The Team Of The Century

Our Oct. 25 cover story, "America's Greatest," an oral history of the century's memorable athletes, scored high with sports-minded readers. One called it "a reminder to us all that our country is rich in heroes and role models"; another appreciated "the drama behind the statistics." A few sniped that sports icons weren't worth all the attention. "Enough praising muscle over brain," declared one. Many wrote to champion their own favorite figures, from wrestler Dan Gable to hockey's Mario Lemieux and even Howard Cosell. But they knew we had to leave some players on the bench. Picking the final lineup, observed one, "must have required some gut-wrenching choices."

Good Sports and Great Heroes From the front cover to the last word your Oct. 25 "Voices of the Century" cover story ("America's Greatest") on sports heroes is perhaps NEWSWEEK's greatest issue of the century. Congratulations and thank you!
Charles J. Scherer
Westampton, N.J.

I am a physician and the father of three beautiful and vivacious daughters: 3-year-old identical twins and their 5-year-old sister. Your Oct. 25 issue left me literally in tears, which surprised me as much as it did the guy sitting next to me on the plane where I was reading the magazine. Perplexed, he asked me, "What in NEWSWEEK could possibly make you cry?" I told him that your comments from Mary Lou Retton and Brandi Chastain were incredibly moving to a father of all girls. Retton told her mother as she watched Nadia Comaneci at the tender age of 8, "Mommy, I'm gonna go to the Olympics. And I'm gonna win..." Chastain, who recently placed the winning kick in the Women's World Cup soccer championship, wonders what type of legacy she is leaving for younger women. In a sense, all these women are leaving the same legacy for little girls all over the globe, which is to follow their dreams. By no means do I think my children will grow up to be world-class athletes. That is not the point. What is important is that your articles served as a reminder for me of what my key role in life should be: to "be there" as much as possible for my girls and to help them become the best people they can be in whatever realm they pursue. For a parent this may mean teaching them how to dribble a basketball or to read "Charlotte's Web." These athletes and their stories are an inspiration for me to be the best dad I can be. I think I will surprise the girls by coming home early today to work on our Halloween costumes and to do some pumpkin carving. Thank you, NEWSWEEK!
E. Wesley Ely
Nashville, Tenn.

I devoured every word about the greatest sports stars in your interesting and emotion-packed issue. However, I was disappointed that one little giant with a great heart and quiet manner was not included. He did not have the charm of Arnold Palmer, the adoration awarded Bobby Jones, the elegance of Byron Nelson, the cunning of Sam Snead, the winsome smile of Tom Watson or the power of a Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods, but he had the guts and courage that surpassed them all. This little dynamo dominated a game of giants from 1940 to 1953. His name? Ben Hogan.
Albert L. Amshel
Pittsburgh, Pa.

America's greatest what? I hope that you will get letters from readers who remember when Cassius Clay refused to serve his country by changing his name and religion, apparently to suit his purposes. That decision made him a traitor in my eyes and, I suspect, in the eyes of many of my fellow Americans. Members of my family have served our country in the armed services from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam. Some gave their lives, as did thousands of other young men and women. Despite his achievements in the boxing ring, why should Muhammad Ali be considered an American hero? Surely there are other athletes who deserve that designation--but to me, Cassius Clay or Muhammad Ali is not one of them.
Catherine Bird
Blairstown, N.J.

I'm 18, and I was very disappointed upon opening your Oct. 25 issue to see that the first article in your "Voices of the Century" section was on Ty Cobb. While Cobb was indisputably an excellent baseball player, he was also a racist (as you briefly mention) and an unsportsmanlike player. It would have been much more appropriate for the first athlete you focused on to have been a truly great person as well as athlete. So many athletes have been not only a credit to their sport, but to humankind and their race as well. Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Bobby Jones, Jesse Owens--who are featured in the fabulous articles that follow--were inspirational in how they played the game, both on the field/course/track and off. It is a shame that these athletes, who gave more to their sports than Ty Cobb could ever have hoped to, were buried inside the issue while Cobb was given the spotlight.
Jenna Gruenstein
Los Angeles, Calif.

I read your issue on America's greatest, and am writing to say that Joe Louis cannot be a mere asterisk at the end of this century. He was a giant, a pivotal point in American history. In 1915, when Jack Johnson lost the heavyweight title, it was said that no black man would ever wear that belt again. In 1937, along came a young black kid out of Detroit so devastatingly gifted that they had to give him a chance. He knocked out James Braddock, held the heavyweight crown for 12 years and retired in 1949 with 25 successful title defenses. During the World War II years, Louis was a leader in the United States War Bond drives; he fought and gave his entire purse to the Army Relief Fund and the Navy Relief Fund, and he entertained the troops. Louis was not only a great symbol to African-Americans; he stood tall for his country, too. He was an exciting fighter, knocking out all comers. Muhammad Ali was great, but Joseph Louis Barrow was the fighter of the 20th century.
Thy Wade
New York, N.Y.

