NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (page 48), who took office last week, says his most pressing task is to forge a new collective-bargaining agreement with the players' association. Here are three other issues Bettman should promptly address.
Fighting. Last summer the NHL ruled that the instigator of a fight be thrown out of the game. Fighting is down, but too often the referee cannot, or will not, identify the instigator. The solution: Eject anyone who fights, as in other team sports.
Officiating. In the NHL only one of the three officials, the referee, can call most penalties. In the NBA all three officials call fouls, and the rules are more consistently enforced, allowing star players to better showcase their skills. The NHL should allow two officials to call penalties, the system used in college hockey.
Retired stars. Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr and other ex-players have won one lawsuit against the NHL over the league's misuse of player pension funds, and legal wrangling continues. These old-timers should be the NHL's goodwill ambassadors but instead are its bitter foes. It's time to settle the dispute and bring them back into the fold.
And, oh, yes, Mr. Commissioner, about last Saturday's All-Star Game in Montreal, a debacle in which bodychecking was nonexistent: The Wales Conference's 16-6 win over the Campbell Conference in this season's only NHL game on a major U.S. network was an embarrassment. Either make the All-Star Game meaningful to the players—by, say, pitting the best European NHLers against the best from North America—or scrap it.
Words and Deeds
In punishing Cincinnati Red owner Marge Schott last week, baseball's 10-member ruling council found her guilty, as chairman Bud Selig put it, of "an insensitivity that cannot be accepted or tolerated." Though one may argue that Schott's medicine was too weak—a $25,000 fine, a one-year suspension that may be cut to eight months, removal from the Reds' day-to-day operations but not from her role as managing general partner—the message was clear: Racist utterances have no place in the national pastime.
But what about the place of minorities in such key baseball jobs as general manager, personnel director and chief scout? The uproar over Schott's remarks has prompted a number of teams, including the Reds, to hire more blacks and other minorities. It is encouraging that six of baseball's 28 managers arc now minorities, including Cincinnati's Tony Perez. Still, the game's overall minority-hiring record remains poor.
Baseball, of course, isn't the only sport that needs to improve opportunities for minorities. Only two of the NFL's 28 head coaches are black, compared with 60% of its players, a disparity that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue tried to explain away on NBC's Meet the Press on Super Sunday. Denying that coaches are necessarily drawn from the ranks of players, Tagliabue said, "Some of the great coaches have never played the game." In fact, all current NFL head coaches played college football, and 14 of them played in the pros. The simple truth is that whites, from whatever pool they're drawn, have a far better chance of ascending the coaching ladder than do blacks.
But Tagliabue has also demonstrated sensitivity to racial issues. After last year's Los Angeles riots he resolved that local minorities would fully participate in, and profit from, Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena. As detailed by the Los Angeles Times, Tagliabue got results. All printing for the Super Bowl Host Committee was done by minority firms. Food at a Super Bowl press conference was provided by a black caterer. The NFL held football clinics for inner-city youngsters. The league donated $100,000 to Michael Jackson's Heal the World Foundation. It pledged $1 million over five years to a youth center set up by former Cincinnati Bengal linebacker Reggie Williams in a riot-torn L.A. area.
Baseball's hiring of minority managers and Tagliabue's Super Bowl efforts underscore a truth not even Schott can hide: In race relations, actions speak louder than words.
SI's Peter King reports on Buffalo Bill owner Ralph Wilson Jr. 's firing of Bill Polian, the team's general manager, four days after the Super Bowl.
Sure, the Bills haven't won the Big One, but until Polian became G.M. in 1986, they were an NFL doormat. Polian helped make Buffalo a powerhouse. The issue, though, isn't whether he should have been canned—that's the owner's prerogative—but the classless way Wilson went about it. Immediately after the Super Bowl, Wilson said, "No heads will roll. This is no time to panic, for people to jump off the 15th floor." Then, despite an appeal from coach Marv Levy to spare Polian, Wilson did the deed. He told Polian over the phone, not face to face. Worse, he had Polian announce the firing himself at a Buffalo news conference.
Team insiders say that Polian's sin was that he often clashed with Wilson's chief finance man, Jeff Littmann, who considered contracts given to such Polian favorites as safety Mark Kelso overly generous. To the end Polian exhibited loyalty to Wilson, praising him even after he was axed in favor of player personnel director John Butler. Loyalty. Wilson ought to look up the word in the dictionary.
