The Athletic Congress's year-round, out-of-competition drug-testing program, though admirable in its intent, is turning out to be flawed. The program, which began in October, requires that each week 14 athletes, selected at random from a pool comprising the top 15 Americans from every track and field event, be tested both for steroids and for drugs that mask the presence of steroids. The 14 must report to a TAC-certified tester within 48 hours of receiving notification. Failure to report results in the same punishment as a positive test: a two-year suspension.
While the program appears to be deterring drug use—"Times are up, and people are skinnier," notes hurdler Edwin Moses—there have been complications. TAC has encountered such a shortage of qualified sample collectors that it excuses from testing any athlete who lives more than 75 miles from a collector. Of the 98 athletes selected during the first seven weeks of 1990, 67 were excused on this basis.
A seemingly innocent victim of the program is steeplechaser Henry Marsh, 36, a four-time U.S. Olympian who has pushed hard for increased drug testing. On the morning of Dec. 19, a Federal Express envelope arrived at Marsh's house in Bountiful, Utah. Marsh, a lawyer, was in Washington, D.C., on business and didn't arrive home until late that night. Only after his wife showed him the envelope the next morning did he open it and learn he had been selected for testing.
Marsh, who passed a TAC drug test in October, had to catch a 4:20 p.m. flight to Kansas City, Mo., to give a seminar, so he called his secretary and told her to phone TAC and explain that he couldn't drive the 50 miles to the nearest sample collector, in Provo. Marsh asked her to suggest that TAC have someone take his sample in Kansas City. However, the secretary didn't talk to TAC until 3:30 p.m., when TAC called to confirm that Marsh had been selected for testing.
Kansas City is one of many places that don't have a TAC sample collector, and the 48 hours elapsed without Marsh's giving a specimen. TAC thereupon suspended Marsh for two years, concluding that among other things, if he had called TAC immediately after realizing there was a conflict, there might have been time for the Provo collector to drive to Marsh's office and to take the sample there.
Ironically, Marsh, who has appealed, told TAC last fall that the program's notification process was flawed. His own experience underlines this. For example, he never signed for the Dec. 19 envelope. "Does it constitute notification if my wife signs for the package while I'm in Washington?" he asks. Marsh says TAC shouldn't have started counting down his 48 hours until he read the notification letter, and wonders why he didn't receive telephone notification from TAC until 30 hours after the letter had arrived.
Marsh is ready to take on TAC. "If they don't exonerate me, this will see court," he says, "and I think they'll have their whole program struck down."
HAPPENS A LOT, JOHN
NHL president John Ziegler, who is rarely seen at his own league's games, showed up at Madison Square Garden for Game 1 of the Islander-Ranger playoff series and watched 59 minutes and 58 seconds of terrific, fight-free hockey. Then he saw an appalling spectacle of the kind that too often mars his sport. With the clock stopped for a face-off with two seconds remaining and the Rangers about to win 2-1, Islander coach Al Arbour apparently tried to avenge a hard but clean shoulder check that Ranger James Patrick had administered about a minute earlier to Islander star Pat LaFontaine. LaFontaine had fallen backward and hit his head on the ice, knocking himself out and suffering a concussion.
Arbour sent goons Mick Vukota and Ken Baumgartner out for the final two seconds. When referee Don Koharski dropped the puck for the face-off, Vukota skated straight for the Rangers' Jeff Bloemberg and began pummeling him. Baumgartner performed a similar mugging on Ranger Kris King. Predictably, a brawl ensued. (Later, in an even uglier display outside, Ranger fans pounded on and rocked the ambulance in which LaFontaine was being taken to the hospital.)
In response, Ziegler suspended Vukota for 10 games and Baumgartner for one, and he fined the Islanders $25,000 and Arbour $5,000. Those stiff penalties were in order, but now it's up to Ziegler—who has regularly ignored incidents even more flagrant, and whose league is notorious for meting out selective punishment (the Flyers, for example, at times seem to have been granted diplomatic immunity)—to crack down on all coaches and players who ruin the game through violence and vigilantism.
