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Lamar Hunt by David Sweet

Lamar Hunt by David Sweet

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Sports writer and editor David Sweet doggedly gets down to the business of professional sports, especially the early days of pro football, soccer, and tennis, in his biographical Lamar Hunt: The Gentle Giant Who Revolutionized Professional Sports. Sweet’s account of the extraordinary son of Texas oil titan H.L. Hunt tracks his successes and failures and innovations. There are many of each.

One of them is Hunt’s founding of the defunct American Football League (AFL), forerunner to the American Football Conference (AFC) of the National Football League (NFL), with which the AFL merged to form the most successful sports league in American history. After requesting in-flight stationery from an American Airlines stewardess on a plane from Miami back to Dallas, 26-year-old Hunt jotted down his thoughts on formulating what he thought it would take to deliver pro football to Americans: three exhibition games, a 15-game schedule consisting of three teams playing eight home games and the other three teams competing in seven home games, a 60-40 split of gate revenues favoring the home team, with visiting teams choosing the larger of 40 percent or $35,000 and each football team reserving the right to two territorial draft choices. Hunt, joined by hotel businessman Barron Hilton, also planned to beat the NFL’s starting player salary by paying them ten percent more.

Chicago newspaper editor Sweet (a former and favorite editor of mine from my early newspaper days) reports these copious details, which occasionally overwhelm the narrative, with relish, marking each part of an understated career in the life of what one Sports Illustrated reporter called a “poor little rich boy”, whom he compared to someone standing up nervously in catechism class with neither force nor authority. The biography rolls out a stream of rarely discussed items from an industrial athletics archive, with such early football legends as George Blanda, George Halas, Howard Cosell, Len Dawson, Tom Landry, Don Meredith and Gale Sayers, quoted here as crediting Hunt for racial integration in pro sports.

Besides the AFL, which would have turned 50 last year, Hunt’s widely unknown achievements are impressive: the two-point conversion, the advancement of pro soccer in America, and creating the model for today’s professional tennis tour and innovative retail, amusement and stadium parks and properties. Hunt even designed the Kansas City Chiefs’ arrowhead logo, scribbling it on to a napkin. Sweet packs it all in, from Hunt’s connection to Kennedy assassin Oswald’s murderer Jack Ruby to his Christianity, which Sweet sees as providing a general moral compass that allowed him to nurture his virtues of honesty, integrity, and rationality.

Lamar Hunt combined selfish values, such as his abiding love of sports, with an ability to take risks, even when he was losing money, and earn enormous wealth, and David Sweet’s Lamar Hunt, with photos, notes and an index, capably and convincingly demonstrates that fact, though he doesn’t write it that way. Sweet credits what he calls Hunt’s humility, which is alternately supported and countered by the facts of his career in the sports industry. Clearly, the man who coined the term Super Bowl thought big, not small. So, when one former NFL commissioner asserts late in the game that Lamar Hunt did not have an ego, the reader, having consumed the abundant evidence, may conclude that Hunt merely had an ego that was healthy enough to be nourished by his own ample accomplishments.

Mario Lemieux on Sportsmanship

Mario LemieuxKudos to athlete and businessman Mario Lemieux, former center forward and current owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, for denouncing the National Hockey League’s sanction of malicious initiation of physical force (as against rough play during competition) in hockey. The NHL didn’t do much to discipline the New York Islanders after they attacked the Penguins in a recent game that resulted in 346 penalty minutes.

Lemieux, a husband, father, and cancer survivor who saved the Penguins from financial failure by buying the team and is one of the sport’s greatest players, issued a statement about the NHL’s appeasement of brute force: “Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. But what happened Friday night on Long Island [when the Islanders attacked the Penguins gang-style] wasn’t hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that. The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed. We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players.  We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action. If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it.”

Number 66 Mario Lemieux is one of hockey’s best players and one of the sport’s most successful businessmen. His all-around skills were amazing on ice and he led the Penguins to stunning victories year after year. Today, the Penguins have one of the NHL’s highest television ratings in America, according to FoxSports, and the team is worth $235 million, according to Forbes. When the ‘Guins won their third Stanley Cup a couple of years ago, Lemieux became the only individual to win the Stanley Cup as both a player and owner. He speaks with confidence, honor and reverence for the game. The NHL, which turned the other cheek on the Islanders’ brutality, should listen.

