SI Vault
Ray Kennedy
April 28, 1975
...or, for better or worse (and lately worse), tried to. Jack Scott led the radical movement in athletics and got to test his ideas at Ohio's Oberlin. Now he is embroiled in the Patty Hearst case, some famous sports figures are being grilled by the FBI and the rebellion he headed has lost followers and its fierceness
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 28, 1975

The Man Who Stood Sport On Its Head

...or, for better or worse (and lately worse), tried to. Jack Scott led the radical movement in athletics and got to test his ideas at Ohio's Oberlin. Now he is embroiled in the Patty Hearst case, some famous sports figures are being grilled by the FBI and the rebellion he headed has lost followers and its fierceness

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

"Instead of always tearing things down," Scott was told frequently, "why don't you try to build something?" He got precisely that opportunity in 1972 when, through the efforts of its young, progressive president, Robert Fuller, Oberlin appointed Scott athletic director. A small (enrollment: 2,700) liberal arts and music institution on the plains of Ohio, Oberlin seemed a fittingly open setting for Scott to put his words to work. True, J.W. Heisman of Heisman Trophy fame coached there (1892 and 1894), but the school was prouder of the fact that it was one of the first white colleges to admit blacks (1835) and the first to admit women (1837). Scott figured he could find a home at a school that had nurtured a radical young head like Rennie Davis.

He was wrong. Partly through Scott's urging, four of his 14 staffers resigned. Scott hired blacks—Tommie Smith as track coach, Pat Penn for basketball and Cass Jackson to head up the football program—and added classes in Sports and the Mass Media and Body-Mind Unity through Gymnastics. According to Scott, "All of a sudden people were in a panic." In May 1973 a list of complaints about his department, signed by 216 athletes and phys ed students, was published in the campus paper. By January of last year, 18 months after he took command, Scott found himself fighting dismissal and settled for $42,000 on the remainder of his four-year contract.

What happened? Some Oberlin critics told SI Writer-Reporter Jim Kaplan that many of Scott's programs were not without merit but he alienated potential converts by his authoritarian ways—exactly the Lombardi approach to sports he has so long decried. If someone disagreed with him, it became not a question of discussion but of loyalty. They claim Scott even resorted to physical and economic threats to achieve his goals. " Scott encouraged the removal of members of the faculty because of ideology," says Larry Shinn, head of the Athletic Advisory Committee. "We have tenure to protect against such tactics. This is where the rhetoric of the athletic revolution has no meaning—in his actions."

Others chastise Scott for having a letter published in an education journal that accused one of the Oberlin deans of being a racist. They also charge that his free use of other inflammatory words, like "sexist," helped divide the women and the blacks, and that he got the honors for introducing women to the cross-country and swimming teams and increasing the women's sports budget when these things were accomplished largely without his influence. Overall, some faculty members criticize Scott's lack of administrative experience (the phys ed department has been left in a shambles as respected coach-professors have departed) and deplore the fact that Scott did not have a phys ed degree. "That's like appointing a guy who has just written a book of poetry the head of the English department," says Swimming and Cross-country Coach Dick Michaels.

Tommie Smith is now a wistful figure, living with his 7-year-old son in campus housing, making $14,999 a year as the unwilling interim athletic director and spending at least $1,000 on babysitters. He is ineffective, overworked and disappointed by Oberlin's de-emphasis of intercollegiate sports. "My philosophy of athletics and Oberlin's are different," he says. "I look on sport as a Porsche. The school looks on it as a Volkswagen."

The current head of the phys ed department, Ruth Brunner, sums up the discontent at Oberlin: " Jack Scott wanted revolution instead of evolution."

The litany of complaints, both substantial and petty, goes on. But so does Scott's reply. Of his lack of a phys ed degree, for instance, he says, "Some people will say that's a plus instead of a minus. The reason I wrote the letter about the dean is because he accused Tommie and Cass in the same journal of being coaches and not educators, stereotype thinking about blacks. If someone else wants to take credit for policies I've been advocating for years, be my guest. Considering the opposition, it was a miracle we accomplished anything. Think how successful Lombardi would have been with a team of Meggyesys and Sauers."

In recent months Scott has found himself facing even tougher opposition: the FBI. Suspected of having harbored Patty Hearst, the Scotts refused to be interrogated and went into hiding seven weeks ago. Today Scott says the information linking him to the case was sold to the FBI by his older brother Walter, an ex-marine. Still vowing "total noncooperation," the Scotts have not been indicted, reportedly because the FBI is still building its case against them. That leaves the couple hanging and the radical sports movement looking for its second wind. Scott, the eye of his own hurricane, professes that he cannot see the trends for the turmoil.

The fact that Chip Oliver attempted an unsuccessful comeback with the Raiders four years ago ("He'd lost so much coordination it was pathetic," says one Oakland coach), and that Sauer, after spending one season at Oberlin as an assistant coach, returned to play with the Charlotte Hornets in the WFL last season, would seem to indicate some shift of conviction. That, together with Scott's premature departure from Oberlin and his current notoriety, can only add up to a minus for the movement.

Perhaps Meggyesy, now living in one of the 10 houses in Mayday, Colo., an old gold-mining town high in the Rockies where the FBI has twice visited him, offers the best status report. "The athletic movement is not dead," he says, "but it is in a period of gestation." Meggyesy works as a carpenter, skis and sometimes must use food stamps; last spring he applied for a coaching job at Fort Lewis College but was turned down because he is not a certified teacher. He says, "Looking back, it's hard for me to say if my book made an impression. But it allowed the athletes and sportswriters to be more expressive and coaches to be more progressive. I definitely believe it has worked toward changing the system. But on the other hand the system feels put upon and begins to react. Now some things are 10 times more repressive."

Continue Story
1 2 3