PREYING ON BIRDS OF PREY
For three years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and wildlife agencies in Canada conducted a secret "sting" operation into suspected illegal trafficking in endangered peregrine falcons and other raptors. Two weeks ago the operation bore fruit with the arrest of 29 people in the U.S. and three in Canada. And those in the know say the investigation isn't over; they expect the number of arrests to reach 80 or more. According to authorities, the birds were taken from the wild and sold through go-betweens to customers in Europe and the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where peregrines are prized possessions. They said that a falcon that initially brought from $5,000 to $10,000 in the U.S. could command up to $130,000 from Saudi purchasers.
"They were taking the birds from the wild and trading them through French and German middlemen simply because in Saudi Arabia the sheiks like to fly falcons," says Donald Carr, chief of the Wildlife and Marine Resources section of the U.S. Justice Department, which worked with Fish and Wildlife in the sting. "We've arrested people in 14 states and we seized somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 birds, most of which were protected. We took one small plane and several trucks. The defendants were all over the lot. We have some very respectable doctors and others who, when they were arrested, had dope and counterfeit money on them."
Conservationists contend that illegal trafficking in falcons was abetted by Interior Secretary James Watt's decision last year to have the Fish and Wildlife Service relax regulations forbidding the sale of raptors bred in captivity. That action, they say, encouraged unscrupulous falconers to pass off wild birds as captive-bred.
Authorities estimate that as many as 500 raptors were taken from the wild during the three-year sting operation, including perhaps 100 of the U.S.'s 500 known wild peregrines. Moreover, Amos Eno, director of wildlife for the Audubon Society, says there was at least a 50% mortality rate among the birds taken. "The birds Fish and Wildlife found are in absolutely deplorable condition," Eno said. "They had rickets and couldn't stand up. Only one of them was in decent condition. Those guys were turning them over so fast they didn't give a damn."
Eno, whose organization is lobbying to rescind last year's easing of restrictions on captive-bred raptor sales, also points out that $14 million in federal funds has been spent over the past decade to save the peregrines, an expenditure of tax dollars that "has been neutralized by these badniks."
Because his team didn't make the USFL playoffs, Dan Ross, a tight end who played for the Cincinnati Bengals last year and then joined the USFL's New Orleans Breakers, has finally been getting a well-earned rest. One of more than 40 NFL-jumpers who began playing in the new league almost immediately, Ross had participated in 38 professional football games in 46 weeks, including exhibitions.
"It was a grind," he says. "I think I'm the only guy to come over from the NFL who played all the games. Most of the others were hurt." In fact, there were at least a few other NFL-jumpers who lasted the whole USFL season.
Asked about differences between the two leagues, Ross says, "The size of the linemen. The NFL's are a lot bigger, taller, heavier. And the defensive backs are better in the NFL. But our head coach at New Orleans, Dick Coury, was a lot easier to understand. His plays were simple—and he handled people nicely. I think he's a hell of a guy.
"Maybe the biggest difference was the officiating. There were some good USFL officials, but there were a lot of poor ones. One cost us a couple of games. What a mouth on that guy. He cursed a guy on our team who was a born-again Christian.
"New Orleans? It's a party town. I can see now why the NFL team has had trouble winning there."
STEMMING THE RED TIDE
In 1982 Colorado coach Bill McCartney not only looked on helplessly while his Buffaloes were stomped at home 40-14 by Nebraska, but he also had to listen to the cheers of red-clad Nebraska rooters who filled almost half the seats at Colorado's Folsom Field. The demand for tickets at Nebraska's home games in Lincoln is so great—the Cornhuskers have sold out every home game for as long as anybody can remember—that the only chance some fans have to see the Huskers play is to travel long distances to road games against schools (Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado) whose followers don't fill the stadium.
With Nebraska scheduled to visit Boulder on Oct. 20, McCartney has written a letter to Colorado season-ticket holders and other Buffalo fans, pleading with them not to sell their seats to the invading Husker partisans. "We need the stadium at home games to be filled predominantly with Buff fans," he wrote passionately. "Please give this your sincere consideration. I am available to discuss this with you personally."
MOTOWN BLUES (CONT.)
The sorry record of Detroit's pro teams in playoff competition (SCORE-CARD, May 14) continues. You may recall that the NFL Lions, the NHL Red Wings, the NBA Pistons and the Spirits of the Continental Basketball Association all made their playoffs only to lose in the first round. On June 30 the USFL's defending champion Panthers became the fifth successive Motown representative to take the pipe in a playoff when they lost to the Los Angeles Express 27-21 (although the Panthers certainly did their best to break the string, playing the longest game in pro football history—93 minutes, 33 seconds—before succumbing).
