SI Vault
Edited by Jack McCallum and Richard O'Brien
September 23, 1996
Rest in Peace—Please!
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September 23, 1996


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He has staged no fake retirements. He has been involved in no holdouts. He has never dyed his mane purple. He has one tattoo, but it is a subtle one on the inside of his lip, a string of identification numbers required by racing regulations. He has made no rap videos. He plans no career in broadcasting when he retires.

He does not live in a multimillion-dollar palace. He does not own a fleet of foreign automobiles. He has no maid or chef or home entertainment center. His life is basic. His sport is everything to him.

Get him on that Wheaties box. He is the last great champion, maybe the last we ever will see. Thank you, Cigar.

Somebody Pin This Guy

Since the Olympics, Greco-Roman superheavyweight silver medalist Matt Ghaffari has, among other things, appeared on The Tonight Show and at the Paralympics, thrown out the first ball before an Indians game at Cleveland Stadium, rung the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange, visited the White House and two Ronald McDonald Houses, and spoken at the Republican Convention. Last Saturday he competed at the Yukon Jack world arm wrestling championships at Disney World. To hear the 286-pound nonstop photo op describe it, however, his work has just begun. "I took over leadership of the Olympic spirit," Ghaffari told The New York Times last week. "I take every day to the fullest and try to do my best to help the human race."

Ghaffari may have settled for silver in Atlanta, but when it comes to publicity seeking, personal promotion and all-around self-importance, the big guy is—sorry, Kerri—the unchallenged gold medalist.

Heart of the Case

Northwestern sophomore Nicholas Knapp, who sued for the right to play basketball after a Wildcats team doctor ruled him medically ineligible because of a heart condition (SCORECARD, Nov. 27, 1995), won his case last week. In ordering Northwestern to give Knapp, a 6'5" shooting guard, a chance to play, U.S. district judge James B. Zagel cited the federal Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination against the disabled.

Zagel's decision is unsettling, given Knapp's history. Two years ago, when Knapp was a high school senior, he was playing a pickup game when his heart stopped and he collapsed. Shortly after that episode, which cardiologists refer to as "sudden death," Knapp had a defibrillator—a device that can jolt the heart back into a normal rhythm—implanted in his abdomen; he has had no cardiac incidents since. Northwestern made good on an earlier basketball scholarship offer that Knapp had orally accepted, and in August 1995 he enrolled, only to be later told that he couldn't play.

Because each side presented two physicians, Zagel concluded that cardiologists were "evenly split" on Knapp's condition. But even one of those two who testified that Knapp should be allowed to play conceded that "the general recommendation by physicians in sports that he cannot participate in athletics." Indeed, a national meeting of cardiologists in 1994 concluded that moderate and high-intensity sports are inadvisable for athletes with implantable defibrillators.

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