You demean your magazine by highlighting those whose accomplishments are simply to run, kick or throw. It is a sick culture that hero-worships those who merely exercise. Why not honor society's true performers, such as excellent teachers?
John Derr
Port Charlotte, Fla.

Your Oct. 25 issue on the greatest sports heroes was magnificent. However, having grown up in the '30s and '40s in St. Louis, then known for being "first in booze, first in shoes and last in the American League," I'd like to add to your item on Satchel Paige that he joined the Browns in 1951. Presumably that's the reason he's wearing a Browns uniform in your photo. Thanks for the memories!
Paul V. Lutz
Houston, Texas

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding should not have been included in your issue celebrating "the greatest" sports heroes. They don't belong in that category. The attack on Kerrigan was a sad and sordid incident; however, she would never have gotten the recognition she did--or the endorsements--had it never happened.
Ruth Partridge
Hartville, Ohio

You prefaced your article "Dawn of a Dynasty " by saying, "No single play is more famous than the last-second pass from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC title game." C'mon. I realize NEWSWEEK is not a sports magazine, but everyone knows that the most famous play in NFL history is Franco Harris's Immaculate Reception in 1972. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s went on to win four Super Bowl titles and become the team of the decade.
Tom Haley
Medina, Ohio

Your issue on our greatest sluggers, hoopsters and sports superstars seems to have included the late, great Wilt Chamberlain only as an afterthought. Where is your news judgment? Did you research the gargantuan athletic accomplishments of this man whose like we will never see again? Columnist Tony Kornheiser of The Washington Post recently said it best: "Wilt was the most dominant individual player in basketball history. Don't even mention Michael Jordan. Wilt Chamberlain was on another planet." Wilt was right when he said nobody loves Goliath.
Stephen Svab
Arlington, Va.

One of the greatest sports achievements of this century is Lance Armstrong's victory in the Tour de France this past summer. His triumph over testicular cancer and radiation, his panache during the mountain stages, the remarkable performance of his American teammates on the U.S. Postal Service team in the fastest-ever Tour de France, make Lance Armstrong a candidate for sportsman of the century. This is coming from a Frenchman living in America. Bravo, Lance.
Alain Ruffier
Los Angeles, Calif.

Working Off Depression Bravo to Michael Norlen's Oct. 25 My Turn ("Healing Myself With the Power of Work"), which honestly discusses the many levels of depressive illness and its manifestations. Having been afflicted with "The Beast" myself since the age of 13, I can attest to the challenges that must be overcome in fighting the good fight. My best success story? I'm still alive.
Mary Dilg
Woodstock, Ga.

The thoughts expressed in Michael Norlen's my turn brought me tears of relief. After months of hospitalization, many types of drugs, electroshock therapy and years with a kind and patient therapist, I've discovered that the answer for me is also changing my career path. My psychologist took me through the dark, horror-filled and insidious caverns of my past. We both know I may be haunted forever. For me, the lifesaver was leaving the teaching field, after participating first in a Ph.D. program and then teaching at the high-school level. I now work in an office, where I feel the ache in my fingers from typing and the cramp in my back from standing at the photocopier for too long. Sure, I hear, "After all that education?" or "When will you go back to teaching?" I find comfort in the fast pace of my workplace--phones, files, the order of the items on my desk. My paycheck is small, but the healing power of this type of work is invaluable. When lunchtime comes and I stop to consider the quick pace of my community work force, I can finally keep up.
Bonnie Weingarten
Media, Pa.

Hats off to Michael Norlen's family for not abandoning him during his times of crisis. The sacrifices such families must often make are incalculable. Psychiatrists have degrees and can prescribe the medications, but only the family can understand the intensity of the fear that grips them every time the depressed one walks out of the house, and they don't know if that person will return--or how he or she might be discovered.
Jerry Capka
Dresher, Pa.

