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Olympic Shame

A report blasts former USOC head Robert Helmick

On Sunday, U.S. Olympic Committee special counsel Arnold Burns released his report on the conduct of former USOC president Robert Helmick, who resigned Sept. 18 following a spate of conflict-of-interest disclosures. The report was nothing less than scathing. "Helmick repeatedly violated the conflict of interest provisions of the USOC Bylaws," wrote Burns. The report criticized Helmick for "using USOC authority and influence for his own private benefit," for "failing to exhibit loyalty and candor in the performance of his duties" and for "failing to subordinate at all times his individual interests to the interests of the Olympic Movement."

In addition to assailing Helmick for previously reported improper business dealings with three USOC clients (SI, Sept. 16), Burns's investigation unveiled a new transgression. On April 12, 1991, Impel Marketing, a trading-card company, signed a licensing agreement with the committee to produce a series of cards featuring Olympic athletes. On the next business day Impel put Helmick, who is a lawyer based in Des Moines, on retainer for $50,000. Helmick signed the Impel agreement on behalf of the USOC on or about June 2, "giving rise to the strong suggestion of a quid pro quo," wrote Burns. "We believe that it was patently improper for Mr. Helmick to accept employment from Impel."

Burns's report, which began by noting that there was no evidence that Helmick had tried to influence other USOC officials in matters involving his private clients, concluded this way: "We believe...that Mr. Helmick has underestimated the seriousness of his conduct."

And that continues to be the case. After the report was released, Helmick insisted that "taken as a whole, the report completely exonerates me." Perhaps he meant "excoriates."

Despite the report, Helmick continues to be one of 18 voting members of the USOC's powerful Executive Committee. He also remains the only U.S. member of the Executive Committee of the IOC, which will discuss his business dealings at its next meeting, on Dec. 4, in Lausanne, Switzerland. For the good of the Olympic movement, Helmick, who so far has said he has no intention of resigning either his USOC or IOC position, should be removed from both.

Traveling on Foot

Grambling's kicker took the long way to campus

"How did you end up here?" Grambling State placekicker Gilad Landau hears that question a lot.

In April 1989, shortly after finishing a three-year stint in the Israeli army, Landau, then 21, decided to travel to New Orleans. He liked it so much that he stayed. One night he was watching a New Orleans Saints game on TV when he became inspired by kicker Morten Anderson. "I wanted to be just like him," says Landau, who played soccer in Israel.

Landau started practicing the following week. On his first kick, he booted the ball 50 yards. With the help of the coach at a local high school, Landau was soon good enough to start contacting some college coaches. "Most of them laughed when I called," he says, "but they stopped laughing after they saw a tape of me kicking a 55-yard field goal."

The only coach still laughing is Grambling's Eddie Robinson. Landau has hit 11 of 15 field goals, including four game-winners for the 5-5 Tigers.

Just as Landau is learning about football, so, too, is he learning from his fellow students at Grambling, whose enrollment is 94.6% black. "I'd heard about the struggles of blacks in America, but here I've been able to listen and learn," says Landau.

Education has worked both ways. Recently, some of Landau's teammates got a little frustrated after he nailed a mezuzah (a small case that contains a piece of parchment inscribed with a prayer) to the doorway of his dorm room. Thinking the mezuzah was a doorbell, they used to try to ring it. Landau says, "Now they understand why I wasn't coming to the door."

A Fair Share

Baseball's haves must help its have-nots

Last week the commissioner's office informed the 26 major league clubs that in 1990 their combined profits had declined 33%, to a total of $142.9 million. Upon hearing the figures. Chuck O'Connor, general counsel to the owners' Player Relations Committee, said, "We've got to do something to bring the total salary bill into line with the revenue growth. The bottom eight clubs are losing as much as the top eight clubs are making."