All of Charleston, S.C., is hailing the heroism of Daniel Johnson, a strong safety on The Citadel football team, who in one 48-hour span this month:
•saved the life of a Citadel teammate whose throat was slashed with a broken bottle when two strangers attacked them in the street. The friend's carotid artery was cut, and as the attackers fled, Johnson stuck his fingers into the wound to stanch the bleeding;
•ran down a purse snatcher, turned the suspect over to the police and comforted the victim. Johnson even gave fair warning to the hapless thief, calling out during the chase, "I'm all-conference in track. I'm going to catch you."
The Desperate Dozen
So Buffalo got three-beat in the Super Bowl. So Wingtown has never won a world title. Big deal. There are 12 metropolitan areas in the U.S. that have more people than greater Buffalo (pop. 1.19 million) and, like that city, have never celebrated a Super Bowl, World Series, NBA or Stanley Cup championship.
1. Houston (pop. 3.71 million). If the Bills arc losers, what does that make the collapsible Oilers? Talk about a civic hex: After convening in the Astros' digs in '92, the GOP failed to four-peat.
2. Atlanta (2.83 million). The Flames had to move to Calgary to win the Stanley Cup. Can the Braves duplicate Buffalo's triplicate? Will Dominique Wilkins end up ringless?
3. San Diego (2.50 million). The Padres can't win even with Tony Gwynn, and the Chargers always seem in need of a recharge. On the bright side, the Sockers were a MISL dynasty.
4. Phoenix (2.12 million). Will the Cardinals ever make it to the Super Bowl? They wish. There is one consolation, though: The city's name does end in Roman numerals.
5. Tampa-St. Petersburg (2.07 million). The Bucs stop here: 17 years of NFL futility—and counting.
6. Denver (1.85 million). 10. 20. 10. 10. Those are the number of points the Broncos scored in four Super Bowl appearances. 27. 39.42.55. Those are the number of points their rivals scored. Feel better, Buffalo?
7. Sacramento (1.48 million). Sacramento Kings of the NBA. Anagram: Nags. Stinkorama. Fetch bone.
8. Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport news, Va. (1.40 million) and 9. COLUMBUS. Ohio (1.38 million). Before you can win a big league title, it helps to have a big league team.
10. San Antonio (1.30 million). If nothing else, the Spurs figure to beat out the Rockets from—ah, Houston—for the Texas championship.
11. Indianapolis (1.25 million). It'll always have the Brickyard. But enough about the Pacers' home court....
12. New Orleans (1.24 million). Throws an O.K. Super Bowl, but the Saints haven't come close to marching in.
They Wrote It
•Tom Callahan, in The Washington Post, on the prevalence of painkillers in the NFL: "Marcaine, lidocaine, xylocaine, novocaine, Michael Caine [left]—the entire caine family—is the league MVP again this year."
Philadelphia 76er center Manute Bol's wife, Atong, recently won $486,000 from a slot machine in Atlantic City. Recalling that Manute and Atong were wed in their native Sudan after he gave her father 40 cows, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Bob Ford noted, "All in all, it looks like a good investment."
Do It Yourself
In a press release last week, the International Olympic Committee dismissed as "far-fetched" a news report that it had hired a p.r. firm to promote the IOC for the Nobel Peace Prize. The release hastened to add: "World peace is indeed a fundamental principle of the Olympic Movement. The IOC continues to work towards this ideal, for example in helping to eliminate apartheid in sport and in bringing together in the same movement the Peoples' Republic of China and Chinese Taipei, as well as providing a bridge for North and South Korea. Every country took part at Barcelona, despite the troubles in many parts of the world at the time."
Who needs a p.r. firm?
Atlanta's title drought is Wilkins's, too.
CAINE: MOVIE STAR NEWS
SKILES: NATHANIEL BUTLER/NBA PHOTO
They Said It
•Scott Skiles (right), Orlando Magic guard, dismissing the fans' booing of him: "Basketball is like church. Many attend but few understand."
•Jay Leno, talk-show host: "The baseball season is under way. Yesterday they threw out the first owner."
•Phil Esposito, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager, welcoming the NHL's Miami expansion team: "Now we've got someone our fans can really hate."