Years ago there was a stock figure in political cartoons called John Q. Taxpayer, a miserable-looking wretch, thin, peaked and frustrated, who wore nothing but a battered hat and a barrel. Gus H. Fan, the symbolic sports follower, is beginning to resemble John Q., which is not surprising since fan and taxpayer are the same: Everyman. Sports are supposed to be Everyman's release, his surcease from care, his escape into vicarious accomplishment and triumph.
No more. Now the fan, beset by withholding taxes, sales taxes, school taxes, busing crises, shameless politicians, rising prices, endless debts, turns to his favorite sport and gets—rising prices, shameless owners, greedy athletes, franchise switching, contract jumping, lawsuits, haggling, arguing, disputes, everything but the fun and enjoyment he is seeking.
The baseball strike came very close to being the last straw. What makes the owners and players—each group self-righteously pompous—think that the fan, ultimate source of all baseball's income, is going to care very much longer? All that the fan knows is: he's the loser. In bars and buses and bowling alleys around the country, the prevailing attitude was not "Which side is right?" but "A plague on both your houses."
Environmentalists took a drubbing last week when the House of Representatives quickly passed a water-pollution control bill drawn up by the Public Works Committee behind closed doors. The bill nullifies strong—if not always enforced—laws that have been on the books for years. It even repeals obscure 1888 acts prohibiting industrial pollution of Baltimore, Norfolk and New York harbors and a 1910 act forbidding the dumping of pollutants into Lake Michigan by two adjacent counties. On the broad national level, the bill grants certain polluters immunity for up to four years from prosedition under the Federal Refuse Act of 1899. This law, which prohibits the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters or their tributaries, has been successfully used to prod federal authorities into action against polluters. Under the bill the House has passed, the individual states and not the Federal Government would be responsible for issuing those permits that inevitably allow some pollution; and in order to complain about a grievous violation in court, a private citizen would practically have to live next door to the offender.
What angered environmentalists most is that they got only a last-minute peck at the 216-page bill before it hit the House floor, and by then they were outgunned. "I feel as if I've been hit by a steamroller," said Representative John Dingell of Michigan, chairman of the Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation. "This was the best financed and most energetic lobbying effort I've ever seen." One of the most energetic lobbyists was Donna Mitchell, acting for Conservation Commissioner Henry Diamond of New York, a state with an abysmal record in pollution abatement.
But as Dingell noted, "The fight for clean water is not over." The House bill is so radically different from a stronger Senate measure that conferees may not be able to iron out differences. Some environmentalists believe the gap is so wide there is no chance for compromise and hence no bill at all this year.
FAREWELL MY LOVELY
Racing is having trouble with its traditional $2 bet. The $2 bettor used to visit place and show windows for conservative investments on horses he favored, but a study at Sportsman's Park in Chicago revealed that times have changed. Only 4.2% of the betting handle came from $2 place bets and only 1.6% from $2 show bets. Figures at Bowie in Maryland indicate a similar situation. Monticello Raceway in New York tried two years ago to get the state to let it eliminate place and show betting. No sentimentalists, the Sportsman's Park management closed down its $2 place and show windows, and Chicago's Hawthorne followed suit. Monticello finally got state approval to close its windows, and Maryland tracks are now contemplating the same move.