Skinner, meanwhile, was brooding over a growing list of personal gripes: having to arrange for his own medical treatment on a couple of occasions because the training department refused to provide it; having to spend a long, dreary day as an airport standby on his way to the 1968 NCAA championships because the athletic department refused to cough up a few dollars to upgrade his seat to an available class; having to scrounge expense money from the New York Athletic Club because the Tennessee athletic department had reneged on a promise to send him to a major open meet for which he was qualified.
At the 1970 NCAA championships in Des Moines, the source of his dissatisfaction was food. All the competitors were housed in the Drake University dormitories and provided with food vouchers for use in the student cafeteria. On the reasonable assumption that 260-pound weight men need more nourishment than 120-pound distance runners, Skinner led a delegation of Tennessee heavyweights to request that Rohe supplement their food vouchers with a cash allowance. The request was denied. So after dinner each night Skinner and his heavyweight buddies gorged themselves at a nearby McDonald's.
"When the meet was over, Woodruff came by to congratulate me for winning the javelin," Skinner reports. "He said he'd heard I'd been hungry and so he'd brought me a sandwich. You know what he handed me? A plain roll." At that moment Athletic Director Woodruff came as close to being skewered and spitted on a javelin and served up to an angry collection of behemoths as any man is ever likely to get.
It was about at this time that Skinner's mustache made its first timid appearance. In early June he had returned to Knoxville from two track meets in California with a modest 10-day growth. Skinner had gone through a rocky period in his personal life that spring. A younger brother, just back from Vietnam, had been killed in an automobile crash. Skinner had been divorced from his wife. For relief and distraction, he decided to grow a mustache to see what it would look like. Rohe saw what Skinner looked like and said he was sorry but, according to departmental rules, Skinner would have to shave or he would be unable to compete in either the USTFF meet or the NCAA. And like, please, Bill, we need the points worse than you need a mustache.
"I'm perfectly capable of making my own decisions," says Skinner. "If I'd wanted a wet nurse I would have hired one. Once we were debating the issue in the hall and Bill Battle, the football coach, came by. Woodruff and Rohe asked him what he thought. 'I don't like it,' Battle told them. 'Shave it off.' Why should Battle have anything to say about it, was what I wanted to know. Was Rohe my head coach or not? I also pointed out that school was over, final exams were over and under the terms of my scholarship I wasn't even obligated to throw in the NCAA. But I wanted to win it, for myself and for the university, and so I shaved. Joe Namath got $10,000 for shaving off his mustache. All I got was a chance to throw in the NCAA and then I couldn't even get a decent meal."
Skinner won just about everything there was to win with a javelin last summer. He took his event at the USTFF, NCAA and national AAU meets. In a dual meet with West Germany at Stuttgart he had a winning toss of 291'9�", the third-best throw ever made by an American. He beat Russia's Olympic champion, Janis Lusis, at Leningrad. Then he returned home with a new handlebar mustache and a memorable impression of the thousands of people who pack stadiums to watch track meets in Europe—to thundering silence on the Tennessee campus.
"I counted the number of times Coach Woodruff passed me on the campus or in the hall before he first said hello or even nodded his head," says Skinner. "It was 34 times. The first thing Rohe said to me when he heard I was back was, 'Nice going. Now be sure to shave off that mustache.' Here I'd won three national championships and beaten the Russians and all they could think about was whether or not I was going to shave."
Skinner agreed to shave but countered with a non-negotiable demand of his own. He was going to regrow his mustache in the winter semester and by then the rules had better be changed.
"It had gone beyond just an invasion of privacy," says Skinner. "One thing that particularly annoyed me was being criticized on my appearance by a fat assistant football coach who smoked a cigar. Shouldn't someone who is supposedly teaching fitness and physical education set an example as well?"
The first confrontation took place on February 12, when Skinner showed up for lunch at the Bill Gibbs training cafeteria with a four-day growth. He was promptly blocked off the serving line by the cafeteria manager.