Viewed strictly in free-speech terms, it seemed more than a little shocking that one of the reasons Arkansas Football Coach Lou Holtz resigned under pressure on Sunday was a growing public outcry over his support for the reelection of North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms, an old pal from Holtz's days as coach at North Carolina State. After all, a football coach ought to have the right, like any citizen, to express his political views. So why did Holtz's endorsement of a politician have anything to do with his losing his job?
The answer is that Holtz, who had taped two as-yet-unaired TV commercials for Helms, had made a lot of people in Arkansas unhappy by conspicuously backing a man whose biggest recent claim to fame was his unsuccessful filibuster against the establishment of a federal holiday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Holtz had done so, moreover, even as Arkansas was plodding to a disappointing 6-5 record and after having otherwise antagonized Arkansas fans, who had criticized him over the years for spending too much time on the out-of-state banquet circuit making jokes about Fayetteville ("It's 15 minutes from Tulsa by phone") and not enough time combing Arkansas high schools for football players. It occurred to some Razorback fans that since a lot of Arkansas' best high school players are black, Holtz's endorsement of Helms wasn't calculated to improve his recruiting results.
In other words, Holtz lost his job because of the same won-and-lost considerations that most coaches do. Free speech? A coach also has the right under the First Amendment to go around cursing out the mothers of recruits, but that would hurt his team and would probably put his job on the line, too.
RAPP SHEET ODDITIES
A while back we reported that a Boston radio station had done a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Vern Rapp, who was retiring as the Montreal Expos' first-base coach, and that the station, while interviewing people about Rapp, phoned an official of the Cincinnati Reds, who, thus alerted to Rapp's availability, wound up hiring him as their manager (SCORECARD, Oct. 17). Now Dave Mona, a Minneapolis sports-writer-turned-public relations man, tells us that the manner of his hiring as the Reds' skipper isn't the only odd thing about the 55-year-old Rapp. Rapp, who never made it to the majors as a player, had only a .252 career batting average in the minors, but his record for his last three years as a hitter was as follows:
No, there's no misprint there. Rapp had pretty much retired as a player in 1960 and was the manager at Modesto, Little Rock and Denver when he inserted himself into the batting order on the three occasions indicated above. He came up with, in turn, a single, double and single, thereby becoming, as far as we know, the only player in baseball history to 1) hit 1.000 in his last three seasons and 2) have a 16-year hitting streak.
IMPECCABLY YOURS, JOSÉ SULAIMAN
Exercising much the same care and vigilance that it does in the preparation of its rankings, the World Boxing Council has bestowed its Exemplary Boxer of the Year award for "impeccable conduct in and out of the ring" on light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks, who last April was fined $1,770 after pleading guilty in Philadelphia to a charge of carrying a firearm without a license. Police said that they saw Spinks driving a car in an "erratic manner" early on the morning of Jan. 5 and that they pursued him, pulled him over and found an unregistered .45-caliber revolver in the car. Asked after the announcement of the award about Spinks's widely publicized brush with the law, WBC President José Sulaimàn said, "I wasn't aware of it."
Bill Cooke, former sports editor of the Buffalo Courier-Express, has teamed up with Mike Ricigliano, the sports cartoonist for the Baltimore News American, to put out a line of Christmas cards with a sports motif. One card shows a football team in a huddle and features the following dialogue:
QUARTERBACK: OK...it's going to be a long pass on ten.... Got it?
TEAMMATES: Right! A bomb, on ten....
TEAMMATES: On ten, a bomb!
TEAMMATES: On ten, a bomb!
At this point the team breaks into rousing song, chorusing: "On ten, a bomb.... On ten, a bomb...!!"
Sportswriters ask a lot of questions, not all of which get answered satisfactorily. For an example of the kind of bum answers they sometimes hear, consider what Los Angeles Laker spokesman Bob Steiner had to say about San Diego Clipper Guard Norm Nixon's recent charges that when he was with the Lakers, the team had somebody tail him to determine if he was using illicit drugs. Steiner said, "We have no comment, other than to make the statement that Norm Nixon has never done anything to our knowledge that did not reflect the highest character and integrity." What Steiner failed to grasp, of course, was that it wasn't Nixon's integrity he was being asked about.
