Satan Ain't So
Even as they redoubled their efforts to lure the New Jersey Devils to their city (page 78), members of the Nashville Metro Council were recently reminded by a few concerned citizens of an ordinance that forbids the sale of alcohol within 100 feet of a place of worship. The First Baptist Church, it happens, is located roughly 85 feet from the soon-to-be-completed-and-renamed Nashville Arena, which would be the transplanted hockey team's home. The row was resolved last week when the council, against the wishes of many in this redoubt of the Bible Belt, exempted the auditorium from the ordinance. Five days before that vote a tornado had swept through the region, prompting one of the Music City's God-fearing denizens to phone a call-in show to suggest that the twister was divine punishment for excessive Devil worship.
Better Late Than Never
The broad outlines of something virtually no major industrialized nation besides the U.S. has been able to do without—a pro soccer league of the first rank—came clear last week. Major League Soccer unveiled its charter cities and introduced the "investor-operators" who will be business partners with the league. As a business entity, MLS will chart fascinating new territory: More than $22 million in league funds have been set aside to sign some of the world's best players and to pay the extortionate transfer fees their current clubs will no doubt demand. A premier player will sign a contract with the league office, which will in turn assign him to one of the league's 10 teams, three of which the league itself will operate.
But MLS, which was originally supposed to kick off several months ago, now won't begin play until next March. The extra time it took U.S. Soccer president, 1994 World Cup chairman and MLS founding commissioner Alan Rothenberg, to collect $75 million in start-up capital cost the fledgling league a valuable ride on the wave of excitement generated by last year's Cup. That delay has been disconcerting to FIFA, the game's world governing body, which awarded the Cup to the U.S. on the condition that a league would begin play in '95, and to two high-profile MLS investors, Lamar Hunt (who will operate both the Columbus, Ohio, and Kansas City franchises) and John Kluge (head of the New York-New Jersey team). The delay is also a shame because two of the World Cup's biggest stars are already in the fold: Flamboyant Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos was enlisted for a transfer fee of $2 million and will play in Los Angeles, a city with a Hispanic population of more than 1.3 million, and the U.S. national team's best player, New Jersey native Tab Ramos, will suit up for New York-New Jersey.
Unfortunately the league's control over major signings and player distribution could sow suspicion in modest media markets like Columbus, where fans will live in constant fear that the best players are being reserved for the big-market clubs. Involvement in multiple franchises by Hunt and the league also could arouse suspicion about the integrity of the league. Further, MLS has abandoned its plan to use cozy stadiums of 10,000 to 15,000 seats, capacities that jibe with projected average attendance. The league has opted instead for such gargantuan venues as the Cotton Bowl, Giants Stadium and RFK Stadium, where games will likely be played before an uninspiring backdrop of tens of thousands of empty seats. Most discouragingly, the MLS missed the opportunity to take advantage of the new national pastime of ignoring the old national pastime, which would have dovetailed with a 1995 launch. "We're not looking for distraught baseball fans to run across the street and immediately become soccer fans," Rothenberg says. "If we just tap into those fans that already have a passion for soccer, we don't need anyone else's fans." Given the league's pledge to start modestly and grow prudently, Rothenberg may be right. But MLS has gotten late to the beach, and as any surfer knows, there's no way to ride a passed wave.
A 4.0 in Philanthropy
Former world champion gymnast Shannon Miller graduated from Edmond (Okla.) North High School on May 18 with a grade point average nearly as flawless as one of her dismounts. Her 3.96 GPA would have been a perfect 4.0 had she not stumbled as a sophomore, when she could earn nothing better than a B in geometry. The math teacher who gave her that grade, Darrell Allen, became ill with leukemia last winter. Aware that Allen's family faced astronomical hospital bills, Miller organized a celebrity auction that included donations from such fellow Olympians as Bonnie Blair, Dan Jansen and Greg Louganis. The auction raised more than $5,000 for Allen, who died seven days later.
To judge by the conduct of at least one of his students, Allen must have been a pretty good teacher.