AND THE GAMES WENT ON
While war raged in the Persian Gulf last week, games continued to be played both in the U.S. and abroad. But it was hardly sports as usual, and how could it be? Games may seem insignificant compared with war, and yet playing basketball, hockey and other sports in friendly competition—that is what young men and women should be doing instead of being forced, by political imperatives, to fire rockets and be fired upon, to dig in for combat that may cost many thousands of lives. Tragically, the pleasures of the one activity were clouded by the horror of the other.
The intrusion of war on the sporting consciousness took many forms. Before an NBA game in Milwaukee, the Bucks, the rival Pacers and the thousands of fans all joined hands with each other to symbolize unity. PGA Tour golfers tied yellow ribbons and pasted American flag decals on their golf bags. Vendors selling Old Glory and——IRAQ T-shirts did a brisk business before the AFC Championship Game in Buffalo between the Bills and the Raiders. Before a basketball game at Montana, antiwar protesters lay down on the court to delay the tip-off and then were pelted with the potatoes that the fans had brought to brandish at Idaho players.
The war broke out on Jan. 16, just as many teams were getting ready for games. In a controversial decision, University of North Carolina chancellor Paul Hardin decided to cancel the Tar Heels' basketball game with archrival North Carolina State. "This was a moment of recognition that our lives have changed," he said. "It was not a moment to play basketball." One of the UNC players, forward Pete Chilcutt, has a brother stationed in the Gulf, and teammate King Rice said, "I was disappointed that the game was canceled, but then I looked in Pete's eyes, and I knew there was no way this game should go on."
The conflict seemed to lay a hand on every team. Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey worried about his father, Conway Bailey, who is a chief warrant officer with the 260th Army Reserve Unit in Saudi Arabia. One of Bailey's rivals on Sunday, Raider guard Steve Wisniewski, has a brother, Vince, who was leading a squadron of F-16s on air strikes over Iraq. Wisconsin-Waukesha has a basketball player from Kuwait, Tarique Al-Iesa, whose father is in hiding in that occupied country. Gilad Katz, an Israeli who plays for Connecticut, fretted about his family in Tel Aviv.
The war disrupted the lives of athletes traveling or planning to travel overseas. Members of the U.S. men's and women's ski teams were recalled from Switzerland; before they made their way home, they painstakingly taped over any mention of the U.S. on their baggage, lest they be targets of terrorism.
For the most part, though, the show went on. Jim Foster, a Vietnam veteran who coaches the women's basketball team at St. Joseph's in Philadelphia, felt that playing the games was the right thing to do. "In Vietnam, the sports page showed us there was a semblance of normalcy somewhere in the world, even though where you were was crazy," he said. "It was comforting to know that sports was there to keep your mind off the war. It allows you to escape, and I think that's good."
SI senior writer Leigh Montville writes in his POINT AFTER column in this issue (page 98) that the outbreak of hostilities in the Gulf suddenly made the games we play and watch seem far less important. And nobody should be so naive as to suggest that sports can be some sort of surrogate for war. But surely they're a much better expression of human potential.
Security for a Super Bowl is always tight, but with the added threat of terrorism during the war with Iraq, Tampa police and the NFL, with the help of the FBI, will be taking some extraordinary measures for Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium. More than 500 police officers, about twice as many as usual, will be on the stadium grounds on game day. Fans will have to go through metal detectors; no radios, televisions or video cameras will be allowed through the gates, because they could be used to conceal explosives. There will be constant inspections using bomb-sniffing dogs. For better crowd control a six-foot-high chain-link fence will ring the stadium, about 50 feet outside the regular fence.