With so many athletes contemplating a career in politics we
should all be worried, very worried--because our heroes are
wasting their talents
Charles Barkley has been saying he wants to be governor of
Alabama. Karl Malone is considering a gubernatorial campaign in
Utah. And Magic Johnson has been mentioned as a possible Los
Angeles mayor. This is not funny, threatening as it does to
lower the dignity of one of America's most important civic
But think about it: Athletes make exceptional politicians, and
for one good reason--they're overqualified. For a politician
public office is the apex of power and influence. For a pro
athlete it's a dizzying fall from being cheered by millions to
answering constituent complaints about Aunt Lulu's disability
check's being late in the mail. The highest political office in
the land can't give the thrill of sports. Imagine Dwight
Eisenhower in retirement reverie. Was he fondly remembering the
Suez Crisis? Or the days when he was "the Kansas Cyclone" at
West Point playing halfback against Jim Thorpe?
It's no wonder athletes, who judge themselves by certain
measurable standards of excellence, find politics a big step
down from sports. The only objective standard of political
performance is incumbency. When being hard to get rid of is
praiseworthy, cockroaches are the champion species. There is no
quality control in politics. Politicians are so untalented that
sometimes they barely show a talent for politics. If legislative
acumen, coherent global strategy and communication skills were
what got you into the majors, Jimmy Carter would have been cut
from his T-ball team. If selfless public service were a forward
pass, then, in 1975, Richard Nixon would have been the only
62-year-old quarterbacking in the Pop Warner league.
You'll notice that pro athletes don't become corrupt
politicians, either--even when we have an athlete who comes from
a sport that is admittedly fixed. Jesse Ventura looks honest
compared with other pols. (We almost believe him when he says
he's retiring to protect his family's privacy.) This is because
the cash involved in political corruption isn't enough to flip
for a kickoff. All the political contributions ever made by
Arthur Andersen wouldn't amount to one decent product
endorsement deal. True, the World Series was thrown in 1919. But
Arnold Rothstein's buying off a few members of the Chicago Black
Sox can hardly be compared with Joe Kennedy's buying off the
entire state of Illinois for his son Jack in 1960.
Nor are jocks easy prey to libidinous temptations with aides and
interns. Monica Lewinsky may have looked like Catherine
Zeta-Jones to a lard-butt who played saxophone in the school
band. To even a relief pitcher on the Norfolk Tides, Monica would
look like Elsie, the Borden's cow.
If you're still not convinced that sports is a higher calling
than politics, imagine the traffic going in the opposite
direction. Barney Frank on the balance beam. Strom Thurmond above
the rim. Teddy Kennedy tending goal. (Actually, just as a
proposition in solid geometry, that might work.) Meanwhile, make
Mike Tyson ambassador to France and you have improved the mental
health and physical fitness standards of European diplomacy and
"Public service," they call it; it sounds so noble. But
participating in politics never saved a boy from reform school.
In terms of avoiding a life of crime, think how much better it
would have been for Bill Clinton if he had been taken under the
wing of Cus D'Amato instead of Senator Fulbright. Wellington
said, "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of
Eton." Nobody ever said, "The World Cup was won in the student
council elections of St. Albans prep school."
Let's go to the record books. Athletes who've become politicians
lead their leagues. Former Buffalo Bills quarterback and
nine-term congressman Jack Kemp is the first Republican to have
had any new ideas since Abraham Lincoln. He was the only
candidate on the 1996 presidential tickets who didn't need a
polygraph or Alzheimer's medication. And, as Secretary of Housing
and Urban Development, Kemp actually had a clue about what causes
poverty (lack of money).
Cooperstown inductee and Republican senator from Kentucky Jim
Bunning pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies. He
still throws a mean sidearm brushback at people trying to avoid
responsibility and impinge on freedom.
Seattle Seahawks Hall of Fame receiver and former Oklahoma
congressman Steve Largent, who's running for governor, is
foursquare and upright. He's a Christian conservative without the
Tammy Faye luggage. If you happen to be a liberal, there's
onetime New York Knicks forward Bill Bradley with two
championship rings and 18 years in the Senate.
