Family ownership isn't the only way for the NFL
Unlike baseball and the NBA, the NFL prohibits the sale of franchises to corporations. The Chicago Cubs are owned by the Tribune Company and the New York Knicks by Paramount Communications, but since 1970 the NFL has barred corporate ownership for fear that, as former commissioner Pete Rozelle once said, it "would make it impossible for us to control ownership of our league."
Now the NFL's no-corporations policy is under fire. Two weeks ago, former New England Patriots owner William Sullivan filed a $348 million antitrust suit in federal court in Providence against the NFL, charging that the league improperly prevented him from selling 49% of the Patriots to an investment bank in 1987. Sullivan, who sold the club the following year to Victor Kiam, says that Rozelle selectively enforced the prohibition against corporate ownership when he allowed San Francisco 49er owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. to transfer title of his club in 1986 to his family's development corporation. (Last year the NFL fined DeBartolo $500,000 for making that transfer, but the league allowed the new ownership arrangement to stand.)
Even if Sullivan loses his suit, there are indications that the league's new guard, led by commissioner Paul Tagliabue, is softer on the issue of corporate ownership than Rozelle was. If allowed to buy teams, corporations presumably would bid up the value of franchises, benefiting all clubs. Nevertheless, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Dan Rooney, whose father, Art, founded the team, speaks for several owners when he says, "Change creates concern."
That concern, however, may be largely unfounded. For example, some family owners fret that corporations will upset the competitive balance by spending too lavishly on player salaries. Mike Brown, assistant general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals and son of the team's founder, Paul, says, "We have always opposed corporate involvement in NFL teams for the obvious reason that corporations can fund the operation of teams far beyond anything we could do."
But there's no reason to think that a corporation, which has to answer to shareholders, would spend much more freely on players than current owners do. After all, NFL players don't enjoy unlimited free agency, so clubs don't have to get into bidding wars for players. "This competitive advantage thing escapes me completely," says Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, one of a handful of old-line owners who are open-minded about corporate ownership. "You don't need to have a corporate structure to go out and pay a lot of money. You can just write a check."
The anticorporation forces also profess to be worried about commercialization. "[Corporations] could start viewing football as a promotion for their other businesses," says Rooney. Yet that hasn't been a problem in baseball or the NBA; Patrick Ewing has yet to appear in ads for Paramount movies. What's more, NFL owners don't seem too distressed about commercialization, now. Bud Bowls I, II and III came and went even though Anheuser-Busch doesn't own an NFL team. Clearly, one reason some owners are resisting corporate ownership is that it would mean the end of the NFL as a pop-and-pop operation. Charming though the idea might be, the NFL isn't a club of cigar-puffing old men sitting in leather chairs sipping Scotch. It's a business, and the league ought to admit as much.
An Urban Indian
A half Sioux tackles the WLAF—and some big issues
Although the World League of American Football plays in far-flung places like Barcelona and Frankfurt, virtually all of its players are U.S. natives. But only one is a Native American. He is 26-year-old Jim Warne, a starting offensive tackle for the New York-New Jersey Knights. His mother, Beverly, is a full Sioux who was raised on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Warne says that he learned most of what he knows about Sioux culture from her.
Warne describes himself as "an urban Indian" and doubts that he would be playing football if he had grown up on a reservation. "The sad reality is that most kids on the reservations never go to college or have the opportunity that I had to succeed in sports," says Warne. "Those few who get to college have to struggle with the culture shock of suddenly living in a white man's world."
After attending Tempe Union High and Mesa Community College in Arizona, Warne went in 1983 to Arizona State, where he majored in exercise physiology. By his senior year, he was a starter on the football team. The Cincinnati Bengals picked him in the 11th round of the 1987 draft and released him in their final cut. He later played three games for the Detroit Lions during the '87 NFL players' strike.
Truth be told, Warne receives more attention for his size (6'6", 311 pounds) and his ethnic background than he does for his football prowess. His nickname is Chief because of his resemblance to the taciturn giant in the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He wears his waist-length hair in a ponytail, which swings out from under his helmet as he runs.
In the off-season Warne is a graduate student in physical therapy at San Diego State, and last winter he obtained a state grant to establish alcohol treatment centers for youths on reservations in San Diego County. "Football gives me the spotlight to tell people that Indians are not Hollywood stereotypes, circling the wagons and killing people," says Warne. "I want to enlighten the white population about Native Americans and help some of my own people at the same time."
