Cleaning Up the Act
Last Thursday the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 was reexamined in Congress for the first time since its passage, and, predictably, it received mixed reviews. Experts acknowledged that while the U.S. Olympic Committee has done a good job of bringing home medals and providing America's elite athletes with topflight resources and opportunities, it has failed in its broader responsibilities of providing grassroots support to American children.
"One of the major missions of the act was not just to produce Olympic athletes but to encourage broad-based participation in sports," says Tom McMillen, a former pro basketball player and U.S. representative from Maryland who's now co-chair of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. "Whether the act has been 75 to 80 percent effective isn't the point. American kids have fewer opportunities, are less healthy and are getting fatter than before the Sports Act was passed."
USOC president Dr. LeRoy Walker, contending that the act doesn't need to be amended, testified last week, "The USOC has dramatically accelerated its efforts in this critical arena of youth and sport and made it a priority in light of [our] limited resources."
Those limited resources are precisely the point. It's time for Congress to create a separate organization charged specifically with overseeing the fitness and recreational opportunities of the U.S. population as a whole, with special emphasis on school-aged children. How to fund such a program? One proposal quietly circulating through Congress calls for a value-added tax (VAT) on all revenues collected by pro sports teams.
That the review of the Amateur Sports Act came the week millionaire baseball players went on strike against multimillionaire baseball owners was a coincidence not lost on McMillen. Noting that state and local governments can find funds to build palatial stadiums but cannot find the minimal dollars needed to provide sports facilities for schools and recreation departments, McMillen says, "The pyramid is getting top-heavy in this country. It's time we took a hard look at the whole sports structure in America."
One of the most unlikely comeback stories in recent years may have ground to an inglorious end last week when the World Boxing Association refused to sanction heavyweight champion Michael Moorer's proposed Nov. 5 title defense against 45-year-old George Foreman. Foreman, who hadn't fought since losing to stumblebum Tommy Morrison 14 months ago, was unranked by the WBA—although the International Boxing Federation, whose heavyweight title is also held by Moorer, had Big George rated No. 8. The IBF had insisted that Foreman undergo a battery of medical tests in New York City early last week and was prepared to sanction the bout. But the WBA, to its credit, wanted no part of the fight. Citing Foreman's age, weight and recent inactivity, the WBA threatened to strip Moorer of his title if he went through with the bout.
Foreman, who had discussed retirement in the wake of the ugly beating Morrison gave him, accused the WBA of playing politics with his career and suggested that Moorer was ducking him. The fact remains, however, that Foreman's time has come. And gone. This is a man, after all, who made his pro debut two months before Woodstock—the original Woodstock. Heavyweight champion from January 1973, when he stopped Joe Frazier, until October '74, when Muhammad Ali knocked him out in Zaire, Foreman retired in 1977 and spent a decade in obscurity before reemerging transformed from a glowering thug into a perpetually grinning advocate for the middle-aged. Comically overweight for his first several comeback bouts, Foreman fought himself into condition and, amazingly, contention. In 1991 he went 12 gallant rounds in losing a decision to Evander Holyfield, who was the undisputed champion at the time.
Foreman hasn't reached the same level since, and despite his vow to regain the title, he should turn his attention to his HBO commentary, his commercials and, god help us, his sitcom career, before he gets hurt.
Against the backdrop of the baseball strike, Jason Varitek from Georgia Tech, college baseball's best player this spring, continues his own work stoppage. Varitek, a catcher, is attempting to reach an agreement with the Seattle Mariners, the team that made him the 14th pick in June's amateur draft. Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement by Sept. 21, Varitek, who did not sign with Minnesota last summer after having been chosen 21st by the Twins, says he will reenter the draft next spring. If he does he will almost certainly become the first three-time first-round pick in baseball history.
At issue is the Mariners' unwillingness to budge from the $400,000 signing bonus they offered Varitek on July 7. Varitek is asking for $850,000, a tidy sum but in line with the bonuses paid other first-rounders. The K.C. Royals paid the 16th player selected in the draft, first baseman Matt Smith, a cool million, and the average signing bonus of the 10th through 18th picks was $835,000.
Seattle's defense of its lowball offer is, frankly, indefensible. Based on a highly suspect sampling of previous drafts, the Mariners determined that college seniors sign for 35% less than similarly ranked non-seniors. Because Varitek had no college eligibility remaining and because the Mariners owned his rights until the next draft, they figured he would have to accept their $400,000 offer. Taking such unfair advantage of a senior plays into the hands of those who would argue that baseball's draft, indeed all sports drafts, should be abolished.
Baseball people believe that Varitek will eventually sign. "Once one side finds a face-saving mechanism, they'll get it done," says one American League general manager. Varitek, however, says he will not sign after classes begin on Sept. 21 at Tech, where he is 27 credits short of his undergraduate degree in management. "I feel like I'm on strike," says Varitek. "I'm willing to go through this all over again if it means being treated fairly."
When the Stanley Cup goes back to the shop for repairs after its whirlwind summer vacation (SI, July 25), the engravers of the olde mug might want to take another crack at spelling the name of the 1980-81 league champions, now proudly identified as the NEW YORK ILANDERS.
Now that the World Championship of Basketball has come and gone (page 38), making barely a ripple, we have a suggestion that might actually make such a tournament palatable, while at the same time promoting the game worldwide, which was the original intent. No, we're not talking about Dream Team I vs. Dream Team II. Rather, model the event after golf's Ryder Cup: the best players from the U.S. in a seven-game series against the best from the rest of the world. This year such a format might have pitted the Dream Teamers against this lineup:
Centers: Hakeem Olajuwon, 7 feet, Nigeria (now a U.S. citizen). Probably the best player in the world, as shown by his MVP season in the NBA.
Dikembe Mutombo, 7'2", Zaire. Terrific shot blocker. Would keep the U.S. big men from scoring at will inside.
Rik Smits, 7'4", the Netherlands. One of the best shooting centers in the NBA. Would draw the U.S. pivotmen outside.
Forwards: Detlef Schrempf, 6'10", Germany. Versatile enough to play either forward position, he's an NBA All-Star.
Dino Radja, 6'11", Croatia. One of the top NBA rookies last season as a Boston Celtic.
Vlade Divac, 7'1", Yugoslavia. Led his country to the world championship in 1990 before becoming a standout with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Andrew Gaze, 6'7", Australia. A star on the Seton Hall team that made it to the Final Four in 1989, now with the Melbourne Tigers. The best outside shooter this side of Reggie Miller.
Guards: Toni Kukoc, 6'11", Croatia. An NBA forward with the ball handling skills of a point guard.
Sarunas Marciulionis, 6'5", Lithuania. A solid NBA player before injuries forced him to miss most of the last two seasons.
Sergei Bazarevich, 6'2", Russia. Battled Dream Team II guards Kevin Johnson and Mark Price evenly.
Jurij Zdovc, 6'6", Slovenia. Great heart, plays defense—Jerry Sloan with a jump shot.
Coach: Sergei Belov, Russia. Engineered Russia's upset of Croatia in this year's world championships. He's an NBA-style coach, with a keen feel for matchups.
Let's let the rest of the world have a Dream Team, too.
BEN VAN HOOK
Varitek has refused to be caged by the Mariners' lowball offer.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The cover model for the NCAA's Official 1994 College Football Records Book, Demetrea Shelton, a star receiver last season for North Alabama, has been declared academically ineligible and will play junior college basketball this year.
They Said It
Ken Griffey Jr.
Seattle Mariner centerfielder, on the effect of the baseball strike on the stellar seasons he and Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas were enjoying: "We picked a bad year to have a good year."