The choice of the bright and youthful Bettman as commissioner is only the latest sign that the NHL is finally getting its ducks in a row. Did we say ducks? How about a kind word for the league's lame-duck president, Gil Stein, who will stay in that position until June, when he'll probably assume a lesser role under Bettman. Stein has been running the NHL since John Ziegler resigned as president last June, and despite an occasional misstep—allowing players to serve suspensions on off days rather than on game days, for example—he accomplished more in live months than Ziegler did in 15 years, by, among other things, reducing fighting and increasing the league's U.S. television exposure by returning games to ESPN.
And how about an animated welcome for the Mighty Ducks, which is how Walt Disney Co. chairman Michael Eisner jokingly (we think) referred to the expansion team in Anaheim. Calif., that the NHL awarded to Disney last week. Rounding out its third expansion in as many years, the league increased its number of teams to 26 by also awarding an expansion franchise in Miami to Wayne Huizenga, owner of Blockbuster Video and baseball's Florida Marlins. The new teams could begin play as early as next season, and while their arrival will further dilute the NHL's already shallow talent pool—the league had six teams until 1967 and 21 teams as recently as '89—the addition of Disney and Huizenga will give the NHL financial muscle and marketing know-how.
Although Disney and Huizenga will each pay $50 million for their franchises, $25 million of Disney's outlay will go as territorial indemnification to the Los Angeles Kings, who play their home games 30 miles northwest of Anaheim. In the past such territorial payments have been assessed on top of expansion fees; it is a measure of how much the league wants Disney that its payments will be held to $50 million total.
For his part, Eisner sees the NHL franchise as a merchandising bonanza and a boon to Anaheim-based Disneyland. He pointed to the box-office success of a recent Disney movie about a kids' hockey team, The Mighty Ducks—hence his name for his new club—as the "market research" that prompted him to ally his family-entertainment empire with the rough-and-tumble NHL.
A study commissioned by the national governing body for track and field—formerly The Athletics Congress but now known as USA Track and Field—casts that sport in a harsh light. The study contains results of a poll of public attitudes toward track and field in which 82% of the respondents said drug use by athletes is what bothered them most about the sport. A second poll, eliciting the views of people involved in the sport, found that 90% of the respondents believe that such use is "prevalent" or "very prevalent." Given these disquieting figures, it seems odd that one of the study's main conclusions is that the sport should promote itself by marketing its stars as the "truest athletic heroes."
A press release for a sports medicine symposium in Teaneck, N.J., included this sentence: "This year's program is highlighted by live cadaver surgeries performed by four of the top orthopedic surgeons in the country."
Race drivers often compete into their dotage—52-year-old Mario Andretti, 53-year-old Al Unser Sr. and 57-year-old A.J. Foyt are still active, and Richard Petty was 55 when he retired last month—and there was no reason to think that four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears would be an exception. A relative pup at 41, Mears is tied with Foyt and Unser for Indy 500 wins, and if he'd hung around a few more seasons, he might well have become the first five-time (or more) winner. Thus it was a shock last week when Mears announced his retirement.
Mears says he was contemplating quitting even before he escaped a spectacular crash during practice at Indy last May with only a broken wrist and foot. The injuries, Mears says, "speeded up the decision process" in that, while having to sit out races, he came to realize he was "not really missing being in the car."
Like a lot of athletes, Mears always said he wasn't motivated by records. Apparently, he was one who meant it.