When it was revealed last week that President Carter had to fend off a ferocious swimming rabbit while he was fishing in Plains last spring, skeptics argued that it couldn't have been a rabbit because the furry little critters don't swim. Carter insisted that it was, in fact, "a fairly robust-looking rabbit, swimming apparently with no difficulty." What's more, the White House said an unreleased photograph distinctly showed it to be a rabbit.
Well, according to Dr. E. Raymond Hall, professor emeritus of zoology at the University of Kansas, highly respected author of Mammals of North America and a man who clearly knows his rabbits, "Most kinds of rabbits do indeed have difficulty swimming and rarely enter the water voluntarily. But there are two species, Sylvilagus aquaticus and Sylvilagus palustris, the swamp rabbit and marsh rabbit, that swim regularly and easily, and live in places other kinds of rabbits wouldn't. The two species are found only in the southeast U.S. and are fairly common in parts of Georgia.
"It makes sense to me, given these rabbits' proclivity for swimming, that the President might have encountered one of them," Hall says. And, Professor, what stroke do rabbits do? "I guess you could call it the bunny paddle."
TENNIS' CLOSE CALL
The toughest ticket at the U.S. Open last week was for the second-round confrontation between Ilie Nastase and third-seeded John McEnroe. The match had all the ingredients for the brouhaha it turned into—poor scheduling, the game's two most explosive players, a boorish, beered-up crowd and a flamboyant umpire in the chair. And everyone involved must share the blame for what resulted: the ugliest incident in the history of American tennis.
The tournament committee scheduled McEnroe-Nastase as Thursday night's second match in the stadium. It was preceded by a women's match that went on for nearly two hours, and when it finally began at 9:45, the crowd of 10,549 was already restless. And, some of it, intoxicated. The ushers had no control over the spectators, who wandered through the aisles during play, often for the purpose of bringing six-packs of beer—which was being sold in cans, an unheard-of practice at other sporting events—back to their seats. From the outset, Nastase was the crowd's favorite. McEnroe's errors were cheered, and he responded with taunts and, at one juncture, an obscene gesture, all of which was fine with Nastase. What didn't please Ilie was his opponent's excruciatingly slow play. A player is allowed 30 seconds between points, and McEnroe seemed to be taking the full 30. Nastase responded by clowning with spectators, pretending to nap behind the baseline, and quick-serving McEnroe in jest. None of his carrying on was obscene or vicious, as it often has been in the past, and he did not question a single call. Yet, in the opinion of umpire Frank Hammond, Nastase was the culprit. Hammond has officiated tennis matches for 32 years and is one of the best in the business. But on this evening, Hammond's determination to maintain control only aggravated matters. He repeatedly reprimanded Nastase, often into a live microphone, provoking the crowd, which obviously believed that the wrong player was being scolded. Hammond also failed to explain the penalty system to spectators, a good many of whom had no idea such a system even exists. If a player fails to heed warnings from the chair, the umpire can award a point, then a game and, finally, the match to his opponent. When Hammond penalized Nastase a game in the fourth set for stalling, the crowd erupted with boos and catcalls that stopped play for 17 minutes. Fights broke out, beer cans and other debris were hurled onto the court and hecklers shouted obscenities at the players and Hammond. Police surrounded the court, and Hammond and tournament referee Mike Blanchard pleaded with Nastase to resume play. When he refused, Blanchard told him he had 30 seconds to serve. After 58 seconds, Hammond announced game, set, match—McEnroe. At that moment tournament director Bill Talbert approached the chair, rescinded the default and ordered Blanchard to take Hammond's place, a move that should have been made much sooner. The match was completed, McEnroe winning 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
"Frank is a showman, and he made the mistake of becoming a character in the play," said Talbert afterward. "I thought replacing him was the only way to quell the crowd. He did a fine job of carrying out the rules, but he lost control. Under the conditions of the evening, Frank wasn't flexible enough. If the rules are upheld and someone gets hurt or is killed, what then...?"
For "the conditions of the evening"—the scheduling, the beer, the officiating, the players, the crowd control—a lot of people are culpable.
LOVE AT FIRST SNAP