An invention lets golfers warm up while messing up
"Some players are still too embarrassed to use it in front of other people," says Oscar Shupp, an assistant in the pro shop at the Rich Maiden Golf Course in Fleetwood, Pa. Shupp is referring to what looks like a Brobdingnagian butterfly net, a 12-foot-tall contraption billed as the first ball-returning practice net for golf. On the market since April, the so-called Mulligan Net is designed for golfers who need a few practice swings before a round but don't want to hit a whole bucket of balls. It also "gives the golf course a chance to make money," says its inventor, Keith Doyle.
To work the Mulligan Net, the golfer purchases a 50-cent token at the pro shop good for six balls, inserts the token in the machine, then stands on a platform in the mouth of the net and hits at a target a yard in diameter affixed to the back of the net 20 feet away.
Two dozen Mulligan Nets are currently in use, most at golf courses not far from Doyle's home in York, Pa. Each net costs $5,995 to buy, but Doyle estimates that soon clubs will be able to lease one for about $200 a month. This summer he expects to introduce a larger version that will make it possible for four golfers to swing away at once—and, not incidentally, could increase his own net considerably.
Man of Style
Boxing loses one of its most colorful figures
Harold Conrad, the fight publicist and promoter who died last week at the age of 80, was an unusual character in a sport that has had more than its share of them. Tall, slender, elegantly tailored and usually sporting an ascot, dark glasses and a long cigarette holder, Conrad beat the drums for champs and bums. When Sonny Liston's manager, Jack Nilon, once greeted him contemptuously, Conrad flicked one of his manicured hands and said, "I'm around to give you bums some class."
Conrad dispensed truth and hokum with such aplomb that Budd Schulberg based the character of press agent Eddie Willis on him in his 1947 novel The Harder They Fall. Humphrey Bogart played Willis in the movie version, a characterization that moved Schulberg to say, "Close your eyes, and the legendary Bogie sounds like our very own Harold Conrad."
A sportswriter and Broadway columnist for his hometown paper, the Brooklyn Eagle, in the '30s, Conrad served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Although he never rose higher than private first class, he was sometimes mistaken for a general because he wore an absolutely resplendent uniform tailored for him by a theatrical costumer. After the war, Conrad was nightclub and movie editor for the New York Mirror, wrote scripts for the Joe Palooka radio show and screenplays, and worked the publicity game. In 1947 he became the press agent for a Florida gambling club owned by mobsters Joe Adonis and Frank Costello. His main responsibility, said Conrad, was to keep the joint's name out of the papers.
Conrad knew everybody. He palled around with Damon Runyon, Joey Adams, Muhammad Ali, Leo Durocher, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, TV Superman George Reeves and the Duke of Windsor. Conrad became a full-time fight flack in 1961, the year he promoted the second Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson bout. A master of hype, he said the third Ali-Joe Frazier fight, the celebrated Thrilla in Manila, was his easiest bout. "No hard sell there," said Conrad. "The [Philippine] government told people, 'Go or else.' The joint was packed." In 1974 Conrad promoted Evel Knievel's Snake River Canyon jump.
Conrad took great satisfaction in the coup he scored in the late 1940s, when he was the press agent for an obscure event in Oakland that was billed as the American Rollerskating Championships. Desperate for publicity, he looked up Casey Stengel, an old friend from Brooklyn who was then managing the Oakland team in the Pacific Coast League. "We had a couple of drinks, and I asked Casey if he would do me a favor," recalled Conrad. "I tell him all I want him to do is to put on a pair of skates and pose for photographers. He says, 'Sure, just as long as I don't have to skate. I don't know how.' So he's game. I get the photographers and put the skates on Casey. Just as he stands up, I give him a good shove from behind, and he goes sailing. We got a lot of space with that."
—ROBERT H. BOYLE
The Nitro High players keep their eyes on the ball
On May 15 the Nitro (W.Va.) High Softball team defeated Barboursville High 12-6 in a regional semifinal game to earn a date with Milton High, the defending state champion, in the regional final. Unfortunately, that date happened to be Saturday, May 18, at 3 p.m., two hours before Nitro High's prom. "For the girls, both events were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities," says Nitro coach Ken Ash. "I told them the situation and asked them to think about it."