And pro athletes are smart--by politician standards. The dumbest
lineman in the NFL has memorized a playbook the size of the
Federal budget, while the smartest politician in recent history
was too dumb to know when he'd had sex. Athletes are used to
having their every move scrutinized by the best reporters in the
world. Sportswriters are better than political writers. Is this
The New Republic you have in your hands? Compare a David Broder
column with a column by my colleague Rick Reilly. Rick knows what
he's talking about. Nobody knows what Broder is talking about.
Plus people actually read Rick Reilly.
Finally there's the simple matter of You've got game or you
don't. When George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld
say they'll kick ass, they mean they'll have other people, such
as the Air Force and the Marine Corps, do it for them after
elaborate planning and extensive consultation with military
allies. When Charles Barkley says he'll kick ass, he means he'll
take his own Gulfstream, fly to Baghdad, get in the face of some
Republican Guards and plant his size-16 Nike on Saddam's
A Matter of Frozen Assets
An ugly family feud is raging over what will happen to Ted
Quickly the news coverage of Ted Williams's death turned from
somber to gruesome. On July 6, the day after the Splendid
Splinter succumbed to cardiac arrest in Inverness, Fla., at age
83 (page 44), his daughter from his first marriage, Bobby-Jo
Williams Ferrell, 53, announced her intention to prevent her
half-brother, John Henry Williams, 33, from freezing their
father's remains so that his DNA could be cloned and sold. On
July 8 the Boston Herald reported that the former Red Sox great
was already frozen solid at The Alcor Life Extension Foundation
in Scottsdale, Ariz.
This is not the first time John Henry has been accused of trying
to profit from his father's name. Ever since he took over Ted's
business affairs, starting in 1991, he has cut a swath through
the memorabilia industry, waging a one-man crusade against
forged autographs and fake merchandise, an approach some of his
critics allege was part of a plan to pump up the price of his
own lines of collectibles. He has even feuded in the courts with
his sister, Claudia, 29, whom he sued for selling $1.3 million
worth of Williams-autographed bats to a collector. While several
of John Henry's business ventures have failed--including Grand
Slam, a clearinghouse for Ted Williams memorabilia, and a
website, hitter.net, which his father promoted during a Ted
Williams tribute at the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park by
wearing a company hat and shirt--he still peddles Williamsiana
through his new company, Green Diamond Sports.
For now, John Henry isn't talking. He has been granted time off
by the Gulf Coast Red Sox, the rookie league team that signed
him on June 21 as a favor to his father, but for which he has
not played in two weeks, since he sustained a rib injury in
practice. Neither he nor his lawyer responded to repeated
interview requests from SI. "They've asked me to keep it
private," says Dwight Hooper, who runs Hooper's Funeral Home in
Hernando, Fla., where Williams's body was sent after he was
pronounced dead at Citrus Memorial Hospital. Hooper even refused
to confirm that the body had been shipped to Arizona, saying
cryptically, "It may still be here." --Mark Beech
50 1/2 Hot dogs eaten by Japan's Takeru (Tsunami) Kobayashi, 24,
in 12 minutes to win the 87th Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot
Dog Eating Contest. Last year the 5'6" 113-pounder ate 50 dogs
for the win.
45 Median age of major league baseball fans, according to
Scarborough Research, a consumer market research firm. The
company also determined the median age of NFL fans (43), NBA fans
(41) and NHL fans (39).
500 Canton-area hotel rooms reserved by friends and relatives of
Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly for his induction into pro
football's Hall of Fame on Aug. 3, a record for an inductee.
24 Months on the market before Atlanta Braves outfielder Gary
Sheffield's four-year-old St. Petersburg house sold. Listed at
$4.3 million, the property went for $2.8 million.
11 Current FIFA ranking of the U.S. soccer team, equaling its
highest ranking ever. The U.S. was also ranked 11th in May 1998.
