by saying that the player hadn't undergone treatment the second time "voluntarily," as Kuhn has specified must happen if "amnesty" is to be granted in drug cases. According to Wirz, Howe did turn himself in but only after the Dodgers had become aware of his condition. "It wasn't like he came completely forward," said Wirz. "He had failed to show up for a ball game." But another rationale for the punishment was the fact that Howe had to be hospitalized a second time at all—whether voluntarily or not. In a statement Kuhn said that baseball doesn't "guarantee amnesty for renewed drug usage or for failure to follow a rehabilitation program." And Dodger President Peter O'Malley said, "Eventually you have to draw the line."
In specifying that treatment be voluntary, baseball is getting itself into a semantic mine field; by the very nature of chemical dependency, many drug abusers deny their problem and have to be pushed into treatment by family and friends. Similarly, punishing Howe because he's a second offender ignores the fact that drug dependency, like many other illnesses, can require prolonged treatment and may result in relapses. To be sure, a club may well reach a point where its patience with a compulsive cocaine user is exhausted, but defining that point could just as easily depend, as with other illnesses, on how the condition affects athletic performance and a player's value to his team. The Washington Bullets admirably dealt with Guard John Lucas' drug addiction as an illness rather than a matter for punishment but, after Lucas was repeatedly AWOL from practices and games over an extended period, finally concluded last season that he was hurting the team and released him. The Dodgers obviously hadn't reached that stage with Howe; they had merely decided to "treat" what they acknowledge to be an illness with punishment.
None of this is to ignore, of course, that the sale or possession of cocaine is a crime and that its use by ballplayers may erode the game's appeal among fans and put the players in touch with pushers who have ties to organized crime. This in turn raises the specter of scandals, including major drug busts and game-fixing attempts. For all these reasons, sports officials can and should cooperate with law-enforcement authorities in trying to control the cocaine traffic.
Still, it's hard to see how baseball's gratuitous disciplining of Howe can have any effect other than to drive the use of cocaine by players further underground, where it will be even more difficult to root out. Although the action against Howe was accompanied by predictable protestations of concern about the game's "integrity" and "image," baseball's higher-ups might better express that concern by leaving punishment to law authorities and confining themselves to offering players every opportunity for rehabilitation. "We can't tolerate the use of illegal drugs," O'Malley said in defense of his club's action against Howe. Yet dealing with cocaine dependency as a disability isn't tolerating the problem. Rather, it's the most realistic way of trying to solve it.
READING AND WRITHING
Richard Coop, who teaches educational psychology at the University of North Carolina, and Robert Rotella, director of sports psychology at the University of Virginia, have written a book aimed at helping student-athletes do better in their academic work. The book, Becoming a Winner in the Classroom, which will be published later this summer, approaches the subject pragmatically. Coop and Rotella feel that the classroom weaknesses evident in so many college athletes are to a large extent the result of poor study practices and weak test-taking skills. They further maintain that these are areas in which the athlete, accustomed as he is to working hard to learn techniques on the field or in the arena, can improve markedly.
Coop says, "We're telling the athlete, 'Read your professor and read your textbook as if you're reading a defensive secondary.' " The word "read" in this context means analyze and solve, i.e., look at the professor, the text and the course itself as problems to be solved. The word apparently isn't meant to be taken literally. Not wishing to scare off readers with forbidding pages of unrelieved text, Coop and Rotella have put their advice in the form of a conversation among three student-athletes. "We have illustrations, too," says Coop. "We wanted something they won't be overwhelmed by." Recognizing that some student-athletes might find even the illustrated conversations heavy going. Coop and Rotella have taken another step to assure that nobody is overwhelmed. They're also making their book available on tape cassettes.
The Alabama football team has decided against wearing black armbands next season in memory of Bear Bryant. Instead, 'Bama players will honor their late coach by wearing houndstooth hat decals on their helmets.
THE LONG OFF-SEASON
It was bad enough that the Cincinnati Bengals got bounced from last season's NFL playoffs in the first round by the New York Jets 44-17. Look what's happened to the Bengals since then. In March Tight End Dan Ross signed a three-year contract with the Boston Breakers of the USFL, whom he'll join in 1984 after completing the one year left on his Bengal contract. Last week Wide Receiver Cris Collinsworth followed Ross's lead by signing a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL; Collinsworth has two years to go on his contract with the Bengals, so he won't join the Bandits until 1985. Also last week, Fullback Pete Johnson and Defensive End Ross Browner testified under limited guarantees of immunity from prosecution at a trial in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati that they had purchased cocaine.
These developments put Bengal owner Paul Brown on the spot. In the past Brown has taken a dim view of what he construes as disloyalty, in which category he almost certainly would put the Ross and Collinsworth signings. In 1974, after Linebacker Bill Bergey signed a contract to switch two years later to the World Football League, Brown traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles. There's also the case of backup Quarterback Jack Thompson, who claimed the Bengals had breached his contract by not paying him during last year's NFL strike and refused to rejoin the team at the end of the walkout. The Bengals traded him last month to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brown also can't be happy with the confessions of cocaine purchases by Johnson and Browner; over the years he has given the boot to players suspected of being involved with drugs.
