JIMBO'S FAN CLUB
In this age of endless disputation and litigation in sports, something of the sort probably had to happen sooner or later. Yes, America, it has come to this: The Jimmy Connors Fan Club is suing Jimmy Connors.
Actually, the lawsuit was brought not by the club but by its president, 19-year-old Terri Flasch of Brooklyn Park, Minn., who founded it after developing "a terrific crush" on Connors when she was 13. Time was when the typical sports fan club consisted of three neighborhood kids and one shared scrapbook containing a bunch of newspaper stories about their idol and a cadged autograph or two. But Flasch turned out to be something of a marketing whiz. She began putting out a quarterly newsletter, Jimbo's Journal, scraped together a mailing list, talked tennis equipment manufacturers into donating their wares for use as contest prizes in exchange for free advertising, and persuaded Connors to write a column answering his fans' questions. Through word of mouth and mention in tennis publications, the club grew to 5,000 members in 24 countries. Although Flasch says that the $4 annual dues ($7 for foreign members) barely covered postage and the photographs and patches that each member received, her efforts didn't go entirely unrewarded. She received some free clothing and shoes from companies with which Connors was commercially involved, and for publicity purposes tournament directors occasionally flew her to cities where Connors was playing.
The impressive growth of Flasch's club didn't go unnoticed by John Connors, Jimmy's older brother and an employee of Jimbo's company, Tennis Management Inc., who decided he wanted to form a Jimmy Connors Fan Club. Flasch maintains she would have welcomed having her club co-exist with a new one—" Jimmy Connors is big enough to have more than one," she says—and would even have been willing to step aside if John Connors agreed to refund her club members' dues. However, Flasch says that before any of this could be worked out, she received a letter from John Connors' lawyer threatening to sue her unless she disbanded her club. When a tennis magazine reported that her club's existence was "hindering" the elder Connors in his efforts to start his own organization, Flasch decided she'd had enough and filed suit for defamation and breach of contract in Hennepin County ( Minn.) District Court against the two Connors brothers, their mother, Gloria, and Tennis Management Inc. "Because they said I was hindering them, it implied that I'd done something wrong," says Flasch. "That damaged my reputation with my members."
Larry Brockman, the Belleville, Ill. lawyer who wrote the letter to Flasch on John Connors' behalf, says the latter sought to start a fan club because "he wanted to do things differently than she did. He thought he could do a professional job. He has some marketing ideas and promotional ideas where the fans can get a different side of Jimmy." Brockman calls Flasch's suit "silly." Ivan Blumberg, a lawyer at ProServ, the Washington, D.C.-based sports management firm that represents Jimmy Connors, says, "We're going to keep making an effort to resolve [the dispute with Flasch] before it gets blown out of proportion."
But enough of this bickering. We want to look at the big picture here, and the big picture is that when a fan club that exists for the sole purpose of doting on an athlete ends up suing him, you know things are wacky today. As for the merits of this particular squabble, it says here that fan clubs should be the province of fans, not brothers. Let John Connors go start the Jimmy Connors Sibling Club if he wants. And let Terri Flasch get back to work. She says that because of the aggravation all this has caused her, she's seven weeks late in getting out the next issue of her newsletter.
LEST THEY FORGET
Miami may have finished atop the college football polls, but bumper stickers have appeared in the Sunshine State cruelly reminding Hurricane fans that thanks to the result of a certain intrastate showdown back on Sept. 3, their team's record was 11-1, not 12-0. The bumper stickers read: FLORIDA 28, NATIONAL CHAMPIONS 3.
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A BALL?
During a trip to Hawaii this season, the Louisville basketball team scheduled a practice session in a community center on the island of Maui. When the Cardinals arrived, they discovered that, because of a mixup, there were no basketballs on hand. As the coaches and players debated what to do, a young man walked into the gym with an old, beat-up ball and began shooting hoops at the other end of the court. Members of the Louisville contingent explained their predicament to the fellow and asked if he would mind lending them his ball or at least sharing it. He said no and continued playing by himself. O.K., they asked, would he sell the ball? The bidding went from $15, to $20, to $30, and, finally, to $50, but still he refused to give it up.
Eventually the Cardinals arranged for basketballs to be brought to the gym. Later, as the young man prepared to leave, a member of the Louisville party couldn't resist telling him he'd been pretty dumb to turn down so much money. The fellow replied, "Yeah, but I'm smart enough to take a basketball along when I practice."