No sooner was Ben Johnson of Canada stripped of his gold medal in the 100 meters than at least three teams from the Canadian Football League and one from the NFL proclaimed their interest in him as a wide receiver. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats called CFL headquarters on Sept. 27, the day after Johnson's disqualification for testing positive for anabolic steroids, requesting the right to negotiate with him. The Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, expressed their desire to have a conversation with Johnson as well.
Over the years, Dallas, which once drafted Carl Lewis, has prospered from the talents of such former track stars as Bob Hayes and Mel Renfro. But speed is no guarantee of success in professional football—remember such notable busts as Frank Budd and John Carlos. Johnson, who is 5'11" and listed in the Canadian team guide as only 166 pounds, has never played organized football.
What's troubling about the wooing of Johnson is that none of the teams vying for his services seems concerned about his steroid use. Mike McCarthy, Hamilton's assistant general manager, was even quoted as saying, "I don't worry about it, because there's steroid use in the CFL. We've never tested for it, but it's out there. You know it's there." The NFL is now testing for steroids, but as yet the league has not developed any disciplinary or rehabilitative procedures for those players who are caught.
While Johnson should not be denied the right to employment outside track, the professional teams are doing him a great disservice by approaching him so soon after his disgrace in Seoul. Let him at least get his life in order and cleanse his system of the dangerous steroids he was apparently persuaded to take.
Ironically, Johnson looks good to football teams precisely because he took steroids. In SI's special report on the Johnson scandal last week, one source close to a member of Johnson's entourage said, "They actually bragged about it, how Ben was a skinny little kid before he got into steroids." Pro football just isn't interested in skinny little kids.
THE MAT LADY
In 1972, Sheila Wager got bored with watching her wrestling sons, Marc and Lance, and her husband, Jerry, a wrestling referee, roughhouse on the living room floor. So to get more involved, she decided to become a referee, too. In time, she rose higher in the wrestling ranks than any of the men in her family, becoming the only woman to attain the exceptionnelle category required of referees in the Olympic Games. For two weeks in Seoul, she officiated both freestyle and Greco-Roman matches.
Wager, a legal secretary from Las Vegas who stands 5'1�" and is in the 136.5-pound class, refuses to divulge her age. Instead she says, "Wrestling keeps you young." She claims that she has never had a problem on the mats because of her gender. "I did get some strange looks from wrestlers when I first started out," Wager says.
Some people worried that Wager might have to work a match involving a wrestler from Iran; the Iranians had refused to march behind a female sign-carrier in the opening ceremonies. This difficulty never arose, but Wager had an easy solution in mind, lest an Iranian refuse to wrestle because of her. "I simply would've raised the arm of the other competitor," she said. "On the mats, I'm not a woman. I'm an official."