SI Vault
Edited by Alexander Wolff and Christian Stone
May 22, 1995
She Said, He Said
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May 22, 1995


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A Harrowing charter flight at the end of the regular season so shook up Cleveland Cavalier forward Tyrone Hill (right) that he hired a chauffeured limo to drive him the 475 miles from Cleveland to New York for the Cavs' first-round playoff series. "I lost my manhood on that flight," said Hill of the three minutes of severe turbulence that he and his teammates endured. Aerophobia isn't easy to reconcile with life in big-time sports, but a number of athletes have tried to do so anyway, with mixed success:



CONNIE DIERKING, former NBA center

Flying in winter weather while with Syracuse Nats caused him to quit game for three seasons, until team moved to Philadelphia.

JACKIE JENSEN, former Red Sox outfielder

AL MVP in 1958 missed entire 1960 season; returned in '61 only to jump club after season. Neither shrinks nor hypnotists could help.

ALEXANDER MOGILNY, Sabre left wing

Developed phobia in 1989-90, whereupon Mogilny (left) got counseling and driver. Wound up missing four games before realizing he could be flying Aeroflot.

WAYNE GRETZKY, L.A. King megastar

Then L.A. owner Bruce McNall offered private plane to help Great One make nice with not-so-friendly skies.

DOUG MOE, former NBA and ABA player and coach

The original Skychicken (top of page) once disembarked from plane during stopover in Dallas and drove to San Antonio.

MARCUS JONES, North Carolina defensive end

Tried to run off plane during takeoff en route to first college game in '92; restrained by three teammates and sedated.


Heavyweight blamed fear on nightmare in which plane disintegrates. With possible fight in Japan looming, went on "Oprah" in unavailing search for cure.

CHARLIE HOUGH, former itinerant knuckleballer

"I'm not afraid of flying. I'm afraid of crashing."

She Said, He Said

Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal reporter Valerie Helmbreck insists that CBS golf commentator Ben Wright told her that "lesbians in the sport hurt women's golf," homosexuality on the LPGA tour "is paraded" and a woman's swing is "handicapped" by her "boobs." Wright insists just as stoutly that, while he broached the subjects of the female anatomy and gays in women's golf during an interview last Friday, he said nothing remotely resembling what Helmbreck attributed to him. There are no tapes or witnesses to resolve their conflicting accounts of what transpired at the LPGA Championship, played at the DuPont Country Club in Wilmington. But once again, five years after Shoal Creek and several weeks before the publication of The Unplayable Lie, Marcia Chambers's book documenting sexism in the world of golf, the specter of an alien presence has impinged on a sport in which power rests overwhelmingly with straight, white males. And every time the alien tees up, it's fascinating to watch golf squirm.

Without siding with Helmbreck or Wright, LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem took the statesmanlike position that sexual orientation shouldn't be an issue in women's golf. But it's disingenuous to suggest that open homosexuality wouldn't be an issue to the corporate world on which the women's tour depends. If there are closet lesbians on the tour, it's in the best business interests of the LPGA that they remain so in light of the way sponsors cravenly shunned tennis's Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova when their lesbianism became public. Nancy Lopez ripped Wright when initially apprised of his alleged comments, but a day later she backtracked as if she had been upbraided by the golf police, saying that Wright would not have made such comments "in a million years." Meanwhile, no one on the tour used the incident to step forward and say what should have been said: There are gays among us. Deal with it.

If there was an encouraging aspect to the entire imbroglio, it was the professional way CBS's two weekend broadcasts unfolded. There were none of the usual patronizing comments of the "these gals really take a whack at it" variety and no talking down to a more female, and presumptively more golf-ignorant, audience. Yet it's funny how another CBS commentator, Gary McCord, was yanked from the Masters because some white guys in green blazers didn't like the way he injected a little benign color into his tournament commentary a year ago. By contrast Wright, who weathered a 1991 episode in which he called Japan's premier golfer, Jumbo Ozaki, a Jap during a telecast, enjoyed an entire network's support when his alleged comments were aimed at a group symbolically outside the country club gates.

At first glance that discrepancy might seem like CBS's problem. But it's golf's problem too.

Putt with a Gut
The East Bay Golf Course in Provo, Utah, plans to install McPhones at its 9th and 18th tees, allowing hackers to call in orders to McDonald's Express. Which, in the spirit of the news of the week, raises the question, How much does an inflated waistline impede a man's swing?

Heartrending Story

It seems Michael Jordan wasn't the only person getting bad juju from the number 45. On May 7, the same day that Jordan turned in arguably the worst playoff performance of his career, James DiFillipo, who had been awaiting a heart transplant at Chicago's Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, replaced the number 45 he had taped to his Heartmate ventricular assist device in honor of Jordan with His Ereness's erstwhile 23. "The number 45 hadn't been very lucky for either of us," says DiFillipo, who had been seeking a heart donor since March 17. Three days later Jordan made his dramatic number switch, which warmed the heart of DiFillipo even as it induced a collective coronary among the pooh-bahs in the league office. "I thought, Whoa, this is a good omen," DiFillipo says.

Indeed. Early Thursday morning, DiFillippo got word that a donor had been found; five hours later, doctors successfully performed the transplant and told him he could return to Union Mills, Ind., home as early as next month. Jordan, too, is recovering quite nicely since his own number switch. In the three games following the change, he averaged 34.6 points and shot 50% (page 22). Says DiFillipo of his hero: "If anyone plays with heart, he does."

Looking Out for No. 1
A week after Utah assistant basketball coach Donny Daniels served as an apologist for a male sex felon that the Utes were recruiting (SI, May 15), the World Boxing Council announced that it has ranked Mike Tyson, who's returning to the ring after three years in prison on a rape conviction, as its No. 1 contender. You'll recall that after Monica Seles was brutally stabbed by unemployed lathe operator and Steffi Graf fan G√ľnter Parche precisely because Seles was No. 1, the Women's Tennis Association refused to protect her top ranking. Guess it's better to be a male perp than a female victim.

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