The Tigers still seem a good bet to win the American League East race, but under the circumstances, what prudent Detroit fan can feel confident that they'll survive the AL playoffs, much less win the. World Series?
ALL AROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH
Bobby Grich of the California Angels had three hits in a game earlier this season against the Chicago White Sox, but in trying to take extra bases either on his own or on teammates' hits, he was thrown out at second base, at third base and at home. After manager John McNamara lifted him in the seventh inning, Grich said, "I told Mac he blew it. All he had to do was leave me in for one more at bat, and I would've gotten thrown out at first base to set a major league record. I would've run for the cycle."
SURPRISES AND EMBARRASSMENTS
Shame on U.S. Olympic Committee higher-ups for acting surprised by a Los Angeles Times story last week about Paul Ward, the coordinator of a USOC-sponsored elite-athlete program for discus, javelin and hammer throwers and shotputters. Ward, a coach in Huntington Beach, Calif., defended the use of anabolic steroids, which are banned at the Olympics and other international competitions, and said he'd made information available to participants in the elite-athlete program on dosage and other matters that could conceivably be used to beat tests for steroids. Reacting indignantly, USOC executive director F. Don Miller said that Ward "has done a tragic disservice, an injustice to our goals for a drug-free amateur sports family by his widely publicized stance and activities." And Mike Moran, the USOC's director of communications, said there was "no chance" Ward would any longer be involved in the elite-athlete program, which ended this spring but is expected to resume next year.
Where have Miller and Moran been? If they weren't aware of Ward's "stances and activities" before now, they should have been. After the drug scandal at last year's Pan American Games in Caracas in which a dozen American athletes went home under a cloud of suspicion, an editorial in this space accused the USOC of culpability in the Caracas developments. Among other things, we quoted Tom Petranoff, the American holder of the world record in the javelin and a participant in Ward's program, as having said he attended elite-athlete seminars at which doctors provided information that might be useful in avoiding detection (SCORECARD, Sept. 5, 1983). SI has since learned that one of those doctors was Robert Kerr, a sports medicine specialist in San Gabriel, Calif., who has long acknowledged giving anabolic steroids to athletes. Kerr spoke to Ward's group in late 1982 about the supposed benefits of steroids and human growth hormone, a substance whose use by athletes is a source of concern for both health and ethical reasons.
The mere appearance by Kerr before Ward's group should have set off alarms among USOC officials. However, no action was taken against Ward, even though Kenneth Clarke, the director of the USOC's Sports Medicine Division, last week admitted to SI's Armen Keteyian that he was aware of Kerr's appearance before the elite-athlete group and was familiar with both Ward's and Kerr's views on steroids. Dr. Irving Dardik, chairman of the USOC Sports Medicine Council, told Keteyian the same thing, as did Dr. James Puffer, the U.S. team doctor at last year's World University Games, and Dr. Harmon Brown, chairman of The Athletics Congress sports medicine committee. Brown also indicated that he was aware of ultimately unsuccessful efforts by Ward to set up "informational" anabolic steroid testing that could have been used to help the throwers beat Olympic doping tests. Clarke, Dardik, Brown and Puffer are members of a nine-man USOC drug-control task force organized by the USOC after the Caracas embarrassment.
Miller insists that he "never received any indication" of Ward's activities from any of the four above-mentioned members of the USOC medical hierarchy. If that's the case, the USOC has a serious communications problem. But because of Petranoff's disclosure, Miller and other USOC officials couldn't have been wholly in the dark. All of which suggests one thing: Despite intermittently strong rhetoric on the subject and the much-ballyhooed introduction of mandatory doping tests at national Olympic trials, the USOC is still dragging its feet in curbing drug use among this country's world-class athletes.
BRACE YOURSELVES, BALTIMOREANS
Talk about cruel humor. A gift shop in Indianapolis is selling Indianapolis Orioles T shirts.
THEY SAID IT
•Bobby Clarke, on his new responsibilities as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers: "I've discovered that the less I say, the more rumors I start."
•Rick Monday, waived by the Los Angeles Dodgers after 18 years in the big leagues, on what he thinks of youth movements in baseball: "They're great, if you're part of them."
•Billy Gardner, Minnesota Twins manager, after being fined $150 for spitting tobacco juice at umpire Dale Ford: "I don't know what he was complaining about. The club does their dry cleaning."
•Stan Kasten, Atlanta Hawk general manager, after acquiring Antoine Carr from the Detroit Pistons to pair at forward with Dominique Wilkins: "Forget about being America's team. With Antoine and Dominique, I like to think of us as France's team."
•Kiki Vandeweghe, Portland Trail Blazer forward, asked if he acquired any bad habits on defense with his former club, the high-scoring Denver Nuggets: "How could I? We didn't play any."