Viewed strictly in free-speech terms, it seemed more than a little shocking that one of the reasons Arkansas Football Coach Lou Holtz resigned under pressure on Sunday was a growing public outcry over his support for the reelection of North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms, an old pal from Holtz's days as coach at North Carolina State. After all, a football coach ought to have the right, like any citizen, to express his political views. So why did Holtz's endorsement of a politician have anything to do with his losing his job?
The answer is that Holtz, who had taped two as-yet-unaired TV commercials for Helms, had made a lot of people in Arkansas unhappy by conspicuously backing a man whose biggest recent claim to fame was his unsuccessful filibuster against the establishment of a federal holiday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Holtz had done so, moreover, even as Arkansas was plodding to a disappointing 6-5 record and after having otherwise antagonized Arkansas fans, who had criticized him over the years for spending too much time on the out-of-state banquet circuit making jokes about Fayetteville ("It's 15 minutes from Tulsa by phone") and not enough time combing Arkansas high schools for football players. It occurred to some Razorback fans that since a lot of Arkansas' best high school players are black, Holtz's endorsement of Helms wasn't calculated to improve his recruiting results.
In other words, Holtz lost his job because of the same won-and-lost considerations that most coaches do. Free speech? A coach also has the right under the First Amendment to go around cursing out the mothers of recruits, but that would hurt his team and would probably put his job on the line, too.
RAPP SHEET ODDITIES
A while back we reported that a Boston radio station had done a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Vern Rapp, who was retiring as the Montreal Expos' first-base coach, and that the station, while interviewing people about Rapp, phoned an official of the Cincinnati Reds, who, thus alerted to Rapp's availability, wound up hiring him as their manager (SCORECARD, Oct. 17). Now Dave Mona, a Minneapolis sports-writer-turned-public relations man, tells us that the manner of his hiring as the Reds' skipper isn't the only odd thing about the 55-year-old Rapp. Rapp, who never made it to the majors as a player, had only a .252 career batting average in the minors, but his record for his last three years as a hitter was as follows:
No, there's no misprint there. Rapp had pretty much retired as a player in 1960 and was the manager at Modesto, Little Rock and Denver when he inserted himself into the batting order on the three occasions indicated above. He came up with, in turn, a single, double and single, thereby becoming, as far as we know, the only player in baseball history to 1) hit 1.000 in his last three seasons and 2) have a 16-year hitting streak.
IMPECCABLY YOURS, JOS� SULAIMAN
Exercising much the same care and vigilance that it does in the preparation of its rankings, the World Boxing Council has bestowed its Exemplary Boxer of the Year award for "impeccable conduct in and out of the ring" on light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks, who last April was fined $1,770 after pleading guilty in Philadelphia to a charge of carrying a firearm without a license. Police said that they saw Spinks driving a car in an "erratic manner" early on the morning of Jan. 5 and that they pursued him, pulled him over and found an unregistered .45-caliber revolver in the car. Asked after the announcement of the award about Spinks's widely publicized brush with the law, WBC President Jos� Sulaim�n said, "I wasn't aware of it."
Bill Cooke, former sports editor of the Buffalo Courier-Express, has teamed up with Mike Ricigliano, the sports cartoonist for the Baltimore News American, to put out a line of Christmas cards with a sports motif. One card shows a football team in a huddle and features the following dialogue: