My whole adult life has been in sport—in high school, college, the pros; in Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Louisiana, Texas; in football, tennis, basketball. I would imagine that my experiences in sport are as varied as anyone's. For World Championship Tennis, I negotiated with the powerful feudal lords of Wimbledon. For some of the richest men in Texas, I stood before the Board of Governors of the National Hockey League and tried to get them to take millions of dollars for a franchise full of castoffs. But I have also addressed a dozen ladies of the PTA on "The Value of Athletics," and I have negotiated with some angry mothers about who was going to clean the white football pants that I had so precipitously bought for the high school team.
I have had the pleasure of telling a cross-country runner and his parents that I had found the boy a laboring job which would permit him to run through the snow for the greater glory of Spring Arbor College. The boy and his parents remain grateful to me to this day. I have had the pleasure of offering another boy $1 million to play basketball. The boy, his parents, advisers, attorneys and tax experts rejected the offer and to this day do not remember my name.
I have been athletic director, sports information director, promotions director, tour director, general manager. It was only 17 years ago that I coached at a high school in the Flint Hills of Kansas that had fewer than 50 boys enrolled. The kids would come over to my house after practice, and we would step outside and shoot pheasants and prairie chickens for dinner. I taught English, American government and physical education, directed the school play and coached the three varsity sports. For this I made $3,800, and sometimes I have looked back and thought I had it all then in Burns, Kans. and didn't know it.
Maybe I would still be there, too, but the school had some good athletes and we won some championships, and that made me ambitious—I wanted to coach somewhere big, like Great Bend or Hutchinson. Well, since then, because of sport, I have been all over the world—Tahiti, Sydney, Monte Carlo, East Berlin, April in Paris. I have slept in all the best hotels and taken my not inconsiderable appetite to places like Maxim's and Chasen's.
Because of sport I have met the President and senators and governors. And many friends, too. Sport has brought me more of everything than I ever imagined. Now I have an expensive house with a heated pool in a fancy neighborhood. And my family and I can fly to our vacation home on a private island off the coast of Mexico.
But, please, understand that this self-aggrandizement and name-dropping is just to get me in focus. I want to establish that I am not one of those breast-beaters whining how sport has exploited me. I want it clear that, if anything, I have exploited sport. I want to get that' on the record because then you can appreciate better how much it hurts me that I had to get out of sport.
But I had to. It is a self-imposed exile. Big-time sport today is a world apart, with ethics as strange as its finances and no perspective at all. Perhaps I would not have faced up to this if I did not happen to sit on the Board of Trustees of a small college that like so many institutions has to scratch for every dollar. The president, an experienced, dedicated scholar, makes less than any professional basketball player. Bonuses for second-round draft choices would cover annual expenses in most departments of the college. Sure, I know life is unfair: rock singers make more than brain surgeons, strippers make more than social workers. But even allowing for the natural inequities of life, it does something to you when you sit at a board meeting and turn down an increase in faculty pay that might bring the minimum up to $10,000 and then get on an airplane and blithely offer a kid $800,000.
Mike Davies, who succeeded me as executive director of World Championship Tennis, once grumbled, "Pro tennis would be a great game if it were not for the players." I am afraid that I have come to think that way about most of the players in every professional sport. It is a fiction, well maintained, that today's athletes are exploited by management. On the contrary, I would submit that most athletes (and their agents) are unashamedly selfish and greedy, and that the owners of pro teams do more for their employee-players than do employers in any other business in the country. It is a madhouse. Quite appropriately, the sports executive who is now recognized as best able to deal with the "modern" athlete or the "problem" athlete is the Redskins' George Allen, whose carefully elucidated philosophy of leadership appears to be to give the players everything they want.
Allen has done no more than carry the extreme to an extreme. Everywhere this is what the overseers in management are telling the poor beleaguered field hands: "You want to buy a Mark IV but don't have the money—don't worry, the Club will co-sign for you." "You have an investment opportunity—sure the Club will loan you money without interest." "You want a soft off-season job—the Club will find you one." "You want to buy your sister a house—of course, the Club will advance the down payment." "You are in a little trouble—the Club will provide you with a lawyer." "You need extra tickets for the game—sure the Club will give you extra freebies." "Now that we're raising you to $125,000 a year, would you like the Club to provide you with an investment counselor at our expense?" "Oh, you've lost all your money and need an advance—of course, the Club will advance you." And on and on.
In all my time in pro sport I have never known a player to ask for help and not receive it. And the inverse is very nearly an absolute: in all my time in pro sport I have rarely known a team to ask a player for his help and get it. Typical: "Look, we're trying hard to sell this company a piece of our radio package. The vice-president is a big fan of yours. If you could just join us for lunch tomorrow, I'm certain we would be able to cinch the deal." "No, man, I don't think I can make it."