Pittsburgh Steelers and the Steelmark

Pittsburgh SteelersThough I no longer follow professional or college sports, which I think is often as thoroughly bankrupt or corrupt as American culture, next week’s Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers conjures the heyday of the National Football League (NFL). I remember reading about admirable players such as Johnny Unitas and the Packers’ Bart Starr, both valued for their intelligence and integrity, during my youth, watching the Packers play in those brutal Wisconsin winters and feeling the Packers fan pride during visits to America’s Dairyland. Of course, being from Pittsburgh, I always cheered for the Steelers (and Panthers, Penguins, and Pirates). I used to wait outside hotel lobbies for a sight of the Steelers when they came to play near my town, and I remember Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, and Lynn Swann as kind athletes who graciously signed autographs and answered my countless questions. Andy Russell, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, John Stallworth, Frenchy Fuqua, Roy Gerela, Jack Ham, Rocky Bleier, I met nearly all of those Steelers of the 1970s. Mean Joe Greene seemed just like he did on the Coke commercial. They were my heroes.

One of my first heroes was the original Pittsburgh Steeler, Andrew Carnegie. He created U.S. Steel, whose diamond-shaped design is emblazoned on the helmets of the Pittsburgh Steelers, America’s only major football team with a capitalist logo, when he sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan in 1901. The Steelers’ diamond-shaped logo, composed of three hypocycloids, is known as the Steelmark. Cleveland, Ohio-based Republic Steel suggested that the Steelers use the logo, an industrial trademark by then, on their helmets in 1962.

According to the Steelers’ history of the symbol, the logo was intended to convey that steel lightens your work, brightens your leisure and widens your world and that steel is important in our daily lives. During the 1970s, the logo’s meaning was extended to include the three materials used to produce steel: yellow for coal, orange for ore and blue for steel scrap. Appropriate to an American symbol of productiveness that would not be possible without property rights, the Steelers had to seek and gain permission from the American Iron and Steel Institute to change the word “Steel” to “Steelers”. The Steelmark was created by U.S. Steel (now known as USX Corp), the world’s first billion-dollar corporation, in a deal which made Andrew Carnegie the world’s richest man. The Steelmark, a symbol of mankind’s most productive period in history, is one of America’s last iconic images (Ford Motor Company’s signature logo also comes to mind) of capitalism, the nearly bygone era.

Thug Worship in Iran and in America

Looters took over downtown Los Angeles the other night following a professional basketball victory.

A news radio reporter and several policemen were attacked, stores were looted, and, as far as I can tell, police stood down and allowed the looters to do the damage. After the Los Angeles Lakers won the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) championship in Orlando, Florida, a mob formed near the Staples Center, burning, vandalizing and destroying property everywhere in sight. Eight officers were injured, and 12 police cars, a sheriff’s vehicle, and six buses were damaged, according to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). One officer was taken to a hospital with minor injuries. Police said 25 arrests were made. One businessman, shoe store owner Richard Torres, told the Associated Press (AP) that he lost $100,000 when looters broke in and destroyed vintage sportswear and sneakers and the shop’s computers. “They were literally lighting stuff on fire,” Torres said. His store manager, Liz Sanchez, said LAPD did nothing.

In fact, LAPD Chief William Bratton, an ineffectual bureaucrat who routinely lectures the public on how the LAPD is underfunded, downplayed the looting and used the term “knuckleheads” to describe the criminals. The police clearly failed to protect the public and downtown L.A. will suffer and lose business.

But this mob mentality is rampant in the subculture of men’s professional sports, especially basketball, particularly the Lakers. Men of ability competing in athletic contests offers the sight of heroic action but thug worship replaced hero worship and engulfed sports long ago. Today, we are left with the spectacle of unkempt, baggy-clothed dog-killers, murderers and rapists spiking balls and sneering at the notion of civility. When Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, whom I personally believe is guilty of rape, was arrested in 2003 for felony sexual assault in Colorado, Lakers fans rushed, not to defend him based on facts (though some did) but to praise him.

Dads bought their sons jerseys with his number. I heard comments on talk radio and at parties, from educated men and women, that Kobe Bryant was like an animal that couldn’t be controlled when his sexual urges came upon him and that his accuser, a hotel worker and college student, probably deserved to be raped. Far from damaging his reputation among L.A. Lakers’ fans, the rape arrest (which did not result in conviction) elevated his stature. Thug worship is part of what fuels pro sports and it played out in downtown Los Angeles. With the dereliction of duties by the LAPD, and the consent of sports fans who sanction thug worship, the lawlessness, in the City of Angels and elsewhere, will get worse.

In Teheran, we have another example of civil unrest and I am reading the news from Islamic dictatorship Iran. I doubt that the protests against the current Islamic fascist dictator, who is controlled by the religious collective that runs Iran, will lead to fundamental change in that slave state. I support resistance to theocracy, in Iran as in America, where the Obama administration, defending the Clinton administration’s anti-homosexual Defense of Marriage Act, recently compared being gay to incest (as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow pointed out in a recent broadcast). But jihadist Iran, like Nazi Germany, did not become a theocracy overnight. Predominantly Moslem Iran is infected with anti-Western ideals that are widely accepted by the people. Protest over which Islamic thug is in charge is neither a cry for man’s rights nor a demand for the only political system which supports individual rights: capitalism.