I think all of us in college athletics have gone far astray—in recruiting, in letting people leech on to us who are known to be of bad character. I think we are gutless not to clean up our own business. You cannot use my name, because I am as gutless as the rest.—ANONYMOUS COACH, SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE.
In the first four months of 1963 these incidents made important news in sport: Paul Hornung (see cover) of Green Bay, one of the best football players in the world, and Alex Karras of Detroit were suspended from the National Football League for betting on games. Six other Detroit players were fined for the same offense. Alabama Coach Bear Bryant and Georgia Athletic Director Wally Butts were accused of conspiring to affect the outcome of last fall's Alabama-Georgia football game. The University of Indiana and Purdue competed for a talented high school basketball player by offering scholarships to his girl friend. Jack Molinas, a former professional basketball player, was handed a 10-to-l5-year sentence for fixing college-basketball games from 1957 to 1961. Biggie Munn, athletic director at Michigan State, was found, embarrassingly, to be a stockholder in a management firm owned by a Chicago gangster, Frank (Big Frank) Buccieri. ( Munn promptly said he got out as soon as he discovered who "that furniture man" really was.)
The doleful box score of the past few months, together with the basketball scandals of recent years and a Senate investigation that is soon to take place, have cast a nervous shadow over sport. Confused by the dispiriting succession of events, people are disturbed, and they are talking: the subject, articulated in various ways, is, simply, morality. Some Americans who were not so already have become cynical about sports, some fearful, some doubtful, some merely curious. To read all the signs, there is a crisis in U.S. sports. But is there?
In an important sense, unless it is a sin to enjoy oneself, there is no crisis. Pure sport ("that which diverts and makes mirth; pastime; diversion"), the sport of the participant, is healthier than ever in this pastiming nation of bowlers, boaters, golfers, skiers, snowshoe hikers, softball players and fishermen. Some 33.5 million Americans participate. So the concern is not with what people do, but with what they watch others do, the professionals and the heavily promoted college and amateur players of commercial sports. It is toward these performers that would-be moralists point a finger and say, "Yes, there is a crisis." Are they right?
On the surface, they are not. Sensational news to the contrary, there is less outright dishonesty today than there was in the "good old" days which, a dispassionate review would show, were not only not good but often sensationally crooked. In 1877, long before the Black Sox scandal of 1920, Louisville, then a major league club, expelled four players for throwing games. Owner John Morrissey in the same era used his Troy (N.Y.) Haymakers (forerunners of the New York Giants) like "loaded dice and marked cards." Seven members of the University of Michigan's 1893 football team were not even students at the university, and when Yale lured James Hogan, who later became an All-America tackle, to New Haven in 1902 it was by dint of free tuition, a suite in Vanderbilt Hall, a 10-day trip to Cuba and a monopoly on the sale of scorecards. Some of the old recruiters could make the present breed, with their payments under the table, seem like so many penny-ante poker players.
Today baseball, football and horse racing, the three biggest commercial sports, are more efficiently policed than they ever were in their not-so-innocent youths. Baseball in particular has been careful. In 1943 Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banished the Philadelphia Phillies' millionaire owner, William D. Cox, from baseball for life for betting on his own team. Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Leo Durocher in 1947 for "the accumulation of incidents detrimental to baseball" (he was friendly with a gambler). Similarly, the National Football League suspended Frank Filchock and Merle Hapes of the New York Giants for failing to report an attempted bribe. The league, emulating racing's Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, which has been relentless in keeping known gangsters away from tracks since its founding in 1946, has a staff of 17 detectives on call to check out all rumors concerning players and owners.
There is a good economic reason for such close surveillance. Franchises have become so expensive—and generally so profitable—that an owner would be committing financial suicide not to guard his investment. Too, the probing eye of catechistic news media has severely narrowed a man's chances of making a dishonest dollar. The glare of prolonged inquiry has made even boxing a cleaner sport, although one in dire need of further repair.
Yet beneath the surface of seeming morality there lurks a true crisis. It is far less spectacular than a Black Sox scandal or the case of a prizefighter deliberately taking a dive (as Jake LaMotta admitted doing in a bout with Blackjack Billy Fox 15 years ago). It is, instead, a subtle erosion of the quality of sport. This erosion affects the individual sports; it affects the people in them, the players, the coaches and managers, and the owners. E. Norman Gardiner, writing in
Athletics of the Ancient World, said, "The very popularity of athletics was their undoing." This is not Greece, but the men who control sport in the U.S. today are courting the Greeks' same risk of failure to cope with success. For it is an excess of success that produces unfortunate cases such as Paul Hornung's.
Paul Hornung is a fun-loving fellow who stands to lose 550,000 in the next year for being untidy in choosing his fun. Hornung gambled on football games, including some in which he played as a star halfback for the Packers. The consequence was that Commissioner Pete Rozelle of the NFL suspended Hornung for a year—which, besides loss of salary, sharply reduced Hornung's chances to endorse products in advertisements, which provided him with upward of $ 15,000 a year in pocket money. When the decision went out, and Hornung went out to see what people thought, it might as well have been spring. Cab drivers and sportswriters and fellow athletes and ladies in elevators hailed him and told him how Pete Rozelle ought to be strung up by his strait laces. (Others were just as convinced that Rozelle was justified, but Hornung did not hear much of that.) At a banquet in Worcester, Mass. he was given a hero's ovation. "Everywhere I went the people were behind me," said Hornung, understandably relieved. The crime obviously had not fit the punishment. Why, pshaw—there was hardly any crime at all.
But of course there was. Hornung himself is not a criminal; his football play is unassailable, and he has not thrown a game, taken a bribe or sold his soul to Frankie Carbo. He is a generous young man, good to his mother in Louisville and, as a practicing Catholic, he meticulously orders clam chowder on Fridays. No, indeed. Hornung's mistake was not a criminal act, it was an irresponsible one. Naively, and perhaps unwittingly, he destroyed a portion of faith in the integrity of the game that pays his way. One day he was merely the pal of Gambler-Businessman Barney Shapiro. The next day, "scarcely before I realized it," he says, Shapiro was his betting agent and confidant. He had no idea of the consequences of his actions when he placed his first SI00 bet. Anybody old enough to chew bubble gum can fathom what suspicions this association aroused.