If Brown acts true to form, he would send Ross, Collinsworth, Johnson and Browner packing. But he's plainly in a pickle. The players he unloaded in the past for drug involvement weren't stars of Johnson's or Browner's magnitude, and he couldn't get rid of those two, plus his two key receivers, without seriously damaging his franchise. While waiting to see what the boss might or might not do about the four players, Bengal Coach Forrest Gregg could only sigh and say, "We've had no good news at all. I'll be glad when this off-season is over."
The word hero is used so loosely in sports that when Running Back Joe Delaney of the Kansas City Chiefs drowned last week while trying to rescue two 11-year-old boys from a pond in Monroe, La., the temptation was great to search for some alternative way to describe him. But Delaney's death was heroic. A poor swimmer, he unhesitatingly plunged, still in street clothes, into the pond to answer the boys' cries for help. One of the youths Delaney tried to save drowned. The other, whom Delaney helped pull out before going under himself, was hospitalized in critical condition and died 12 hours later. A third boy made it to shore on his own.
It's hard to identify the qualities that move a person to heroism, but Delaney was widely admired for his strength of character. He grew up on a Louisiana farm and was an early riser, a hard worker and, usually, the first player to arrive at Arrowhead Stadium for practice. Delaney was the AFC rookie of the year in 1981, and Marv Levy, then the Chiefs' coach, said of him at the time: "He was tuned in from the first day he came here. He was willing to work for everything he got. He works too hard. Some rookies sort of cool it and don't learn and say, 'I'll get it by osmosis. Experience will get it for me.' But Joe works at it. I have said it before: People expect too much from rookies, rookies don't expect enough of themselves. That does not apply to Joe Delaney."
WHAT SPORT DID YOU SAY THAT WAS?
The lead sentence of a news release from Prairie View (Texas) A&M: "Basketball Coach Jim Duplantier announced the signing of eight basketball players to national letters of intent to play basketball for Prairie View A&M University next basketball season."
EDGING OUT A NUCLEAR DEBATE
As the season wound down, the same old defense of the USFL was heard—that it was doing better in its TV ratings than expected and that ABC was making money televising its games. And, indeed, the USFL's average season-long rating on ABC going into Sunday's final regular-season telecast was 6.1, comfortably better than the average 5 rating on which the network based the price it was charging advertisers for commercial time. But a less happy fact was that this relatively high figure was attributable mainly to heavy viewing early in the season, when curiosity about the upstart league ran high. In each of the last four weeks, ratings had dipped below 5.
Despite the poorer late-season ratings, the USFL doggedly continued to insist that it would survive and eventually prosper. If it makes good on this vow, it might look back to the evening of Friday, June 17 as the low-water mark of its inaugural-season ratings struggle. That was the night ABC, to make room on its Sunday schedule for the U.S. Golf Open, carried its only prime-time game, a 29-14 victory by the Chicago Blitz over the Birmingham Stallions. The Friday night telecast wound up with a 4.8 rating, which, for evening network fare, was truly dismal. ABC tried to put the best face on the situation by noting that sports events don't usually do as well in prime time as on weekend afternoons, but that argument was at least partly belied by the fact that its own Monday night NFL telecasts generally receive ratings in the high teens or low 20s.
Just how bad was the 4.8 Friday night figure? Well, it put the Blitz-Stallion game dead last among 72 prime-time network shows that week and ahead of only one other show for the entire season. That was a tape-delayed program on CBS on April 23 featuring some heavy political discourse among present and former government officials from the U.S., West Germany and Great Britain. The show was billed—obviously not grandly enough—as The Great Nuclear Arms Debate.
SMALL MAC ATTACK
Other than the fact that all are guards, all are under 6'2" and all starred for their college basketball teams, what do Melvin McLaughlin of Central Michigan, Ray McCallum of Ball State and Marlow McClain of Eastern Michigan have in common? Yes, all are "Macs," but what else? Just this: They were the only players picked in last week's NBA draft from the Mid-American Conference—the teams that took them were the Cavaliers (sixth round), the Pacers (eighth round) and the Pistons (ninth round), respectively—and that conference is known, appropriately enough, as the MAC.
THEY SAID IT
•Whitey Herzog, Cardinal manager, after newly acquired Pitcher Neil Allen, a notably poor bunter, laid down a perfect suicide squeeze against his former team, the Mets: "I wasn't taking a very big chance. He's not a good hitter, either."
•Andrea Jaeger, Wimbledon finalist, discussing the ofttimes sullen on-court demeanor of Wimbledon champion John McEnroe: "He scares me."
•Chili Davis, San Francisco Giant centerfielder, upon being informed a few days before the All-Star break that he was being sent to the minors to cure a month-long slump in which his batting average had plummeted from .292 to .225: "What makes it bad is that I was looking forward to the three days off."
•Lenny Wilkens, SuperSonics coach, at a roast, for General Manager Zollie Volchok, who is retiring in August: "I told him we needed an ultrasound machine, and he asked me why we needed music in the locker room."