THE CHAMP IN THE GULF
After a 10-day visit to Iraq, former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali left that country for Jordan Sunday with 15 of the estimated 300 U.S. hostages held in Iraq by Saddam Hussein. Ali and the hostages, whose release he was credited with having arranged, left Amman on Monday bound for New York.
According to associates, Ali, who has been an immensely popular figure in the Moslem world since his conversion to Islam in 1964, made the trip in the company of his former manager Herbert Mohammed, public relations man Arthur Morrison and two members of the Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East, a group associated with former attorney general Ramsey Clark, who says that the trip's "basic purpose was peace and friendship."
The hostage release occurred as a result of a 50-minute meeting between Ali and Hussein in Baghdad on Nov. 27 during which the two men talked about the Persian Gulf's history. "There is a real fundamental-relationship between Hussein and Ali because they're both Muslims," says Lindsey Clennell, a British filmmaker who is making a documentary about Ali and was also in the delegation. "Ali wasn't taking a political, Iraqi-bashing stand. He was going basically to assert the need for peace in the gulf because Ali's against war." Said Ali after the meeting, "This is the land of the Garden of Eden, and the land where Abraham was born. How could it be bombed?"
This was not the first time Ali had undertaken a quasi-diplomatic mission. In 1980, at President Carter's request, he made a tour of five African nations in hopes of persuading them to join the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. That trip generated controversy when Ali acknowledged that had he known more about the U.S.'s failure to support the African nations' boycott of the '76 Olympics, he might not have undertaken the mission.
Despite the happy outcome of his Iraq visit, Ali was once again opening himself to second guessing. Was he playing into the hands of Hussein, whom the Bush Administration, among others, has accused of using the selective release of foreign hostages to divide the international alliance against Iraq? Of greater concern to some of Ali's other associates was whether Morrison's presence indicated that Ali has fallen too much under Morrison's sway. Morrison, who has offices in California and Florida, for some years has been involved in business deals with Ali, some of which have gone sour amid accusations that Morrison misrepresented the extent of the ex-champ's participation.
There were wire-service reports that during the trip Ali, who suffers from Parkinson's syndrome, sometimes had to communicate through the use of hand signals. "I think that was a little exaggerated," Morrison told SI in a telephone interview from Amman. "Ali has spoken many times. He chose a vow of silence out of respect for the [hostages] until he had met with Iraqi officials."
In California, Ali's wife, Lonnie, said last Saturday that when Ali left New York the previous Monday, he took with him only enough medication for five days, which meant that by the time he left Iraq on Sunday, he had been without medication for eight days. Said Lonnie, "That is why, when people see him on the news, his symptoms are exaggerated. From what I understand, he is very, very tired."
One of the released hostages, Harry Brill-Edwards, an engineer from Fort Lee, N.J., said, "He's quiet, but he's better than I expected. His speech is halting, but he's sharp. To make that long journey in his condition-he's just a tremendous human being."
Of the possibility that Ali was being manipulated by others, Clennell said it is typical of Ali not to worry about such matters: "Ali always has shared himself with everybody, unconditionally. That's what makes him so special."
DETOUR TO YOUTH?
The New York Road Runners Club, which organizes and oversees the New York City Marathon, said last week that 20 of the entrants in the Nov. 4 race had been disqualified for various infractions. Intriguingly, all 20 were men, and almost all were over 40. Among those caught was the apparent winner in the men's 60-69 age group, Jim McNearny of Melbourne, Fla., who crossed the line in 2:41:28 but failed to pass through two of the course's four video checkpoints.
Dr. Harold Selman, a Manhattan psychiatrist and marathoner who helps runners prepare mentally for the New York event, offered an explanation for the narrow demographic profile of the alleged cheaters. "When you are a man and you are over 40, you are into midlife crisis," Selman said. "You don't want your time to decline. You want to be young, powerful, potent. But who are you fooling? It's a very sad, pathological thing to do, like cheating at solitaire."
