Of Shoes and Gumshoes
Relations between rival companies in the cutthroat, multimillion-dollar athletic-shoe business are strained even in the best of times. But now they are at an alltime low between industry leader Nike and Adidas America, the U.S. subsidiary of the world's No. 2 shoe company. The exodus of several Nike employees to Adidas America has resulted in an FBI investigation of industrial espionage, reportedly requested by Nike, as well as the reassignment within Nike of one of its key basketball executives, Howard White, who made his reputation by working with Michael Jordan.
At the center of the controversy is Sonny Vaccaro, who in 1990 left his position as head of college basketball promotions at Nike and has since taken over the basketball operation at Adidas America. There he joined two other former Nike executives, Rob Strasser, Adidas America's CEO until his death on Oct. 30, and Peter Moore, who took over for Strasser. Many other ex-Nike employees are with the Portland, Ore.-based Adidas America as well.
According to Vaccaro and other sources, a number of executives at Nike grew worried about the continuing close relationship between White and Vaccaro, who, says Vaccaro, talked by phone about once a month. Vaccaro has known White for 25 years. "Everybody talks to everybody in this business," says Vaccaro. "I'm not gonna stop talking to my friends."
Whether Nike's worried execs included its chairman, Phil Knight, is hard to say. He and White have long had a close relationship. But someone began worrying that White may have passed trade secrets to Vaccaro, and someone called in the Portland office of the FBI to investigate. In October two agents showed up at the office of still another former Nike executive, Fred Schreyer, who runs his own marketing and consulting firm in Portland, to ask questions about White. Schreyer assured the agents that he and White never traded secrets, either about design or contracts. White confirms that he, too, was interviewed by the FBI. In December, White was sent out of the office for two weeks on a baseball tour—reportedly an "involuntary leave," though White says it was nothing out of the ordinary—and when he returned he was reassigned to the new Jordan line, tentatively called Brand Jordan. "That's fine with me," says White. "I've always worked closest with Michael anyway."
White says he doesn't know if the reassignment would have occurred without the investigation and is philosophical about the whole situation. "I work for a large corporation," he says, "and sometimes things happen that are out of an individual's control. Maybe Mr. Knight became concerned about some things and had to find out. I don't think that he questioned my loyalty that much. If he did, it would've been bad. I feel comfortable continuing on here."
SI special contributor Robert H. Boyle comments on the Jan. 7 tanker accident that dumped 600,000 gallons of oil off the beaches of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The oil spill fouling beaches in San Juan is just the latest in a series of tugboat-barge accidents that were predictable, given the negligence of the Coast Guard and the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Navigation, chaired by the do-nothing Representative Billy Tauzin (D., La.). Both the Coast Guard and the House refuse to require that licensed pilots be on board domestic tugs towing barges of less than 10,000 tons gross weight in U.S. waters, no matter how hazardous the cargo. Consider a few of the disastrous results:
In September near Mobile, Ala., a captain lost at night in fog in unfamiliar waters crashed his barge into a bridge. Minutes later three locomotives and four passenger cars of the speeding Sunset Limited plunged off the bridge, killing 47 people, the worst disaster in Amtrak history. The Coast Guard admits that almost 800 barge-bridge accidents have occurred in the previous 10 years.
In 1990 New York Harbor and the Hudson River were on the receiving end of 1.4 million gallons of petrochemicals from 656 spills. One of the worst occurred when Amerada Hess's Hygrade 42, being towed by a tug with an inexperienced captain, hit Diamond Reef, a well-known river landmark, spilling 204,000 gallons of kerosene. This accident cost $850,000 in hull damage, $350,000 for cleanup, $200,000 in lost kerosene, $51,000 for Coast Guard response and follow-up, not to mention untold environmental costs.
The barge industry argues that a pilot is an unnecessary expense. In the Diamond Reef case, a licensed river pilot would have cost $500. The Coast Guard also argues that it strictly disciplines errant captains. Yet the captain in the Diamond Reef case got only a year's probation.
After the Diamond Reef case Tauzin promised change. But in three years little has changed, and the cost of waiting continues to mount.
Amid the controversy surrounding the threat by college basketball coaches to boycott games in protest of a reduction in scholarships (page 70), it is interesting to note that the nation's top 25 teams used an average of only 10 players in their games last weekend. Wisconsin, Vanderbilt and West Virginia used nine players each, while Temple, Syracuse and California used only eight. Massachusetts used the most, 13, and that was in an 87-60 blowout of St. Bonaventure.
At least when it comes to scholarships, college basketball is more in touch with reality than football. Basketball allows 13 scholarships, an average of 2.6 per position. Football has 85 scholarships for a sport that requires 24 players (including a punter and a placekicker), an absurd average of 3.5.
