SI Vault
Richard O'Brien
February 08, 1993
Yanks in Japan
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February 08, 1993


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Yanks in Japan

To a sportswriter in Chad Rowan's native Hawaii, the feat was analogous to a Japanese kid's moving to the U.S. and five years later winning the Heisman Trophy. To some stunned Japanese it made as much sense as a non-Catholic's being named pope. As all the world has heard, Rowan, a 23-year-old American now known as Akebono, last week became only the 64th sumo wrestler, and the first foreigner, in the history of Japan's sacred sport to be elevated to yokozuna, or grand champion. The 6'8", 456-pound Akebono earned the title in record time; a former basketball player at Hawaii Pacific University, he took up sumo only after moving to Japan in 1988.

The son of a Honolulu cab driver, Akebono is as American as pineapple pie, a young man of cheery mien who still roots for the Philadelphia Eagles and says that if he hadn't gone into sumo, he would probably be working at a Taco Bell back home. Akebono's triumph came less than a year after another Hawaii native, Konishiki (SI, May 18, 1992), was passed over for yokozuna at least partly because he was a foreigner. Still, don't think Japanese sports are suddenly free of xenophobia. Two dozen U.S. women, including such stars as Olympians Teresa Edwards and Medina Dixon, have been making as much as $200,000 a year playing in Japan's 20-team women's industrial basketball league, but when the current season ends, in March, they'll be out of work. In the interest of developing homegrown stars, foreign players will be banned starting next season.

Andre the Giant, another outsized wrestler who earned renown on foreign shores, died last week in Paris of an apparent heart attack at age 46. Born into a farm family in the French Alps, Andre Roussimoff was afflicted with acromegaly, a disorder characterized by progressive enlargement of the head, face, hands, feet and chest, and he exploited his enormous size—7'4" and 520 pounds—to become a popular figure on the pro wrestling circuit in the U.S. and elsewhere. Andre, whose remains were to be cremated for burial near his cattle and quarter-horse ranch in Ellerbe, N.C., also played Fezzik the gentle giant in the 1987 movie The Princess Bride, a role for which he was suited by both dimension and disposition. As the film's screenwriter, William Goldman, said, "You can be in a room with Andre, and he'll sit quietly in the corner, and you won't know he's there."

In Need of Comfort
This photo shows Dale Weiner, the football coach at Baton Rouge Catholic High, consoling the school's all-state quarterback, Warrick Dunn, at the funeral last month of Warrick's mother, Betty Smothers, 36, a Baton Rouge policewoman and single mother of six who was killed by gunmen attempting a holdup while she worked at her second job as a supermarket night security guard. Other citizens of Baton Rouge have also opened their arms; 3,000 people attended the funeral, and a trust fund set up for the children—Warrick, 18, is the eldest—already exceeds $160,000. Four suspects have been charged in the slaying of the woman affectionately known as Miss Betty. Last week Warrick, a senior, who also had offers from Alabama, Illinois and LSU, committed to Florida State. Of their mother's assailants, Warrick's 15-year-old brother, Derrick, said, "I want them to know they killed a loving mother with six children who was trying her best to provide for them."

Volatile Vols

During a recruiting visit to Tennessee last month, Tory Edge, a cornerback at Phoebus High in Hampton, Va., was attending a fraternity party with Vol players and other prospects when a brawl broke out. Soon there was gunfire, and Tennessee defensive back Tim Frost was arrested on weapons and assault charges for having allegedly shot at a Knoxville policeman. Asked later about his impressions of Tennessee, Tory said he was leaning toward the school despite the melee. "The social atmosphere seems a little shaky,"' he said, "but then you can't base your decision on one incident."

O.K., how about two incidents? Last week Tory committed to Tennessee, and the next day The Knoxville News-Sentinel revealed why Vol linebacker Willie Richards had been suspended from the team five days before Tennessee's 38-23 win over Boston College in the Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa: Richards had allegedly pulled a gun on a prostitute at 4 a.m. in his hotel room. According to Tampa police. the woman had sex with 14 or 15 Vol players, including Richards, who allegedly produced a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol after accusing the woman of stealing money he had hidden in a Bible. No charges were filed, but Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer said he also took undisclosed disciplinary action against the other players involved; however, only Richards was punished before the Hall of Fame game.

Informed of the events in Tampa, Tory remained unperturbed, saying, "You got knuckleheads wherever you go." Tennessee, one supposes, can consider that a vote of confidence.


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