The people who control sport—this means players' unions as well as owners, interested fans as well as commissioners—will make a grievous error if they go along with recent proposals for the establishment of a Federal Sports Commission. Past performance charts on Washington show that congressional interest in sport peaks during an election campaign (a man running for office loves to make the sports page) and flags thereafter. More to the point, self-serving politicians and bureaucratic methods aggravate the problems they set out to solve far more often than they alleviate them.
If sports cannot govern themselves, Congress certainly can't.
Lou Harris, the pollster, was himself interviewed recently by Gerald Strine of the Washington Post and had some things to say about the report he issued last winter that indicated football had replaced baseball as the country's favorite sport. The poll, financed by the National Football League, was bitterly criticized by Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who argued that Harris would have found more enthusiasm for baseball if he had interviewed younger people.
"I know Bowie Kuhn and have good relations with him," Harris said, "but the fact is, baseball's greatest strength is with the 50-and-over group. Baseball appeals to older people and to people in the lower-income bracket. Those are facts, and I can't make the facts go away. Anyone who takes a systematic cross section of the American public will find this to be a dominant pattern. Golf, interestingly enough, tends to run like baseball. Football is the swinging sport. Auto racing, basketball and hockey follow, and tennis may be on the way up."
Horse racing rates poorly with Harris, even though its premier race, the Kentucky Derby, ties with the Indianapolis 500 behind the World Series and the Super Bowl in a ranking of the nation's most popular single sport events. Harris said he is unimpressed by the annual survey released by the Daily Racing Form that shows horse racing to be the leading sport in terms of total attendance. "The people who go to the races are usually the same people each day," he commented. "I'd advise horse racing to stop counting the same people three times a week and concluding they have more fans than anyone else."
Possibly because love of baseball dies slowly, Harris was asked if more boys were playing baseball today than 20 years ago.
"That would be a great poll to take," he said. "I think maybe we'll ask it. We have done work with black youngsters 12 to 16. I'd guess a lot less baseball is being played by black kids than there was 20 or 30 years ago. Today it's basketball for them. That's the sport that's really taken hold. Football is next. As for whites, we don't really know, but it certainly would be interesting to find out."
HOLIER THAN THOU
Honors that athletes win through the medium of voting—most valuable player awards, all-star teams, halls of fame, things like that—are always suspect because of the arbitrary choices that must be made. It is not so much what an athlete does in the arena that counts as it is the impression he makes on the people voting. This was evident again last week when professional hockey picked new members for its Hall of Fame. The selection committee refused to nominate Doug Harvey, the best "defensive" defenseman in hockey history. As Harvey says, he "likes to hoist a few with the boys now and then," and the selectors apparently felt he did not project an image appropriate to the dignity of the hall. That their consciences bothered them was evident when Frank Selke Sr., chairman of the committee, told Harvey afterward, "We'll get you in next year." Then he added in an admonishing tone, "but you have got to help me."