SPORT? NOT A SPORT?
SOLO BALLOONING AROUND THE WORLD
SPORT "A lot of people might say what does that have to do with
sport? Well, it takes things like determination, desire and
patience to go around the world. It takes endurance and focus.
And if you make a mistake, you could die." --Evander Holyfield,
former heavyweight champ
NOT A SPORT "It would be a sport if you landed in the water and
there were sharks. Then, you could see how fast you can swim to
get away from them." --Steve Kline, Cardinals reliever
SPORT "When you consider the inflated egos of pro athletes and
all the hot air dispensed by Charles Barkley and Bill Walton, why
shouldn't ballooning be a sport?" --Pat Williams, senior vice
president, Orlando Magic
NOT A SPORT "It's a hobby taken to an extravagant, multi-million
dollar level." --Stuart Appleby, PGA golfer
SPORT "Your physical limits are tested and it takes a lot of
determination and talent." --Chamique Holdsclaw, forward,
NOT A SPORT "I can't say it's a sport. I would call it more of
an expedition, like Lewis and Clark." --Willy T. Ribbs, race car
NOT A SPORT "If it's one guy, not a sport. If it's a bunch of
guys racing, a sport. If they're racing in a thunderstorm, then
it's a sport televised on Fox." --Clint Mathis, U.S. soccer player
The Joy of Noodling
A postcard from a place where folks fish with their bare hands
Greetings from the third annual Catfish Noodling Tournament in
Paul's Valley, Okla. There are about 74 guys (and one woman,
Kristy Watson) here hand-catching these giant catfish. I know:
Ewww. Standing neck-deep in the lake, a noodler feels around
under rocks or logs until he, or she, finds a fish. Then the
noodler shoves an arm down its throat, past rows of nasty teeth,
grabs it through the gills and hoists it out of the water. A good
noodler can do this without hurting the fish. This year's winner,
65-year-old William Lawson of Paul's Valley, noodled a 54-pounder
that measured 4 1/2 feet long. (Good going, Bill, but I won't
shake your hand.) Afterward we went to the big catfish fry, at
which we enjoyed live country-rock music and an appearance by a
couple of genuine Miss Okie Noodlings. Now I, too, know the
feeling of being stuffed to the gills. --Camille Bersamin
FATHER, SON & HOLY GOAT
Lately, hundreds of NASCAR fans have made pilgrimages to the tiny
pit stop of Interlachen, Fla., to view Lil' Dale, a 4-month-old
Nubian goat with a marking on its right side in the shape of a 3,
Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s number. Says breeder Jerry Pierson, "I had
one that more or less had the state of Idaho on her side, but I
don't know of anybody who's had anything like this."
Pierson's farm is 75 miles from Daytona, where Earnhardt died in
February 2001, which may explain why the miracle marking is
being associated with him instead of, say, Bronko Nagurski or
NAMED As manager, by the Atlantic League's Atlantic City Surf,
former Phillies pitcher Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams. Best known
for giving up a World Series-winning home run to Toronto's Joe
Carter in 1993, Williams, 37, served as the Surf's pitching
coach, as well as an occasional pitcher, before the hiring.
CHALLENGED By Ukrainian contender Wladimir Klitschko,
heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, to a game of chess.
Klitschko, who holds a Ph.D. in physical education, has enlisted
Professional Chess Association champion Garry Kasparov as his
cornerman. "Never have two champions played chess before the
fight," says the 39-1 Klitschko, who also wants to face Lewis in
RELEASED From jail, in Ventura County, Calif., Hall of Fame
running back Jim Brown, after serving less than four months of a
six-month sentence for vandalizing his wife's car in 1999.
Brown, 66, was originally sentenced to a year of domestic
violence counseling, a $1,800 fine and a choice of 40 hours on a
work crew or 400 hours of community service. When he refused
counseling, Brown was ordered by a municipal court judge to
serve the jail term.
DIED Pete Gray, 87, who in 1945 played 77 games for the St.
