PUNDIT OFF BASE
After seeing a British movie, This Sporting Life, Russell Baker of The New York Times has been moved to make some observations on what he calls "the corrupting influence of professional sports." Fans, it seems, are persons with a vicarious "need to crack skulls and smash noses." (They watch football and boxing, don't they?) He finds a "distortion of values" in the fact that heavyweight champions are paid so handsomely and that Joe Namath has signed a $400,000 contract with the New York Jets. If a man spent New Year's Day watching bowl games on TV he was acting "in disregard of family life."
Ah, but this is not all. "The perverse ethics of commercial sports have even begun to infect the area of government," says Baker, citing the deposition of Charles Halleck as Republican leader of the House of Representatives and finding in it a parallel with the firing of Yogi Berra after the Yankees lost the World Series. Halleck was on a losing team, too, you see. (In defense of baseball's good name, we must note that Berra would have been fired even if the Yanks had won the Series.) And it was "commercial" of President Johnson—here the connection with sport becomes remote—to address a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m. E.S.T. "for maximum fan exposure on TV."
As a sports magazine, we know our place and would not presume to comment on politics. We feel that Russell Baker, a writer of wit and competence in the political field, should similarly shun the corrupting influence of sports and contemplate only the sweetness and light of politics, though he may, if he chooses, come out firmly against the custom of having the President of the United States throw out the first ball to start the baseball season.
IN BASEBALL IT'S BUSH
As the National Basketball Association schedule approached the All-Star Game break, Wilt Chamberlain was dunking and banking shots at a 39.6 point pace, virtually assuring him of his sixth consecutive scoring crown. Nevertheless, San Francisco's 7-foot-1 center was unhappy, and this led to an unseemly row with Sid Borgia, the NBA's supervisor of referees. The league's officiating, said Chamberlain, is "atrocious." Borgia's counterpunch: "If our officiating was as atrocious as Wilt's foul shooting [a dismal 42% this season] we'd have all been fired 10 years ago.
"If Wilt was six inches shorter," Borgia went on, "you wouldn't even know about him. He might not even be in the NBA. And he'd be a pauper instead of a millionaire."
And so on. Chamberlain would seem to have little reason to complain about officiating. In more than 460 games, he is the only veteran player who has yet to foul out. But that is beside the point. No organized sport should tolerate such public controversy between an official and a player. In baseball, fines would be levied and heads would roll.
More than a decade ago one of the most esteemed men of skiing, Britain's Sir Arnold Lunn, saw a crisis developing. "The tendency to regard speed on the piste [packed slope] as the ultimate criterion of skiing skill is irrational and wholly mischievous in its influence on the development of the sport," he wrote. Sir Arnold's fears were realized. The removal of natural obstacles and the quest for speed in Alpine racing accelerated. Last week another influential man said it was high time for a change. The man is Marc Hodler, Swiss president of the International Ski Federation, and among his sweeping proposals are these: changing downhill racing courses from present sheer-speed runs down partly wooded slopes to slower open slopes with obstacles to test the racers' versatility; reducing the thicket of slalom gates to "lead slalom back where it started from—as a forest downhill run around the trees"; and discarding the seed-and-draw system in slalom racing (under which only the first dozen or so starters have any real chance of winning) in favor of an event run with elimination heats, as in track and field. Bravo, Mr. Hodler; it is high time.