Michael Norlen bravely describes the monster under the bed. Once a type-A, productive person who held two full-time jobs while singlehandedly raising three adolescents, I now struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Choosing what clothes to wear seems as difficult as grading a stack of essays. My thanks to Norlen for sharing his experience, strength and hope. Depression is a disease, not a character defect.
Sheryl C. Kohl
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Thank you for publishing Michael Norlen's My Turn. He speaks articulately for those of us who battle "The Beast" and "The Black Dog" in our attempts to find joy again and rebuild our self-esteem. Living with the safety net of antidepressants is only the beginning of our recovery. I hope the article gives new insights to others about the disease that we have to learn to live with. I especially hope people will understand that it doesn't strike only lonely housewives; middle-aged men who appear to be successful also suffer from "IT." Thank you again for the article. It gives us the courage to face the shame and pity we receive when we choose to be open about our disease.
Tim B. Wagner
South Berwick, Maine

Mixing It Up With Ventura From the first day of his campaign, Jesse Ventura has successfully substituted notoriety for substance ("The Taming of Jesse," News of the Week, Oct. 25). As one example, he championed cutting school class sizes dramatically. While this is a worthwhile goal, I believe it was ultimately an insincere publicity ploy, since to do so would require prohibitively enormous expenses for buildings and teachers. The wrasslin' man's "Big Plan" has never been examined. And basically, Ventura's "little plan" is to keep Minnesotans humorously distracted from the reality that our state has been stuck in neutral since his inauguration. His gruff act proves every day that you can take the buffoon out of the ring, but you can't take the buffoon out of the man. Bye, Jesse. You came on like a flash. Please leave the same way.
Paul Paulos
St. Paul, Minn.

Cancer Is Gender-Neutral In your Oct. 25 article on Dr. Jerri Nielsen ("'I'd Like to Learn My Fate'," News of the Week), who was rescued from the Antarctic after having found a lump in her breast that turned out to be malignant, you conclude by saying of her replacement, "As it happens, he's a man." What, may I ask, has that got to do with anything? Are we to infer from this comment that a male doctor would never find himself in a similar predicament? Are men working in remote areas somehow immune to life-threatening diseases, especially those associated with gender? This attitude does a disservice to Nielsen, who has bravely been handling her illness on her own.
Candice L. Hart
St. Paul, Minn.

Things Could Be Better at BET I'd like to thank you for writing a painfully honest article on Black Entertainment Television ("Bad Vibes at Cable's BET," Arts & Entertainment, Oct. 25). It was a gutsy move to publish a piece, challenging the network's programming, that will undoubtedly bring you criticism from African-Americans. Any black-owned business should embody dignity, class and respect--something I believe BET has lacked for a number of years. Frankly, I'm tired of the videos, the sitcoms from the '80s, the stand-up comedy shows with slavery jokes or "mamma" routines.
Adrain Jones
Washington, D.C.

Faludi Fallout In her article about "Fight Club," I'm wondering why Susan Faludi seems to think she is qualified to explain to men what is wrong with them ("It's 'Thelma & Louise' for Guys," Arts & Entertainment, Oct. 25). I'm trying to imagine how she or other feminists would have responded to books or articles by men explaining to women what they really need to do to liberate themselves. Much of what Faludi has to say was already said by Robert Bly in "Iron John" and Sam Keen in "Fire in the Belly" nearly a decade ago, but without the rehashed revolutionary jargon. Ironically, at that time many feminists objected to what Bly and others in the nascent men's movement were saying because they thought it was dangerous. I guess it's OK now, as long as it's a woman telling a man how he should behave.
Chris Castillo
Santa Clara, Calif.

Thank God for Susan Faludi. Thank God she's a feminist. Do you think you'd be listening to her if she were a man?
Tom Gass
Omaha, Ariz.

What an orgiastic diatribe by Faludi on "Fight Club." Good grief--it's only a movie!
E. Dexter Scott
Tahlequah, Okla.

The View From Pakistan While many nations condemn the military takeover in Pakistan, most of us Pakistanis see this as the last glimmer of hope for our poor country ("Another Country on the Brink," News of the Week, Oct. 25). Over the last decade, corrupt politicians have plundered and destroyed the economic and social fiber of Pakistan. Less than 30 percent of the adult population is literate, and a decently educated person has no chance in an election against the corrupt political warlords. Western leaders should not support these unscrupulous politicians who stole even our nation's hope. The new setup should be given a reasonable chance to restore pride and order to this nuclear nation--because if it fails, our hope will also fade.
Parvez ul-Haq Siddiqi
Karachi, Pakistan

The only stable and permanent sociopolitical institution in Pakistan is its colonial-style, highly corrupt bureaucracy. For the sake of its own survival, it has powerfully protected the status quo of ignorance, illiteracy, religious fundamentalism and terrorism in Pakistan. Since everything else must work around this institution, nothing works properly. The first priority of any sincere government here should be to promote universal primary education, which alone can guarantee the emergence of a rational society in Pakistan.
Ahmad Junaid
Muzaffargarh, Pakistan

Correction A caption in our Oct. 18 Periscope item "Old Ballparks Don't Just Fade Away" inaccurately said Seattle's Kingdome began collapsing soon after it was built in 1976. We also said it was slated to be torn down in 2002. In fact, demolition is scheduled to begin next year.