Since owners have had little success controlling players' salaries, they should look elsewhere—to the sharing of local television revenues—for help for those struggling clubs. The clubs already share profits from national television contracts, so why not share profits from local TV deals as well? The greatest disparity between baseball's haves and have-nots is in local TV revenue. To take the two extremes, the New York Yankees pocketed $50 million in local TV rights fees last season, while the Seattle Mariners received $1.2 million.

Such inequities have led two members of the U.S. Congress from Washington State, Senator Slade Gordon and Representative Rod Chandler, to introduce a bill that would compel teams to deposit about half of their revenue from local TV in a fund to be equally distributed to all teams. By this formula the Yankees would stand to lose $21.6 million and the Mariners would gain $4.2 million. One of the bill's cosponsors, Representative Al Swift, also from Washington, says, "Without a lucrative broadcast contract, small-market teams can't afford to continue signing players. And without the star players, interest will wane, and those teams won't get the broadcast contract. It's a vicious circle."

Free agents who stimulate fan interest are worth more to teams that are struggling financially than they are to successful ones. One free agent like Bobby Bonilla (above, left) could bring in an extra $8.75 million a year to a small-market franchise like Seattle. However, as finances stand now, the Mariners do not have the means to outbid teams like the Yankees or the Mets. Revenue-sharing would at least give them the opportunity to help themselves.

No Hills, No Frills

The loneliness of the long-distance runner redefined

At the inaugural Bulldog Marathon in Altus, Okla., in 1984, winning wasn't everything—it was the only thing. The race featured one entrant, the Bulldog's founder, Dan Metcalf, who led from start to finish to win in a time of 2 hours, 47 minutes. The biggest field since then was in '87, when seven people entered. Metcalf, 51, a cosmetic surgeon in Oklahoma City who was an All-America cross-country runner at Oklahoma State, says of his invention, "I was looking for the fastest marathon possible, so I created my own." One reason the Bulldog is fast is that it has no hills. It also has no frills—no entry fee, no water stations and no advertising, which is why it also has had virtually no marathoners.

On the eve of last year's race Bill Smith and Clarence Gas of Liberty, Mo., who had seen the Bulldog listed in a directory of TAC-sanctioned events, drove seven hours to Altus, only to arrive at an empty marathon headquarters. A third entrant, Timothy Byrnes of Wichita, Kans., arrived later that night, and he was followed shortly by Metcalf, who no longer runs marathons but is still the race director. When Smith inquired as to the whereabouts of the rest of the field, Metcalf replied, "You're it."

At 6 a.m. the next day, the foursome headed out to Quartz Mountain State Park for the start of the race. Smith and Byrnes broke from the pack early and shared the lead through 10 miles, before Byrnes began to tire. Smith won in 2:56:15, and Byrnes finished second in 3:14. Gas's tank was empty by the 13-mile mark, and he dropped out.

The eighth annual Bulldog (named for the local high school mascot) takes place this Sunday, and because the race may attract some marathoners hoping for a fast time to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials, the field could swell to 10 or more. For that reason Smith has chosen not to defend his title, saying, "There's a strong possibility I'd finish last."

Mr. Show Biz

Sonny Werblin, a sports and entertainment pioneer, dies

Whenever I was around Sonny Werblin, I tried to keep my mouth shut and pay attention. Werblin, who died last week at the age of 81, was simply the smartest and most fascinating person I've known in my quarter century of covering sports.

Nobody has ever had a better feel for knowing what the public wanted and giving it to them. He began as an $85-a-month office boy at the Music Corporation of America in the 1930s and within 24 years became president of what was then the biggest talent agency in the country. He represented Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor, and helped develop television shows for Jackie Gleason and Ed Sullivan.

In 1963 Werblin and four investors bought the bankrupt New York Titans of the AFL. He renamed the team the Jets and in '65 signed quarterback Joe Namath to a three-year contract worth $427,000. Next he cut a $35 million deal for the fledgling AFL with his pals at NBC. And in the early 70s he saw a sports complex where everybody else saw only a New Jersey swamp; the Meadowlands was his brainchild.

