Ungainly in appearance, with a seal-like body and a broad horizontal tail, a mature manatee can be eight to 12 feet long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Its diet consists of underwater plants; manatees are the only water-bound herbivores extant. Because of their acute sensitivity to the cold, these gentle, lumpish creatures rarely venture north of Florida's "warm rivers, canals and, occasionally, offshore waters. And because they are mammals, they bob to the surface to breathe. It is then that they meet up with their principal "predators": man and boats. It is estimated that at least 80% of the manatees in Florida bear the scars of encounters with propeller blades.
Florida is making a serious effort to defend its official state marine mammal. It annually promotes a "Manatee Awareness Week" and has imposed strict boating speed limits in waters in which manatees gather. Florida law provides for up to a year in prison and a hefty fine for willful injury to a manatee. Lauding such stiff measures, The Miami Herald recently editorialized, "[Manatees] are friendly and curious and harmless and defenseless. They swim languidly to welcome any creature or thing that enters their watery world.... Though manatees are not good for much, they are good."
The trouble in the now-infamous Dec. 23 game began when the New York Rangers' Ulf Nilsson tripped the Boston Bruins' Al Secord, an infraction ignored by Referee Gregg Madill. Secord then got even by tripping Nilsson as the game ended ( Boston won 4-3), an offense also ignored by Madill. At that, the Rangers' John Davidson charged into a crowd of Bruins, touching off a five-minute melee that spilled into a corner of the Madison Square Garden rink close to taunting, debris-throwing fans: Owing to Madill's slowness to send players to their locker rooms and a failure by security officers to cordon off the players from the fans, one spectator was able to take a poke at Bruin Stan Jonathan and grab his stick. Thereupon several Boston players stormed into the stands to battle the paying customers.
Last week NHL President John Ziegler finally handed down his long-awaited verdict on the 33-day-old incident. Ziegler meted out the harshest discipline against a team in NHL history, suspending the Bruins' Terry O'Reilly for eight games and teammates Peter McNab and Mike Milbury for six each. Those three also were fined $500 each, as were four other Bruins. Ziegler hit 11 other Boston players with fines of $200 apiece.
More noteworthy than what Ziegler did, however, was what he didn't do. He took no action against Nilsson, Davidson or any other Ranger, nor did he discipline Referee Madill. Furthermore, he concluded that security at the Garden had been "up to expected standards."
Ziegler's highly selective crackdown is alarming. By longstanding and reprehensible tradition, NHL players consider it a matter of honor to take retribution against opponents and abusive fans. By harshly punishing the Bruins, Ziegler may have served notice that players can no longer take the law into their own hands when dealing with fans. By exonerating all the other parties involved, though, he winked at both the laxity of officials and the often deliberate eye-for-an-eye provocations of players who are encouraged by this laxity. These were the factors that inflamed the fans on Dec. 23—and, indeed, that provoke most of the NHL's uglier incidents. As Ziegler correctly put it, the spectacle of players battling spectators brings "disrepute and dishonor" to the NHL. So, however, does Ziegler's continued refusal to root out the causes of the behavior that sullies the image of his league.
WILT VS. THE WORLD
During his 14-year NBA career, Wilt Chamberlain scored 50 or more points in a game 122 times. It is a measure of Chamberlain's accomplishment that when the San Diego Clippers' Freeman Williams scored 51 points in a 137-123 loss to Phoenix on Jan. 19, it was only the 123rd time that a player other than Wilt had reached the 50 mark. In other words, it has taken all other NBA players the 31 years since Philly's Joe Fulks got the NBA's first 50 to "break" Wilt's record.
It may be that a new scoring phenom will come along one day and beat Chamberlain all by himself. Or maybe not. At the moment, Nos. 2 and 3 on the career list behind Wilt are Elgin Baylor and Rick Barry, who tallied 50 or more in a game 18 and 15 times, respectively.