Show up more often, Mr. President.
BACK TO LIFE
Last week the University of Oklahoma came to its senses and restored its women's basketball program. After dropping the program a week earlier (SCORECARD, April 9), the school's athletic department was assailed from all sides. The Oklahoma state senate voted 41-6 to condemn the scrapping of the program, and a public-interest law firm threatened to file a federal sex discrimination suit against the university on behalf of team members if women's basketball wasn't restored.
Oklahoma thought no one would care about a women's team that had gone 32-51 over the last three seasons and had drawn just 206 fans a game this season. But principle was at stake. Women should not be denied top-level athletic opportunity just because relatively few fans show up for their games. And women at a men's sports powerhouse such as Oklahoma, which spends lavishly on football but devotes less than 10% of its athletic budget to women's sports, shouldn't have to give up any sports programs—not until the athletic scale more closely balances.
One hopes that the Oklahoma case will help rejuvenate the women's sports movement, which has lost some momentum in recent years. As University of Washington women's basketball coach Chris Gobrecht said last week, "In some ways, it wasn't a bad thing for us to wake up to the fact that the battle isn't completely won yet."
Atlanta Hawk players had a pool on this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament. The winner correctly predicted that from the 64-team field, Nevada-Las Vegas and Georgia Tech would reach the Final Four, and that UNLV would triumph in the final. Which Hawk showed so keen a knowledge of college hoops? Rookie forward Alexander Volkov of the Soviet Union.
NO. 25 AND THEN SOME
With each succeeding match—and she has played all of 16 of them on the women's pro tennis tour—it has become more obvious that the true precocity of Jennifer Capriati, who turned 14 on March 29, cannot be measured by a mere computer ranking.
Capriati rampaged through the Family Circle Magazine Cup at Hilton Head Island, S.C., last week before losing to Martina Navratilova in the final 6-2, 6-4. When it was over, she had played enough pro tournaments (three) to qualify for the Virginia Slims rankings, which she entered at No. 25.
But is Capriati actually No. 25? Before playing in Hilton Head, she had beaten No. 11 Helena Sukova twice in straight sets. Then last week she embarrassed the reigning French Open champion, fifth-ranked Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-1, 6-1, defeated No. 22 Helen Kelesi in three sets and overwhelmed No. 18 Natalia Zvereva in the semis 6-0, 6-4. Capriati's victims kept insisting that she "had nothing to lose." And Sanchez Vicario said, "Maybe, few months, she'll be good enough for top 20." Right.
In truth, Capriati's talent is already at the level of the top five in the world—which it would have to be to match her graciousness. In Hilton Head she gave a point to Zvereva upon seeing that a linesman had made an incorrect ruling in Capriati's favor and conceded match point—tournament championship point—to Navratilova after another bad call. She also paid proper homage to Navratilova, 33, calling her, in teenspeak, "a legend, you know, like, a lege."
CLASS IS CANCELED
NBC Sports executive producer Terry O'Neil and NBC broadcaster Bill Walsh met last week and agreed that to avoid any question of conflict of interest, Walsh, the former 49er coach, would not conduct a planned series of weeklong camps for NFL quarterbacks and quarterback coaches (SCORECARD, April 9). Had he held the camps, Walsh would have ended up commenting on performances of some of the players he had been paid to instruct. While television sports is still rife with conflicts of interest (the most obvious being that networks profit by promoting the events they cover), NBC deserves a nod for its journalistic sensitivity in this case.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
Marsh will fight his banishment by TAC.
Capriati lost to Navratilova but won a high ranking and a lofty reputation for sportsmanship.
THEY SAID IT
•Andy Van Slyke, Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder, after striking out three times in an exhibition game against St. Louis: "I was so bad, I couldn't have driven Miss Daisy home."