Julie Foudy, a midfielder on the U.S. women's soccer team, says she was skeptical when Reebok asked her to endorse a new line of soccer balls guaranteed to have been produced without the use of child labor. She knew that sporting-goods companies had been using children in Asia to hand-stitch soccer balls for years. To reassure herself, Foudy visited Reebok's new plant in the isolated city of Sialkot, Pakistan, in March. "I didn't feel comfortable [endorsing the balls] without seeing it," she says.
What she saw was the first facility of its kind in Pakistan: a factory that centralizes every phase of soccer-ball production, including stitching, under one roof. Typically, unstitched ball panels have been dropped off either in villages, where children often help do the sewing, or in stitching centers, where the employees are adults but a risk exists that panels will be diverted to children who then do the work at home.
To monitor the Sialkot plant, which opened in January, Reebok hired local human-rights activists to make surprise inspections and enlisted the services of the Ernst and Young branch in nearby Lahore to ensure that the factory's output corresponds to its input in materials. Reebok says it will swallow the increase in labor costs to support the new process.
After conducting a two-day inspection of the plant in May, Dan McCurry, coordinator of the Washington, D.C.-based campaign against child labor, FoulBall, has praise for Reebok executives. "They're doing what they say they're doing," he says.
On Feb. 15, 56 companies, including Reebok, Nike, Adidas, Mitre and Brine, agreed that over the next 18 months they will begin to use only stitching centers or centralized facilities like Reebok's in the making of soccer balls. But Foudy thinks that more can be done. "Athletes haven't been taking action," she says. "You don't have to go to another country to check it out, but you at least need to be educated about it because athletes can get out the message that there's a problem that needs to be addressed."
The NHLs levying of $1,000 fines on the Colorado Avalanche's Mike Keane and Sandis Ozolinsh for stick infractions in Game 4 of the Avalanche's playoff series with the Detroit Red Wings (page 54) was a cop-out. The playoffs always yield incidents that the league reviews, and in each case it should either suspend offending players or let the episode go unpunished. Small fines are no deterrent to violence, especially in the playoffs. The NHL also officially labeled Keane and Ozolinsh "repeat offenders," which means they will be judged more strictly if they transgress again, but that too carries little weight. Suspensions are the only way to take a stand against violence.
Like all new coaches, Joe Bugel, who was selected in January to guide the Oakland Raiders after the firing of Mike White, has to concern himself with the big picture. But he also has some little pictures to worry about—all of them photos of Oakland's owner, Al Davis.
In 33 years of outspoken and often outrageous behavior as a pro football coach and executive, Davis has made his share of enemies. In the fall of '95, one of them, a former Raiders assistant coach who felt he had been mistreated (and chooses to remain anonymous), was upset that Oakland was 8-2 and looked like a Super Bowl contender. He decided to try a little black magic on the Raiders, and following a voodoo tradition, he wet a photograph of Davis and placed it in a freezer, where it still remains. He then spread the word about the whammy to another discontented former Oakland employee, who called another, and so on. Soon more than a dozen men in the NFLs coaching, playing, marketing, broadcasting and medical communities were icing photos of Davis.