Louis Browns despite having lost his right arm when he fell
under a truck at age six. Baseball's most famous wartime
replacement, Gray was acquired by the Browns for $20,000 after
he was named MVP of the Southern Association while with the
Memphis Chicks. Gray made his big league debut on April 18,
1945, and went 1 for 4 in a 7-1 win over Detroit. He finished
the season with a .218 batting average. (An outfielder, Gray
would catch a fly, tuck his glove under his stump, roll the ball
across his chest and throw.) Gray was sent down after the '45
season when players returned from military service; he played in
the minors and for barnstorming teams into the '50s before
retiring to Nanicoke, Pa. A 1986 television movie (A Winner
Never Quits) was made about his life.
An early retirement may be Felix Trinidad's sweetest move
A fighter's retirement is like a Mark Twain death notice--most
likely it's greatly exaggerated. So we're inclined to hold off on
Felix (Tito) Trinidad's boxing eulogy for the moment. The
suspicion, here and elsewhere, is that last week's announcement
from Puerto Rico was either a flash of frustration at being held
out of real comeback fights or a negotiating ploy to get an
immediate return match with middleweight champion Bernard
Hopkins, the only man to beat him.
Retire at 29? Just a year after he was being touted as the best
fighter, pound for pound? Now that his paydays are topping $10
million? And with talk of return bouts (and even bigger money)
still on the table? Pardon our suspicion.
Still, knowing that Mark Twain eventually did die (placing him
once and for all beyond bon mot), we have to consider the
possibility that Trinidad might be different; that 21 title
bouts, carrying him to hero status in his home country, just
might be enough, that one loss notwithstanding.
And it is possible. Trinidad, trained and managed by his father,
was always considered an extension of Don Felix's severe will. In
fact it was his mother, Irma Garcia, who really pulled his
strings, and her influence cannot be discounted. Ever since he
got thumbed badly during his 2000 destruction of Fernando Vargas,
she has been agitating for her son's retirement. Maybe he
If so, good for him. Fighters get ruined chasing redemption, and
maybe Trinidad understands that in the boxer's world, enough is
never enough. Ask Evander Holyfield. Maybe enough is titles in
three weight classes, a reputation for getting off the canvas and
delivering devastation, a legacy of straight-ahead craft that
finally, in the last few years, penetrated the language barrier
and made him nearly as popular here as in Puerto Rico. It should
Of course, that's not to say we wouldn't cover Hopkins-Trinidad
II. --Richard Hoffer
HOW OLD IS THE OLD HIDDEN BALL TRICK?
The infielder's sleight of hand--which was attempted
unsuccessfully by the Phillies last week--is at least as old as
professional baseball, according to Bill Deane, a member of the
Society for American Baseball Research. Though its origins are
murky ("Even in the 19th century they were calling it ancient
and moss-covered," Deane says), the trick made its big league
debut in the first year of the National League, on May 25, 1876:
Chicago White Stockings legend Cap Anson was duped and caught
off third base when Hartford Dark Blues shortstop Tom (Scoops)
Carey concealed the ball, then fired it to third baseman Bob
(Death to Flying Things) Ferguson. By Deane's count it has been
pulled off 140 times since, most recently by the Giants against
the Dodgers, on June 26, 1999.
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
JULY 12-JULY 25
OLN 9:30 AM--Tour de France: Stage 6
Grab some brie and a baguette. The Outdoor Life Network will show
all 20 stages of the Tour, including this 199.5-km segment, which
takes riders from Forges-les-Eaux to Alencon.
NBC 2:30 PM--Tropicana 400
The El isn't the only wild ride in the Windy City. Last year at
the inaugural running of the Tropicana 400, rookie Kevin Harvick
won before a sellout crowd of 85,000 at Chicagoland Speedway.
ESPN 7:30 PM--2002 WNBA All-Star Game
Expect Washington's MCI Center to erupt with a rousing ovation
for the best player in the nation's capital (sorry, MJ)--but only
if Mystics All-Star forward Chamique Holdsclaw's injured left
ankle heals in time.
