After Los Angeles Laker Forward Kermit Washington slugged—and seriously injured—the Houston Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich during a game in Los Angeles on Dec. 9, 1977, NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien fined Washington $10,000 and suspended him without pay for 60 days. That punishment, which cost Washington some $60,000, may have been a deterrent to further violence in the NBA. The league did not have any serious trouble for the rest of the '77-'78 season, nor all of last season.
Last week a federal jury in Houston reached a verdict, in a suit brought by Tomjanovich, that could help deter violence in all professional sport. Tomjanovich asked damages of $2.65 million against the Lakers, but the six-member jury exceeded this figure, awarding the Rocket forward $3.3 million. L.A. is also being sued by the Rockets, who are asking $1.8 million for loss of Tomjanovich's services for the remaining 53 games of the '77-'78 season. That trial is scheduled to begin in Houston next week.
Significantly, Washington, now with the San Diego Clippers, was not a defendant in Tomjanovich's suit. During the two-week trial, Tomjanovich's lawyers sought to show that the Lakers bore full responsibility for the injuries he suffered. Witnesses included Jerry West, the Laker coach at the time, who admitted that he had said nothing to Washington before or after the fight about controlling his temper. Testimony also was elicited to show that the Lakers did not fine players for fighting. The jury concluded that the Lakers were negligent in retaining a player they were aware had "a tendency for violence while playing basketball" and that the club "failed adequately to train and supervise its employee."
The Lakers have not said whether they plan to appeal, but if the Tomjanovich verdict stands, that $3.3 million figure cannot fail to impress professional teams—and their insurance companies. The big award against the Lakers would be a signal that fighting is not part of sports and that teams have a duty to try to prevent it.
BIG NAME, BAD NEWS
While the President of the United States was struggling with his most recent burdens, a namesake was battling to make the San Diego Chargers. The rookie guard from Tennessee State, who, of course, is nicknamed "The Prez," showed no shortage of energy, but, alas, the agate-type news out of San Diego last week was that Jimmy Carter had been placed on waivers.
PASSING THE BUCS
By rights, owner Joe Robbie should have been delighted when his Miami Dolphins beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-7 two weeks ago before a crowd of 72,126 in Tampa. For one thing, it was the fourth straight time the Dolphins had defeated the Buccaneers in the preseason. What is more, the four exhibition games, all of which were played in Tampa, have produced $1,029,109 for Miami's coffers. But last week it was revealed that Robbie had decided not to play the game next year.
One reason is his annoyance with Tampa owner Hugh Culverhouse, who has been a prime mover in the NFL's efforts to bar its owners and their families from holding controlling interest in other pro sports teams. Robbie's wife, Elizabeth, owns the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the NASL, and the Dolphin owner considers that none of Culverhouse's—or the league's—business. Robbie also feels that the Buccaneers approached the series with too much "intensity," resulting in injuries to the Dolphins. "I'm not interested in a cross-state grudge match for the championship of Florida during the preseason," Robbie says.
Disagreeing with the boss, Miami Coach Don Shula credits the exhibition games at Tampa for acclimating the Dolphins to the sort of hostile crowd noise they might face during the regular season in, say, Baltimore. No matter. Robbie has replaced the Buccaneers on next year's exhibition schedule with a game against the Seahawks in Seattle, which is quite a distance from Tampa in both mileage and intensity.