SOVIET PRO-AM DEBATE
Officially, there is no such thing as a pro athlete in the Soviet Union. The Soviet government has branded professionalism immoral and un-Communist and described Western sports pros as so many "slaves" and "gladiators." But it is no secret that, in fact, Soviet world-class athletes—for instance, the hockey players who skated against the NHL All-Stars last week in Quebec City (page 12)—have long received money and fringe benefits under the table.
Now, in the new atmosphere of glasnost—the "openness" allowed by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev—commentators within the U.S.S.R. have become increasingly critical of their government's antiprofessional posturing. In a recent issue of Eko, a business magazine, journalist Fyodor Tatarsky took a close look at professionalism in Soviet soccer. He railed against "the persistent belief that professional sport is incompatible with socialism," and called the current system, under which players hold nominal jobs while practicing or competing 11 months a year, a sham.
"Some tactless comrades ask mean questions," wrote Tatarsky. " 'What metal is handled by players for the Metalist club? How do the backs of the Baku Oilers dig for oil?' "
Beyond decrying the hypocrisy of this "amateurism," Tatarsky argued that the Soviet sports system is anticompetitive and hampers performance by Soviet athletes. He noted that a club's payment to its players depends not on whether the players excel and improve, but on whether the club has any money. "Payment for [a player's] difficult and highly qualified work today depends on the financial capabilities of the organization or enterprise where he is formally assigned," wrote Tatarsky, "or on the mood of a highly placed benefactor who delivers cars, apartment bonuses and other perks not from his own pocket but from the state."
The reform Tatarsky urged has a surprisingly free-market ring to it. He advocated a system under which salaries would be tied to the number of tickets sold. "If reformed, soccer clubs could be turned into sporting enterprises organized like any other enterprise in this country on the well-known principles of self-financing," he wrote. "Most clubs will be highly profitable. Financial difficulties will arise only if the team is of a very low level or is not popular with the fans."
ZONK'S ALL STARS
Larry Csonka, the bruising fullback who was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, took a lot of hits from opposing brutes during his 12-year professional career. These days he's paying for each and every one of them. "I have a little cabin in Stow, Ohio, and in the winter it's cold in that cabin," Csonka recently told Edwin Pope, the sports editor of The Miami Herald. "The first thing I do when I get out of bed and feel the jolt in my knees is think of Roy Winston. On the second step, my calcified Adam's apple starts bobbing, and I think of Carl Eller. A few more steps in the dark and it's Willie Lanier. By the time I get to the bathroom, I'm flashing back to Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke. And when the light finally comes on, I just hope that somewhere in the darkness they're thinking of me, too."
Starting on page 62, you can learn how ex-jocks Jim Bunning and Tom McMillen succeeded in politics. Also in this issue (page 34) you can read about one of the outstanding basketball players produced by Baltimore's Dunbar High School, Reggie Williams. Now here's the improbable story of an ex-Dunbar sports figure who, like Bunning and McMillen, has ascended to high public office. He's Clarence Burns, 68, the first black mayor of Baltimore, whose athletic involvement was scarcely the stuff of sports-page headlines: Burns played baseball and basketball at Dunbar, but is best remembered for having been the locker room attendant from 1948 to 1970.
How did a man who for many years picked up towels and washed uniforms become the mayor of the nation's 11th-largest city? As a teenager Burns helped his father get out the vote in the predominantly black districts of East Baltimore, and when he turned 21 he inherited his dad's political organization. He continued to be a force in East Baltimore politics even after going to work at Dunbar.