We can hear the football coaches harrumphing that their sport is rougher and that injuries are more common, etc., etc. So we'll give them 72 scholarships, an average of three per position.
Sure, hundreds of football players would not enter college on scholarship. But the dollars saved would provide funds for an equal number of wrestlers, gymnasts, swimmers and other athletes who for too long have been overlooked by the bottom-line college sports system.
Inspired by recent turn-in-your-gun-for-money programs in other cities, former heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe and his manager, Rock Newman, offered $100 in cash for each gun brought to the Union Temple Baptist Church in southeast Washington, D.C., last Saturday. "In our wildest estimations, we thought 1,000 guns would be the max," says Newman. "We grossly miscalculated."
Despite temperatures dipping toward zero, more than 2,000 people lined up outside the church, some for as many as five hours, to turn in their weapons. By midnight Bowe and Newman had collected 3,600 guns—and paid out $360,000.
"We'd brought $75,000 in cash in a shopping bag," says Newman, who together with Bowe circulated among the crowd shaking hands and signing autographs throughout the day. "But by midafternoon that was gone. So we started writing checks. We'd made a commitment to get as many guns as we could."
Says Bowe, "This city is one of the worst in the nation for murders. Maybe what we did can help turn that around."
A Baseball Man
Charles S. (Chub) Feeney, who died at age 72 of a heart attack in San Francisco on Jan. 10, was the very definition of the vanishing species known as Baseball Men. His grandfather Charles Stoneham bought controlling interest in the New York Giants in 1919 and ran the ball club until his death in 1936, when his son, Horace, took over. Chub joined uncle Horace's front office in 1946 after graduation from Dartmouth and World War II duty aboard a Navy sub chaser. By 1950 he was effectively serving as the Giants' general manager, though he never held the title. He was influential in the team's becoming one of the first to hire black and Latin players, among them Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and the Alou brothers.
When Horace moved his franchise to San Francisco in 1958, Chub, a New Jersey native, reluctantly went along. But he soon fell in love with his adopted city, just as San Francisco did with him. He was a highly visible and popular member of the Giant organization, a witty and sophisticated man-about-town. He even had his own radio talk show, Ask Chub Feeney, during which, often hilariously, he fended off the usual opinionated callers.
As the de facto general manager, his trades in the late 1950s and early '60s for pitchers Sam Jones, Jack Sanford and Billy Pierce made the Giants perennial contenders and, in '62, National League champions. After an unsuccessful run at the commissioner's office in '69, he was elected president of the National League the following year and served in that post for 16 years. He retired from baseball in '88 after a brief and unhappy tenure as president of the San Diego Padres, and returned to his adopted city.
Chub may have been a Baseball Man, but, in truth, he had even more friends outside the game than in it. When they held a wake for him last Friday at his favorite tavern, the Washington Square Bar & Grill, it seemed as if all San Francisco was there to toast him. It was, as Chub would surely have wanted it, a very festive occasion.
As National League president, Chub made the tough calls.
•THE resignation of Whitey Herzog as general manager of the California Angels on Jan. 12 could result in his return to Kansas City, where he is revered for having led the Royals to a 410-304 record as manager from 1975 to '79. Herzog, who lives near St. Louis, has never hidden his love for the K.C. area and is a close friend of David Glass, the Royals' chairman, who may buy the team. Herzog, 62, resigned partly because of the reluctance of Angel management to spend money as freely as he had thought it would when he took the job in September 1991. If he returns to Kansas City, he just might get whatever he wants.
•A question that was discussed in the lobby at the NCAA convention last week: If a boycott of college basketball games (page 70) led by the Black Coaches Association actually happens someday, how will the outcome affect the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which is used by the selection committee to help determine the field for the NCAA tournament? Is 2-0, the official score awarded for a forfeit, a "good loss" or a "bad loss"?
•35. 33½. M216. Black. Those are the statistics being memorized around Chicago these days.
The first number is the length of Michael Jordan's bats, two dozen of which were shipped from Hillerich & Bradsby's Slugger Park in Jeffersonville, Ind., to Jordan on Jan. 3. The second is the weight of each bat in ounces. The third is the model number. And black is the color of the bats.
Hillerich & Bradsby, makers of the Louisville Slugger, says it wants to produce an autograph model of the Jordan bat. But perhaps the company should wait until it's determined whether Jordan can hit a big league fastball.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
To prove she is tougher than the Houston Oilers and their brawling assistant coach Buddy Ryan, Chief fan Chris Russert last week challenged anyone at her engagement party to trade punches. Lee Walters took the dare and knocked her backward with a punch to the right cheek. She then broke his nose with a punch. Lee Walters is her fiancè.
They Said It
A West Virginia defensive back, on reports that several Mountaineers had themselves tattooed on Bourbon Street before the Sugar Bowl against Florida: "There are no tattoos on my body that I'm aware of."