SI Vault
John Underwood
May 20, 1963
Recently the climate of sport has been befouled by 'expos�s' and charges of widespread corruption. Is sport crooked? No—but there is a creeping threat to basic values that must be recognized and fought
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May 20, 1963

The True Crisis

Recently the climate of sport has been befouled by 'expos�s' and charges of widespread corruption. Is sport crooked? No—but there is a creeping threat to basic values that must be recognized and fought

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Professional boxing could not resist strangling itself. It tried to swallow three TV fights a week. There were not enough good fighters to sustain public interest. TV audiences became weary of the same old faces. Meanwhile, the small fight clubs—St. Nicholas and Eastern Parkway arenas in New York and Marigold Arena in Chicago—began to founder, and with them went a good portion of the lifeblood of boxing: the young talent. Of no help were the monopolizing influence of the International Boxing Club and the hoodlum influence of Carbo. As the result of almost universal concern and pressure, the sport now appears to be in reasonably good order, but there is still a disregard of the boxers' safety, and whenever there is a close fight someone is sure to holler fix. Public faith has been shaken.

The finances of pro basketball and pro hockey are now dependent on an interminable league schedule—the hockey season begins in October and ends in April. Pro basketball teams play a minimum of 80 games apiece—and then, as if all that did not mean a thing, they engage in a series of playoffs involving a total of six of the nine teams. "That's not basketball," said a weary Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics after logging 60,000 miles and playing himself into exhaustion in 1961. "That's vaudeville."

Professional golfers, also enjoying a new boom of interest, do little for their brotherhood by abandoning the tour to take part in big-money but trumped-up "specials." Stars like Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, among many others, have admitted to splitting purses before playoff matches, thereby lessening the professional significance of the match. The end result is a cheated fan.

The horse racing industry, possibly the most self-consciously honest because of its great attraction to the fast-buck crowd, is so well guarded by security measures and is such a cheerful tax supporter of state governments that it has become almost as respectable as living in Darien, Conn. Ex- FBI men are everywhere. So are pastel-colored ticket windows. But the sport's last pretense of esthetic quality—"the betterment of the breed"—is being undermined by an unstinting devotion to The Handle. An Aqueduct, with easier, more mechanical racing and a longer line of ticket windows, thrives, while lovely old Belmont dies on the vine.

There is nothing starry-eyed in believing that the men who manage or take part in the most commercial of sports should combine with their business ambition a dedication to, or at least a real respect for, their sport and all that it stands for. After all, there are millions of ordinary Americans who love their jobs and respect their professions. One would like to think that in the top echelons—which is where the top pro sportsmen belong—the proportion of Americans feeling that way is high.

This magazine will always be on the side of those who remember that a sport does not cease to be a sport when it also becomes a business. It is good to hear Paul Hornung say he would "play for the Packers this year for nothing," but that should not be necessary.

When one mixes young men already made cynical by their college experiences with others whose sole concern is to make money, trouble is to be expected. The change in viewpoint must begin with the people at the top, both in college and in professional circles. When Dr. F. C. (Phog) Allen went to an official of the University of Kansas to urge that college presidents take the lead in cleaning up sports, he says the official replied, "We've got too damned many other things to do that are more important." If this gutless attitude continues to prevail, the "excess" that ruined athletics in Greece will ruin them here. But it does not have to happen.

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