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Peering Through the Rings

Closer scrutiny of the U.S. Olympic Committee is needed in the wake of its president's resignation

Robert Helmick's resignation last week as president of the U.S. Olympic Committee shouldn't take the heat off that embattled organization. Helmick, who two weeks ago admitted that he had lucrative business relationships with several clients who stood to benefit from the USOC's favor (SCORECARD, Sept. 16), stepped down because, he said, the resulting controversy had "largely paralyzed" USOC operations. But concerns about the USOC's direction and ethics persist.

The day before Helmick resigned from his unpaid position, officials of U.S. Skiing, which governs the sport in this country, called for the resignation of the USOC's top salaried official, executive director Harvey Schiller. An open letter signed by U.S. Skiing president Howard Peterson and two other officials was sent to the USOC executive board, accusing Schiller of offering to use his influence to obtain a USOC grant for U.S. Skiing in exchange for ski equipment and a Gold Pass, which allows its bearer to ski free at U.S. resorts and is valued at $3,000. The letter also accused the USOC of providing funds for building Olympic training facilities without the review of the appropriate committees.

Last Thursday, the day after excerpts from the ski officials' letter appeared in USA Today, Schiller produced three canceled checks for a total of $1,184, offering them as proof that he had paid for whatever ski equipment he had received. He also said that his apparent offer to use his influence in exchange for a Gold Pass was made in jest. Schiller, who has no direct control over USOC grants, said, "If I made any mistake, it was joking with the enemy."

Upon being reached for comment by SI, a number of Peterson's peers—directors of other sports that fall under the USOC's jurisdiction—said that they accepted Schiller's explanation, and they attested to his honesty and professionalism. Said one, "We have a copy of that letter, and it's a joke, it seems. It didn't reek of anything. If that's the worst of it, then the ski team's got nothing [on Schiller]. Maybe Peterson just saw a wounded animal and took a shot."

At a U.S. Skiing open board meeting on Friday, Peterson leveled more accusations at the USOC, charging it with, among other things, inflating its administrative expenses. "We want to see how grants are given," said Peterson. "You ask for information from the USOC, and you can't have it. On what basis do you then appeal? It's all a mystery with them. And we want the records open relative to gifts. There's the perception that the IOC [the International Olympic Committee, of which Helmick remains a member] and the USOC believe in 'grease for peace.' They're driven too often by gifts. To police our rules, we need ethical leadership."

Whether or not Schiller has done anything wrong, the Helmick affair is unquestionably a major setback for the USOC. In 1988 SI reported that barely half of the organization's proceeds went to athletes. The USOC claims that figure has since risen to 81% under Helmick's and Schiller's leadership. But the recent revelations about Helmick's personal financial dealings and the accusations against Schiller should renew calls for strong ethical guidelines for the USOC and a mechanism for enforcing them.

On Monday the USOC executive board decided that special counsel Arnold Burns would continue his investigation into Helmick's and Schiller's business affairs. It also nominated Colorado businessman William Hybl as interim successor to Helmick, whose term of office was scheduled to expire in the fall of '92. Hybl must still be confirmed by a majority of the 105 USOC members, but that seems likely—he is a compromise candidate, and, in fact, one of the conditions of his nomination was that he agree not to run for the office in '92. Hybl is already talking as if he has been confirmed: "In the next couple of months, the USOC will present a standard of ethical conduct as high as any in the nation." Given the damage that the USOC's image has suffered in the past few weeks, Hybl has his work cut out for him.

Agassi's Ecstasy

Andre Agassi wins a big one for the U.S. and himself

On that far-off day when Andre Agassi has finished winning his couple of dozen Grand Slam championships, he may well look back on an obscure September Sunday in 1991 as the moment he proved himself not merely to the tennis universe but also to someone vastly more important: himself.

The occasion was only a Davis Cup semifinal meeting (or tie) against Boris Becker-less Germany. The location was just another tacky, USTA-created clay court placed somewhere near the center jump circle at Kemper Arena in that tennis coldbed of Kansas City, which was so excited by the event that a couple of hundred German fans were able to outcheer the local citizenry for most of three days. Finally, Agassi's opponent was none other than Carl-Uwe Steeb, who on the Immortals Recognition Meter registered right there with John Doe Dweeb for all anybody in K.C. cared.

Nonetheless, when Our Andre, dressed in the traditional colors of Old Glory—O.K., O.K., of New Glory: cerise, white and black—and firing his ground strokes at wicked angles, routed Steeb 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in the fifth and deciding match, he not only turned the U.S. Davis Cup team's attention toward a final-round meeting with France in November, but he may also have turned around his career. Following his first-round flame-out at the U.S. Open three weeks earlier, Agassi had gone home to Las Vegas and rededicated himself both physically and mentally. "I felt like Rocky going back to his roots," he said last week. "I wanted to find out who I am as a tennis player."

Echoing the Agassi-thrashers of yore, Double A confirmed that "my biggest problem had been concentrating and raising my game to the occasion. But this week I kept focused and carried that through the matches. My play was just a reflection of how hard I've been working."

Before the tie, U.S. captain Tom Gorman said Agassi arrived in Kansas City "in the best frame of mind I've ever seen him." That meant that when Agassi was supposed to show up for a four o'clock practice, he actually showed up at four o'clock. Further, his coach, Nick Bollettieri, assured everyone that "this is the start of something big. The world will experience a new Andre."