But Steiner gets higher marks in the answer department than Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka, who ran aground in trying to explain why he cut the team's punter, Bob Parsons, a 12-year veteran, with two weeks to go in the season. Although Parsons, who had played in 167 straight games, more than any other Bear in history, was having a poor season, Ditka said that he'd released him not for that reason but, rather, for disloyalty. The 33-year-old Parsons, apparently reckoning that his NFL days were numbered, had approached the Chicago Blitz of the USFL about a coaching job for next season, and Ditka felt that the punter should have held off contacting the Blitz until after the season. But hadn't Ditka, as an assistant coach with the Cowboys, written the late George Halas, the Bears' owner, during the 1981 season about the Bears' head coaching job? Asked by a sportswriter to explain the difference between his action and Parsons', Ditka called the question "asinine" and said, "If you can't surmise the difference, I'm not going to tell you."
Next question, please.
Speaking of Ditka, SI has learned that he received a written reprimand from NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle for telling Bears Safety Dave Duerson to "get" Lions Placekicker Eddie Murray on a kickoff late in the fourth quarter of a 31-17 loss to the Lions on Oct. 16 (SCORECARD, Oct. 31). Duerson blocked Murray far from the play; Murray, who writhed on the ground in pain, later said he'd suffered a dislocated shoulder that snapped back into place. Curiously, the NFL doesn't routinely announce fines or reprimands, a policy that tends to vitiate the deterrent effect of such discipline.
An action that may carry a stronger warning was the NHL Board of Governors' decision two weeks ago to uphold the 20-game suspension that Referee Dave Newell imposed on Chicago Black Hawk Center Tom Lysiak for intentionally tripping Linesman Ron Foyt during a game on Oct. 30 (SI, Nov. 14). Lysiak, the first player to receive a 20-game suspension mandated by a tough new rule intended to deter abuse of game officials, won a court restraining order blocking the suspension but dropped the suit when the NHL amended the rule to allow for appeals, something not provided for originally. The Governors were acting on Lysiak's appeal when they upheld the 20-game suspension, a decision that runs encouragingly counter to the league's ludicrous position that fighting by players is an acceptable emotional "escape valve." After all, if players have to control their emotions when dealing with officials, why can't they be expected to do the same when it comes to fighting with one another?
During a recent series of seminars for trial lawyers sponsored by the American Bar Association at the Los Angeles Hilton, San Diego Padres First Baseman Steve Garvey participated in a mock salary arbitration hearing in which an agent, Steve Greenberg, argued in favor of a big salary for Garvey, and Padres President Ballard Smith pushed for a smaller one. One of Greenberg's points was that Garvey's presence on the Padres would draw thousands of extra fans to the ball park. Really, Steve? While a concurrent seminar on Settlement Techniques and Civil Litigation in an adjoining ballroom attracted a packed house of more than 200 lawyers, fewer than 30 lawyers took in the Garvey case.
THE INCREDIBLE ALL-AMERICAN HULK
How did it happen that Dean Steinkuhler, Nebraska's 6'3", 270-pound offensive guard, was named lineman of the year by United Press International, won the Lombardi Award as the nation's best lineman and received the Outland Trophy as the top interior lineman of 1983, yet was relegated to the Associated Press's All-America second team at his own position behind Doug Dawson of Texas and Terry Long of East Carolina? Pete Brown, the Cincinnati Bengals' director of player personnel, who believes that Steinkuhler and Dawson should have been the All-America choices, blames the poster shown here. The poster, which bills Long, a top-ranked powerlifter, as the "nation's strongest football player," was mailed to members of the media at the season's start by East Carolina's sports information department, and Brown suggests that the AP selectors were unduly influenced by it.
"Long's an excellent player, but as a professional prospect I don't think he'll be taken nearly as high as Steinkuhler or Dawson," said Brown. Nevertheless, Brown lauded East Carolina tub-thumpers for a "creative publicity endeavor," and neither he nor any other Steinkuhler boosters betrayed any interest in trying to wrestle the All-America certificate away from Long, whose incredibly hulkish measurements include a 58-inch chest and 21-inch neck.
THEY SAID IT
•Del Crandall, Seattle Mariner manager, referring to the club's newly acquired second baseman: "The only thing standing between Jack Perconte and an outstanding major league career is performance."
•Scott Brunner, New York Giant quarterback, asked his reaction to the team's setting an NFL record with 51,589 no-shows in a 10-6 loss to the Cardinals: "I didn't notice. The people who sit behind the bench and yell at me were there."
•Art Gueppe, Virginia football coach from 1946 to 1952, noting at a reunion of his former players that middle-aged spread was much in evidence: "It's a pleasure to see so many of my older players here tonight who are finally big enough to play football."
•John Riggins, Redskin running back, contemplating a photo of himself in the old days with a Mohawk haircut: "Sometimes I'm stranger than truth."
•Bob Betz, Longmont (Colo.) High School basketball coach, following a loss: "That was some of the worst fun I ever had."