Though the dance lasts only a few hours, pre-prom primping usually takes up most of the afternoon, and post-prom celebrations typically go into the wee hours of the next day. Ash tried to reschedule the game for Saturday morning, but Milton refused, partly because its prom was set for Friday night.
When the game couldn't be rescheduled, the Nitro players decided to forfeit it. "I thought they were kidding," says Milton pitcher Brooke Adkins. "Our team wouldn't do that."
To his credit, Ash defends his team. "It was a tough decision for these kids," he says. "They have been playing Softball since they were eight years old. So you know that if they were willing to forfeit this game, the prom meant a lot to them."
FOCUS ON SPORTS
Sullivan, Rozelle, Tagliabue and DeBartolo (left to right) are the four key players in Sullivan's antitrust suit, but every NFL owner will be watching closely.
[See caption above.]
[See caption above.]
PETER READ MILLER
[See caption above.]
Warne hopes to use football to correct stereotypes of Native Americans.
The Mulligan Net could prove to be a warming trend among golfers.
Conrad worked the phones like a champ.
[Thumb Up]To jockey Jerry Bailey, who donated the Chrysler LeBaron he won for riding Hansel to victory in the Preakness Stakes to the Jockeys' Guild. Bailey specified that the car be used for disabled jockeys.
[Thumb Up]To the GTE Academic All-America Team, for conducting a seminar for 200 high school coaches on the importance of academics for young athletes. The seminar was held at the group's annual meeting, in Dallas.
[Thumb Down]To the Greek Olympic Committee, for its threat to boycott festivities for the 100th anniversary of the Olympics, in Atlanta in 1996. The GOC said its decision was an "expression of disapproval" for not being awarded the Games.
Making a List
The 45th College World Series begins on Friday in Omaha. Ron Fraser, who has led Miami into 11 series since becoming Hurricanes coach in 1963, has seen some great performances at the event. Here, based on those performances, is Fraser's all-College World Series team:
CF Fred Lynn
.467, 6 RBIs in 5 games
LF Dave Winfield
.467, 2.08 ERA in 17‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings pitched
RF Paul Carey
.381, 7 RBIs in 6 games
SS Spike Owen
.529, 4 doubles in 4 games
2B Billy Bates
2 homers, 10 runs in 6 games
3B Robin Ventura
OKLA. ST., 1986
.600, 5 RBIs in 4 games
P George Milke
3-0, 1.66 ERA in 21⅖ inn.
1B Will Clark
MISS. ST., 1985
.467, 2 homers in 4 games
DH Greg Ellena
12 hits, 3 homers in 6 games
C Chris Bando
ARIZ. ST., 1978
.400, 10 RBIs in 5 games
RP Danny Smith
3 saves in 5 games
A Ballpark Figure
The Detroit Tigers and the city of Detroit have been arguing for months over whether to renovate or tear down 79-year-old Tiger Stadium, which the team leases from the city. Now it may no longer be their concern. According to a wire story last week, David Malhalab, 40, a Detroit police officer, sent a $2 check with "Purchase Tiger Stadium" written on it to city hall on April 10. The city cashed the check on May 15. "As far as I know, I own it," says Malhalab, who adds that he may renovate the stadium.
Earlier this season, Colby College defeated Drew University 10-9 in a lacrosse game, with Billy Bush scoring two goals for Colby and Stefan Zorich three for Drew. The game's outcome seemed apt: Bush is the President's nephew, and Zorich is the nephew of Michael Dukakis.
THEY SAID IT
Lonnie Smith, Atlanta Braves outfielder, on his 0-for-4 performance against San Diego Padres pitcher Bruce Hurst: "It was the best he's ever made me look bad."
Jon Casey, Minnesota North Star goalie, on the support the team received during the Stanley Cup playoffs: "We appreciate all the fans that are here, but we really respect the five or six who stayed with us all year."
Replay: 35 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
Floyd Patterson was training for his heavyweight fight against Tommy (Hurricane) Jackson when he appeared on our June 4, 1956, cover. Jackson's manager, Lippy Breidbart, called his fighter The Animal, and said, "You take any man against an animal. I'll bet on the animal." He should have taken the man.