If sex and sports have no correlation, if violence against women contains no element of athletic prowess, then why do all the rap sheets from the sporting world take a cold afternoon to read?
High schools to pros, every playing field is represented. In Glen Ridge, N.J., five prep demigods are accused of sexually assaulting a slightly retarded girl, stirring reflection in the community over the acclaim and license accorded young jocks.
At St. John's University, members of the lacrosse team are alleged to be involved in a gang attack at an off-campus residence. Convicted of rape, two Oklahoma football players receive 10 years. A Syracuse football player pleads guilty to sexual misconduct. A Minnesota basketball coach resigns the day after allegations that three of his athletes triple-teamed an unwilling woman at their hotel.
Momentarily, the Gophers' coach may just have lost his heart for games. A blaring "rape on campus" headline at Notre Dame helped turn legendary Ara Parseghian away from college coaching in the mid-'70s. The charge eventually was kicked all the way down to a violation of the dormitory code -- an after-hours visit by a female. Following one year's suspension, five of the six players returned. Some went on to Super Bowls. But Parseghian could not go on.
"He was a great player," Paul Brown once remarked off-handedly about possibly the greatest professional football player Brown or anyone else ever coached. "But he was a sadist. He liked to put cigarettes out in women's backs. It was a problem."
The pro docket is especially thick. New York Yankees outfielder Luis Polonia serves 27 days of a 60-day sentence for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. Green Bay Packers defensive back Mossy Cade does 15 months for the rape of a woman related to him by marriage; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Hollywood Henderson 4 1/2 years; Atlanta Hawks center Tom Payne 10 years; Oakland Raiders receiver Warren Wells a year.
A conversation overheard at the National Football League draft describes the traditional level of concern:
"This guy's another Warren Wells," says one personnel man to another. "We'd have to build him his own jailhouse."
The second scout smiles and replies: "Build it in the end zone."
Other convicted sex offenders, such as Chicago Bulls guard Quintin Dailey, draw probation. A few, like Los Angeles Rams receiver Drew Hill, reap suspended sentences and community work. Because sexual circumstances can be nebulous, many grand juries decline to indict. Then, a number of athletes go to trial and are acquitted.
Meanwhile, on national television, Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight reconfirms the general atmosphere and attitude with his cheerful advice to Connie Chung: "If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it."
Preoccupied as it is these days with avoiding practical penalties, the University of Maryland athletic department has stopped taking nominations for the exact moment its moral compass imploded. But here's an entry that predates Bob Wade or even Len Bias. In 1983, junior co-captain Herman Veal was ruled ineligible for basketball by a student judicial board reacting to a female student's complaint that Veal made unwelcome sexual advances toward her.
She further alleged that, the moment Veal's appeals were exhausted, coach Lefty Driesell tried to intimidate her on the telephone into dropping the charges. Driesell denied it, but university chancellor John Slaughter's first reaction was interesting. "The coach had every reason to try to protect his athlete," Slaughter said. "I really haven't concerned myself with Lefty on this matter."
So the machinery for misery was in place.
Since charges are yet to be filed, indictments yet to be handed down and the criminal and civil legalities have not begun to be played out, Washington Capitals management has had little to say about an alleged incident in Georgetown May 12 involving four players, a limousine and a 17-year-old girl. Well, it was either a rape or a romance.
Proponents of the latter view seem to include the chauffeur, who said he did not witness what transpired inside the vehicle but did notice it was rocking. A fifth player, who came late with a bucket of chicken but fled the split-second he arrived, appeared to suggest at the least that this was not an honorable place to be.
A few facts are confirmed. Right wing Dino Ciccarelli, left wing Geoff Courtnall and defenseman Scott Stevens are married. Defenseman Neil Sheehy is single. Ciccarelli pleaded guilty in 1988 to a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure.
It is probably fair to say that an establishment which presents an open bar and invites a hockey team qualifies as a citadel of stupidity and is no more worthy of the name "Champions" than its skating customers.
Another thing is fair to say. In fact, it requires saying. Awaiting a technical resolution, the Capitals have enough information to make one call. However this "party" is ultimately cast, these men no longer qualify as heroes in Washington. Don't bother to order them a limousine. Just call them a cab.