THURSDAY 7/18-SUNDAY 7/21 THURSDAY ESPN 8 AM, FRIDAY ESPN 8 AM,
SATURDAY ABC 9 AM, SUNDAY ABC 8 AM
Halfway home to the immortal Grand Slam, the Tiger Woods Tour
hits Muirfield, with its shifting winds and fast, narrow
SATURDAY 7/20--HBO 9:30 PM--Vernon Forrest vs. Sugar Shane
Forrest (34-0, 26 KOs) shocked the boxing world last January with
a decision over Mosley (38-1, 35 KOs) to claim the WBC
welterweight title. This is the rematch.
TV LAND 9 PM
The Love Boat
In a 1979 episode titled "The Designated Lover," then Yankees
slugger Reggie Jackson (showing his acting range by playing
Reggie Jackson) falls for an obsessed fan played by Telma
Hopkins. Welcome aboard, Mr. October!
Tee up the LPGA
With Tiger Woods out of the Western Open with the flu, the LPGA
seemed poised to seize the golf TV spotlight last weekend.
Unfortunately NBC's production of the U.S. Women's Open was as
under the weather as Tiger. Start with the distinct lack of
enthusiasm in the voices of Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller: Perhaps
the announcing team had a hangover of sorts after covering a
raucous men's U.S. Open. But there's no excuse for NBC's not
using innovations like the computer-animated hole flyover and the
Swing-View technology that were staples of the men's Open
coverage. Network executives moan about low ratings for women's
golf, but if they don't take the sport seriously, why should
The Fox NASCAR team of Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell
Waltrip jelled into an entertaining group in their second season.
Still, they should not shy away from reporting on ugly incidents,
as they did during last week's Pepsi 400, when the trio made no
comment about fans at Daytona showering the track with debris
after the race ended under a controversial yellow flag.
It's Fox's Ball Game
Fox cried foul back in April when mlb.com launched Condensed
Games, which allows fans to watch a scaled-down version of every
game from the previous day on their computers for a $4.95
seasonal fee. The network is paying MLB $2.5 billion over six
years for exclusive rights. Fox claimed that the service, which
shows the final pitch from every at bat and reduces an average
game to eight minutes, would undermine the deal by providing an
alternative to TV. The result? While Condensed Games has
attracted 130,000 subscribers, Fox's ratings are up slightly
from last year. --John O'Keefe
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: BARRY BLITT
FOUR COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: BARRY BLITT (4)
COLOR PHOTO: WINSLOW TOWNSON/AP (FENWAY) ADIEU TO THE KID As the game grieved, John Henry (left, with Ted) kept mum.
COLOR PHOTO: AP (WILLIAMS)
COLOR PHOTO: GJON MILI (NIVEN) David Niven and Cantinflas in Around the World in 80 Days
COLOR PHOTO: TREVOR COLLENS/REUTERS Steve Fossett's world tour
B/W PHOTO: BRADLEY BEESLEY (NOODLING) Queens for a day
COLOR PHOTO: BRADLEY BEESLEY (NOODLING) Thrilled to the gills
COLOR PHOTO: AMY CONN/AP (EARNHARDTS) SI FOR KIDS Fans of Dale Sr. and Jr. (above) flock to Lil' Dale.
COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF LAURA AND JERRY PIERSON [See caption above]
B/W PHOTO: HARRY HARRIS/AP (GRAY) Pete Gray
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO (TRINIDAD) MAMA RULES Trinidad's mother, Garcia (left), implored her son to quit.
COLOR PHOTO: JOSE CRUZ CANDELARIA-PRIMERA HORA/AP (GARCIA) [See caption above]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: FRED HARPER (ILLUSTRATION)
COLOR PHOTO: TV LAND Action, Jackson!
"Coverage of Ted Williams's death turned from somber to
gruesome." --FROZEN ASSETS, PAGE 32