Professional soccer in America is perilously in the red, and its only salvation may be foreign attractions. The worst news of the sport's two-year history came this week when the Atlanta Chiefs—called "the league's Rock of Gibraltar" by another team's spokesman—unofficially leaked their decision to pull out of the North American Soccer League.
The Chiefs brought Atlanta its first major professional sports championship this year, and they are one of the best-coached, best-promoted and best-run operations in the league. But attendance was down and the Chiefs have cost their owners, the Braves, some $700,000 in two years. The Braves organization feels the money might better have been spent to elevate the Braves themselves above fifth place.
None of the other teams in the NASL, it is safe to say, is coming much closer than the Chiefs to breaking even. The Chicago Mustangs claim an average paid attendance of around 2,000 for league play, and that estimate may be a trifle inflated. The Vancouver Royals, who lost over $500,000 just this year, are likely to fold, and the Baltimore and Boston franchises may move to Philadelphia and Birmingham.
Most of the franchises vow, however, that they will hang in there, with or without Atlanta. And they have found considerable hope, at last, in the crowds drawn this year by visiting foreign teams. Oakland, for example, drew 29,000 to an exhibition against Santos of Brazil. Atlanta averaged over 25,000 in three games with Manchester City and Santos. The Chiefs' surprising (if not absolutely convincing) two victories over Manchester, one of the best teams in Europe, stirred considerable local enthusiasm and an editorial entitled "Soccer To 'Em, Chiefs." The Chiefs are expected, in fact, to carry on next year as an independent, with an expanded international schedule.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Dallas Tornado team reports brightly that soccer balls are completely sold out and many more are on order in the sporting-goods stores of Dallas County. If the game can be preserved until the great population of schoolboys too small for football can learn to play it, and if games with big-name foreign teams can keep the pot boiling, professional soccer may some day be an American sport.
THE WHITE ATHLETE
Grambling College, the black football power, recruited its first white player, Quarterback James Gregory of Corcoran, Calif., the same way it recruits most of its players. A former Grambling man is an assistant coach at Gregory's high school, and he recommended Gregory to Grambling and vice versa. Gregory is expected to see some action at quarterback, but mainly he will be kicking extra points and field goals.
Gregory has been received the same way any player—or any badly needed placekicker—is received at Grambling, the coaches say, and he fits in fine.
So does Rufus Brown, the first white player to receive a football scholarship at Florida A&M. Rufus Brown, however, has earned a racially inspired nickname. In his first practice this fall, the freshman offensive guard found himself in a one-on-one drill. As he held his own commendably in the grunting-and-shoving exercise, one of his new teammates began to shout encouragingly, and the others joined in: "Come on, Rap. Come on, Rap."