Women should be better anglers than men. That, at least, is the implication of Salmon and Women: The Feminine Angle, a new 176-page book by Peter Behan, a professor of clinical neurology at Glasgow University, and Wilma Paterson, a British free-lance writer. Their explanation for this lies in pheromones, the hormones that mammals, insects and fish use to, among other things, attract mates. "It seems quite possible that [salmon] could sense the sex hormones of women and be attracted to them," write Behan and Paterson.
As Behan and Paterson note, the biggest salmon ever caught in a river in Great Britain was a 64-pounder landed by Georgina Ballantine on the Tay in Scotland in 1922. And the largest shark caught off the British coast was a 500-pound mako that Joyce Yallop hooked in '71.
The experts are not convinced. Asks Dr. Steve McCormick, a researcher at the Northeast Anadromous Fish Research Lab in Turners Falls, Mass., "Even if fish could sense [women's pheromones], why would they respond with feeding behavior? That's not my first response when I'm sexually aroused."
PUNISHING BEN KELSO
Earlier this year SI's William Nack wrote a story about Ben Kelso, the basketball coach at Detroit's Cooley High (A Lesson in Survival, March 5), in which Kelso acknowledged, among other things, giving food and clothes to players and intentionally sending the wrong players to the free throw line during a game. The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) revealed in its November bulletin that based on an investigation prompted by Nack's story, it had put Cooley on probation for two years and suspended Kelso from coaching the Cardinals in this season's district tournament.
Kelso, who led Cooley to three straight Michigan Class A titles from 1987 to '89, offers explanations for most of the actions reported by Nack. Cooley is situated in a poor section of northwestern Detroit, and Kelso, who has been a father figure to many of his players, says the gifts of food and clothing were made out of necessity. For example, addressing the MHSAA's finding that he had given a player a coat, Kelso says, "A player came to me in the dead of winter. He didn't have a coat, so I gave him my coat." He adds that the coat was eight years old. Of an MHSAA determination that he had given food to a player, Kelso says, "The kid had been home sick for a week. He called and said there was no food in the house. I'd be a very poor man if I heard something like that and didn't do something about it."
As for whether he encouraged his players to switch at the foul line, Kelso now says that Nack misunderstood him. "I was aware of [wrong players going to the line], but I didn't premeditate anything," he says. "Coaches see things the refs miss all the time. If I'm sitting on the sideline and I see a kid step out of bounds, but the ref misses it, am I supposed to stop the game?" He points out that the opposing coach alerted the referee to the mistakes, but to no avail.
Says Jack Roberts, the executive director of the MHSAA, "The article brought our attention [to these violations]. We contacted the school and asked them to check out the quotes attributed to him. There appeared to be violations." According to Roberts, Cooley officials were "totally uncooperative." Roberts says that in addition to charges involving food and clothing, "there are also serious allegations of paying kids. The article itself says thousands of dollars." What Roberts seems to be referring to is $600 in summer school tuition fees and $2,000 for a van that Kelso bought, donated to the school and then used to drive some team members to summer school, both of which were mentioned in Nack's story. Says Roberts, "The rule is that outside season, school vehicles are not to be used." Kelso concedes that on some days he made as many as two 40-mile trips to Ypsilanti and back so that his players would not miss any summer school.
Still, the MHSAA seems to have overreacted. Kelso may have been guilty of unsportsmanlike behavior in the free throw episode, but even his opponents would have trouble persuading anyone that he's a cheater. As for the favors bestowed on players, it is true that the MHSAA has rules against such actions. But those regulations are aimed at coaches who use gifts as recruiting inducements, whereas Kelso is not known to recruit players from outside the Cooley area. "The players were already attending Cooley," he says. As Kelso rightly suggests, he would have been far more culpable had he not helped his players. "I would do it again without regret," he says. "Teaching has always seemed to me to be a helping profession."
Ali talked history with Hussein and left with 15 U.S. hostages.
THEY SAID IT
•Lou Duva, manager of heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, on portly challenger George Foreman: "Some people say George is fit as a fiddle, but I think he looks more like a cello."