That the world had heard this before—new Andres have been as prevalent as confirmation conversions on Capitol Hill-did not prepare the world for a trio of remarkable occurrences in Kansas City:

1) Agassi was accompanied only by his girlfriend, Wendy Stewart, rather than by his entourage of ills—Phil (Agassi, his brother), Bill (Shelton, his agent) and Gil (Reyes, his trainer)—which was a neat display of independence hard by a real Independence (Mo.), the hometown of that old two-fister himself, Harry Truman.

2) Agassi announced that he might take on an additional coach, a veteran player who could aid him in tight situations. Maybe someone like John McEnroe, whom Agassi consulted after the Open. John McEn-Who?

3) In Friday's opening match, Agassi, combining some vintage McEnroe and Truman, gave absolute hell to Wimbledon champion Michael Stich in a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 thrashing that made Stich look like a first-round loser in the local Rockhurst College intramural league.

Jim Courier, the U.S.'s other singles player, beat Steeb in four sets to give the Americans a 2-0 lead. But on Saturday, David Pate and Scott Davis, a pair of Davis Cup rookies, were hopelessly outclassed in the doubles by Stich and Eric Jelen, and then in Sunday's first match, Stich served and volleyed Courier off the clay to tie the tie at two matches apiece. That set up Agassi's deciding match.

Said German captain Nikki Pilic, "I was worried that he would come in here and try to prove he was a world-class guy, that he was Andre Agassi." In other words, a guy who at the top of his game can knock the doors off any pro alive. And that's exactly what happened.

A Flea of a Flick

Clichès defeat chuckles in "Necessary Roughness"

At one point in the new movie Necessary Roughness, Texas State football coach Ed (Straight Arrow) Gennero says to his assistant just before their game against the Kansas Jay-hawks, "Call me crazy, but I think we just might have a chance tonight."

There are two things wrong with that statement. Number 1, every team has a chance against Kansas. Number 2, isn't there some sort of motion picture code that prohibits any further use of the "Call me crazy, but..." line?

That's just one of the many clichès in this "rollicking football comedy"—Paramount's words, not mine—that opens nationwide this week. To make a long movie short, Necessary Roughness is the Cinderella story of the Texas State Armadillos, a fictional college football team that has been decimated by the NCAA death penalty. Somehow the coach (played by Hector Elizondo), who has to take nitro pills for his heart of gold, and his over-the-hill quarterback (Scott Bakula), who's getting one last chance, are able to mold a ragtag bunch of misfits into an honest-to-goodness fighting unit. You guessed it: To prove themselves, the Armadillos play a big game against the bad guys from Texas. This laugh-a-quarter film is so derivative, in fact, that the plot calls for Texas State to scrimmage against a prison team (whose players are portrayed by such fine actors as Tony Dorsett, Jim Kelly and Evander Holyfield). This only reminds us that The Longest Yard was a far better movie.

SI swimsuit cover model Kathy Ireland has a featured role as the Armadillos' kicker, and she is surprisingly good. Her kicking, in fact, is more convincing than Bakula's parabolic passing. Call me crazy, but Ireland is just about the best thing in Necessary Roughness.

School Spirit

A Tennessee company sells coffins in college colors

This is a college football story. Though it isn't about three yards and a cloud of dust, it is about two yards and dust to dust. While none of the characters in the story advocate sudden death, each is prepared for it. And although there will be no mention of coffin-corner kicks, we will refer to people who get their kicks from coffins and who know coroners.

Ken Abercrombie is the president of the Loretto Casket Company, located in Loretto, Tenn., deep in the heart of the football-crazy Southeastern Conference. "The football fans in this area are so adamant, it's almost like a religion," says Abercrombie. And what's more religious than a funeral?

So it was that at a funeral directors' convention in Tennessee in June, Abercrombie unveiled a line of caskets bearing the logos of some SEC schools. He says, "The Tennessee casket, for example, is simply an orange unit that we have added white trim to. The inside lining is white velvet, and there is an orange T on the head lid."

For now, Abercrombie offers caskets in the colors of Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, in addition to Tennessee. But he plans to distribute other college caskets "as demand dictates."

At the Rainsville Funeral Home in Rainsville, Ala., Loretto's crimson and white model with a capital A on its lid can be yours for eternity for $2,100. Says office manager Kim Horton, "I would think that this is something that the die-hard Alabama fan would want."

To the New England Small College Athletic Conference, for widening its soccer goals by four feet in an attempt to increase scoring. A fundamental change in the most popular sport in the world seems ill-advised.


Wayne Fontes, Detroit Lion coach, maintaining that his job is not in jeopardy: "When I drive, the fans still wave to me, and all of their fingers show."

Dan Plesac, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher, on a phone conversation with his mother after he gave up a 520-foot homer to the Detroit Tigers' Cecil Fielder: "I told her, 'Yeah, it barely went out.' I didn't tell her it barely went out of the stadium."

Just Call Him Junior

Chicago Bears tight end James Coley and his wife, Gwannettia, have six children. Their five daughters are named Ani, Fehlisegwanafay, Myrialysia, Shanuanevia and Tiyonneteona. Their son's name is James.

Replay: 25 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated

The puzzling Los Angeles Rams appeared on the gatefold cover of our Oct. 3, 1966, issue in this puzzling (and staged) photo. Inside we chronicled the team's ups and downs since its move to L.A. in 1946. One down came in 1948, when, at halftime of the Rams' final exhibition game, coach Bob Snyder made a fiery locker room speech. "If you don't do better in the second half, there are some people in this room who won't be on this club tomorrow." Snyder was right. He was fired that night.