I didn't get the chance to talk to Werblin much about show business or football, but I often discussed with him another of his passions, horse racing. He had become hooked on the sport in the 1930s when Al Jolson used to take him to the track. Years later, after he had made his fortune, he bought a stable in New Jersey and plunged into the horse business.

The best horse Werblin ever owned, Silent Screen, was one of the favorites in the 1970 Kentucky Derby, and I was assigned to spend Derby week with Werblin. I was 27 at the time, less than half Werblin's age, but the experience nearly killed me. The nights wouldn't end until at least two, and the days would begin around six, when Werblin would go to Churchill Downs to check on his horse.

By post time Werblin's excitement was obvious as he fidgeted in his box overlooking the finish line. Soon after the field sprang from the gate, Silent Screen was bumped and knocked off stride. He soon recovered and began picking up ground on the outside until, at the top of the stretch, he took the lead. For a few moments Werblin was giddy as it looked as if his horse might win. Then Silent Screen started to fade. He struggled home fifth, six lengths behind victorious Dust Commander. Up in his box, Werblin stood for a moment, shrugged and said, "Let's go get a drink." It was one of the few times in his life that Sonny Werblin didn't get the thing that he badly wanted.

Power Play

George Perles should cede one job at Michigan State

The feud at Michigan State between John DiBaggio, the university's president, and George Perles, its athletic director and football coach, exploded again last Thursday when DiBaggio announced that Perles would have to give up one of his jobs. Perles, who has a 57-44-4 record since becoming the Spartan coach in 1983, could either coach for the remaining six years of his contract, DiBaggio said, or he could be athletic director for the remaining 3½ years of that deal. But he could not continue to do both. "I have considered such a dual appointment inappropriate from the start," said DiBaggio. "The jobs are separate and distinct, and a mistake was made when they were joined over my objections."

DiBaggio was referring to the ugly mess of January 1990, when Michigan State's board of trustees, alarmed by thinly veiled threats from Perles that he might bolt to coach the New York Jets, overrode DiBaggio and permitted Perles to be both coach and athletic director.

Having beaten his boss once, Perles reacted truculently to DiBaggio's demand last week, implying that he might defy DiBaggio again. After the Spartans closed a disappointing 3-8 season on Saturday with a 27-24 win over Illinois, Perles said, "Michigan State is my school, but I'm going to stick up for myself like any other human being."

Although Perles has apparently performed well as athletic director—Michigan State's athletic department was the only one in the Big Ten to show a profit last year—that's beside the point. The president has the right to establish lines of accountability as he sees fit, for the good of the university. Perles should do himself and the school he professes to love a favor by quietly giving up one of the jobs. DiBaggio was right in 1990, and he's right today.

To Michigan state legislator Dominic Jacobetti, for not supporting a resolution of tribute for Magic Johnson, saying, "I don't like people who have AIDS."


Steve Spurrier, Florida football coach, telling Gator fans that a fire at Auburn's football dorm had destroyed 20 books: "But the real tragedy was that 15 hadn't been colored yet."

Brian Reese, North Carolina forward: "This is a great school. Look at all the alumni who are in the NBA."

The Line Starts Here

This is how the Polo Grill, a restaurant in Baltimore (whose erstwhile NFL franchise is now a doormat in Indianapolis), advertised its champagne buffet brunch last week: "This Sunday, only the Colts' game has a bigger spread."

Replay: 5 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated

We could ask the same question, "Why is Miami No. 1?" today as we did on the cover of our Nov. 24, 1986, issue. The answers then (the Hurricanes had a good quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, and a cream-puff schedule) also apply now. THEY SAID IT included a question by New Jersey Nets guard Leon Wood, who, when introduced to TV commentator Steve Albert, asked, "Are you any relation to your brother Marv?"