Some owners have had enough and have gotten out, but there always have been enough rich men with large egos to keep the wheel spinning. But the system is so corrupt and uncontrolled that I fear, increasingly, good men will want nothing to do with the ownership and management of sports.
Why put up with the players and the agents and the egos and the whole topsyturvy system—especially, why put up with it when success or failure is determined almost capriciously by the daily press? There are so many sporting interests today—so many teams, so many events, so many personalities, so many matches, so many everything—that I can assure you that if you do not have dependable newspaper coverage, nothing else you do makes any difference whatsoever. This may sound heretical in an age that celebrates TV sport, but it is precisely what Bill Veeck found out at Suffolk Downs in Boston, and it is not only what I found out in Dallas with the Chaparrals but in almost every city that WCT hit.
Newspaper coverage cannot guarantee you success if your product is bad, but no matter how good your product is it has no chance for success if the newspapers are not writing about you. You can advertise in the papers or on radio and TV, you can promote, you can win games, play great opponents, get wonderful weather and wonderful playing dates—and nothing will have nearly so much effect as how the papers play you. And if the papers do not choose to give you space, they always have a built-in self-fulfilling prophecy to justify their attitude. They will say, "We don't cover you because you don't draw enough." And they are not required to listen when you reply, "But we don't draw enough because you don't cover us."
Since TV and radio seem to take their cues from the newspapers, the press is essentially a package deal. If the newspapers take you seriously, everyone does. And it really doesn't seem to make a great deal of difference whether the press boosts you or knocks you. One of the best breaks we ever got in Dallas was when a radio station rapped us.
Still, some of the defeats I have suffered at the hands of the press were not fairly administered. The scandal is that the sports press is frequently not above the battle it covers. The shame of journalism today is the sports page. Or would it seem proper to you for James Reston to moonlight in PR for the Democrats, and for the editorial writer of your paper to work on the mayor's publicity staff?
Don't laugh. The equivalent thing happens in sport without anyone blinking an eye. In Dallas during much of the time the Chaparrals were in the city, the leading sports columnist and the leading television commentator, the two most influential sports figures in the city (as in any city), were on the payroll of the Dallas Cowboys as the color and play-by-play announcers of the team's radio network. I don't say that because the Cowboys paid them they then gave publicity to the Cowboys and not to the Chaparrals. I do say that writers—especially columnists—should be free of suspicion. And I say that no newspaper can claim integrity on its front pages or editorial pages or women's pages so long as it permits conflicts of interest on the sports pages.
Certainly no team should be permitted to pick up a writer's travel expenses. In Dallas we had to do that as a matter of course. We were also expected to keep our regular writers in side money with program article assignments and other little dividends. For instance, the two writers who covered us for the Dallas dailies were on our payroll. For a time, one of these was a very good writer named David Casstevens of the Times-Herald, who was picking up $20 a game from us helping out with the play-by-play sheets. Casstevens was a very objective reporter, though. But times got bad, and I told David we had to eliminate his job. He was stunned, even indignant, and explained that the paper had promised him the position when they hired him. That is, they had assured him $20 a game from the Chaparrals without even bothering to confirm the arrangement with us. By now, it is just assumed that most teams will make these kinds of arrangements with the papers.
The situation is hardly unique in Dallas. I know, because I paid off writers across the country when I was in charge of the WCT tour.
In light of the foregoing it might sound surprising, but I count some great friends in the press. In fact, I'm generally very popular with writers inasmuch as I'm a nondrinker and thus reliable bar company—someone who can drive home. But then I've worked for fine owners like Lamar Hunt, Bob Folsom and Joe Geary, and I've dealt across the table with agents like Sam Gilbert and Donald Dell, men as honest and congenial as you could expect to find in any profession. In every organization there have been players I have come to respect, even love: Howard Twilley of the Dolphins; Marty Riessen and Arthur Ashe in tennis; and a couple of kids named Eugene Kennedy and Collis Jones on the Chaps. They shared the same forward spot, and their playing time, statistics and value to the team were virtually the same—but because of the absurdities of sport today, Collis made about three times as much money as Eugene. But they were never anything but friends.
I have also been around just long enough to see some athletes grow up and show me, by their example, that they need not be spoiled for life. Some of the young kids I first dealt with in WCT are now the most responsible leaders in the players' movement. Suddenly, they have to exhibit executive ability; they have to show care for people; they have to learn what it is like to pick up after others. And they have become real again. I think maybe sport can grow up and become real again, too.