The Hearings Impaired
It might surprise Congress to learn that boxing is more than Don King, no matter what the wild-haired old light promoter would like to have engraved on his tombstone. But King is very visible, of course, and an easy target for every politician looking to get his name in the paper, which is just what several members of the Senate subcommittee on investigations did last week during its two days of hearings on corruption in professional boxing.
This was supposed to be an investigation into the business of boxing—which could certainly use a couple of trips through the car wash—though even this inquiry would not have happened if a pug named Dave Tiberi lived someplace other than Delaware. Last February, Tiberi lost a controversial decision to middleweight champion James Toney. That upset a few folks, including William Roth, a Republican senator from Tiberi's home state, who has introduced legislation calling for the creation of a federal boxing commission.
Next thing you know, Roth is dragging the sport before his subcommittee, which really isn't a bad idea since plenty of fighters get ripped off by those alphabet bandits—the WBC, the WBA, the IBC, the IBF, etc.—as well as by other shady characters. A lot of people have long hoped that Congress might actually do something about these so-called sanctioning bodies, but congressmen never do much in these periodic boxing probes except ask questions that rarely get answered.
They did ask a lot of people if King was a mob guy. Michael Franzese, a former captain in the Colombo crime family, testified that he met with King in 1983 about copromoting fights. But that wasn't news. The FBI has been trying to nail King for years. (In fact, according to law-enforcement sources, federal agencies are currently investigating allegations of mail fraud involving King.) For his part King, when asked to give a deposition, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, which is what people like King do when a congressman asks them a question.
Focusing on King is like staring at a burning match in the midst of a forest fire. Instead the senators should have asked the WBC and the WBA a couple of questions: How do you get away with being classified as nonprofit organizations? And what do you do with all the tax-free millions you collect from boxers? The subcommittee did call in Bob Lee, president of the IBF, but he copped the Fifth quicker than a drunk in a liquor store.
About the only one who asked the right question at the hearings was Sen. William Cohen (R., Maine), who said, "Is this something federal regulation should correct?"
The answer is yes. But first Congress has to pass laws that protect fighters from the notorious alphabet bandits. If Congress would do that, guys like King and Lee would be out of business. And the Senate wouldn't have to hold any more useless boxing hearings.
After his victory at the British Open last month Nick Faldo thanked the fans at Muirfield. "I owe you all a big Scotch," he said. "Maybe a bottle of Johnnie Walker to every pub in Scotland."
But it would have cost Faldo at least $110,000 to send a bottle of Scotch to each of Scotland's 5.695 pubs, and besides, many of the fans who followed him at Muirfield probably don't live in Scotland. So Johnnie Walker has mailed a free miniature bottle of Scotch to any fan who has sent the company proof that he or she attended the final round of the Open.
The Story of the Mural Is...
Two sports murals were unveiled last week, one for fans, one of fans.
People in downtown Pittsburgh can now look up at a 46-foot-wide, 135-foot-high mural featuring Penguin star Mario Lemieux, former Pirates Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski and former Steelers Joe Greene and Jack Lambert. Painting the mural, which was designed by New York artist Judy Penzer, wasn't without complications. On their first day on the job the two painters discovered that because of an electricity outage they couldn't lower the scaffolding. Unfortunately they didn't find this out until they were on the scaffolding, 20 stories up. No one could hear their shouts, so they painted this on the wall: NO POWER. SEND HELP.
Half a world away the Arsenal Football Club in suburban London revealed its mural. The north end of Arsenal's stadium has been under construction all summer, and the work was not done by last Saturday's season opener against Norwich. So to cover up the unsightly construction site, Arsenal installed a 140-foot-long, 30-foot-high mural depicting 8,000 fans. Lest the players miss the cheers from the usually raucous fans in the stadium's north end, the crowd noise from the south end was piped through speakers in front of the mural.
Nielsen Media Research released figures last week on the television ratings for NBC's coverage of the Barcelona Olympics. The numbers revealed that among the 25 largest cities in the country, the Olympics were most popular in Portland, Ore., where 22.5% of the television sets that were on were tuned to the Games. Atlanta, site of the 1996 Summer Olympics, ranked 24th. This probably says more about Atlantans' passion for their Braves than it does for any indifference toward the Olympics. During the fortnight of the Games the Olympics drew a 13.6% share in Atlanta, while the Braves, who were moving into first place in the National League West at the time, attracted 36.0%.
When it comes to graduating football players, the Southwest Conference has the most abysmal record in the country. "We're not proud." says assistant SWC commissioner Britton Banowsky. Indeed, in the recently released NCAA Graduation-Rates Report, which reveals what percentage of scholarship football players entering the 106 Division I-A football-playing schools in 1983 and '84 graduated within six years, four of the bottom 13 are SWC members. Texas graduated 27% of its players, Texas A&M 25%, and Houston and Texas Tech just 14% apiece. Only Southeastern Louisiana, with a 9% graduation rate, ranked lower than Houston and Texas Tech, and that school dropped football in 1986.
SWC schools are not the only ones who should be embarrassed by the new report. For all students, athletes and non-athletes, the average graduation rate for the 106 schools was 56%. Only 29 schools graduated their football players at or above that 56% level. These numbers are even more distressing when you consider that athletes receive favored treatment, including free tutoring.
But it's unfair to focus on the worst performers and not praise the best. Here are the schools that had the highest percentage of their football players graduate: Boston College (85%), Duke (84%), Notre Dame (82%), Northwestern (78%), Ohio (76%), Stanford and Virginia (74%), Cal (70%), Colorado and North Carolina (66%).
These programs give the long-troubled SWC—every member except Rice has been disciplined by the NCAA in one sport or another since '83—something to shoot for. "We have taken all this to heart," says Banowsky, who maintains that the report's figures reflect a time "when athletics were more of a priority than academics. Academics are now a priority with us. Before we were ignorant."
—DOUGLAS S. LOONEY
When baseball commissioner Fay Vincent was asked last week if he would seek reelection when his term expires on March 31,1994, he replied, "Would you think someone in my position would do this again?"
The "this" Vincent referred to is the vitriolic reaction of several owners to rulings he has made over the last few years, among them eminently sensible decisions to suspend New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and Yankee pitcher Steve Howe and to realign the National League.
Some people in baseball think Vincent's slide into unpopularity can be traced to another of his decisions. In February 1991 the board of directors of the Hall of Fame, under pressure from Vincent, voted to make anyone banned from baseball ineligible for election to Cooperstown. This prevented Pete Rose from being considered for induction. Many baseball writers, even those who shared Vincent's feelings that Rose should not be in the Hall, thought that the decision should have been left to the Baseball Writers Association of America, the group that votes on Hall of Fame nominations. Some of those writers have resented Vincent ever since and, this theory goes, have been more than willing to give his opponents a forum.
Franzese swore that King had links to the mob.
A portrait of sports stars now adorns the Pittsburgh skyline.
The Arsenal fans in the north end were less animated than usual.
A beleaguered Vincent may not run again.
They Said It
Hubert Mizell, columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, after watching the U.S. women's gymnastics team win the bronze medal in Barcelona: They're all going to celebrate by eating a cornflake."
George Bell, Chicago White Sox outfielder, when asked if he thought his club would get back into the pennant race: "It's like what Yogi said.... What did Yogi say?"