USA Table Tennis
1985: Repercussions from the 1985 World’s—the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
In Gothenburg (Goteborg), Dick Miles and Sue Butler handled their ABC Wide World of Sports assignments well, and the Chinese, Swedes, and, thanks primarily to Sue, Americans Danny, Eric, and I were all interviewed. The voice-over will be done in early June and the show, which will feature the finals of the Teams, not the Singles, may be aired in two parts before the U.S. Open. Maybe they’ll show at least one of our U.S. umpires (Andy Gad, Bob Partridge, or Wendell Dillon) all nattily dressed in his new uniform.
Thanks also to Sue, and especially to Li Henan (who’ll receive $250 for her liaison work with the Chinese), Xu Yinsheng, Vice Minister of China Sports and the President of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, hosted a sumptuous dinner for a USTTA group of Gus, Sue, Henan, and my wife Sally and me. Gus presented Xu with an engraved plaque commemorating the Friendship Dinner, and I gave him an Indian peace pipe.
Back home, regarding the write-ups of the World’s that appeared in SPIN, Peoria, IL’s Dennis Steele had this to say (July-Aug., 1985, 4):
“Congratulations on the truly excellent May-June issue of SPIN. Your/SPIN coverage of the world’s was a delight to read.
Mal Anderson, Robert Compton, and Terry Canup are to be congratulated too for their fine photographic efforts. Compton’s work with his 250 mm, f/2 lens job (what a nice toy!) was quite good.”
And on that same page Sweden’s Stefan Dios shows he’s pleased with the magazine too:
“I hope to hear from you soon and that I will be able to take part in American table tennis. I am also looking forward very much to the SPIN. What I have seen of it, it appears to be the best magazine on the game in existence.”
I, Tim, however, had an insider’s negative reaction—I didn’t think my friend Editor Wintrich had done his best with the May-June issue, and I personally was far from delighted with it. Here’s the May 31st letter I wrote to him, copies to the E.C.:
I spoke briefly, just casually today with someone about the possibility or replacing you as Editor of SPIN. I don’t want to do that, though, because on the whole I think you’re doing a good job. However, I’m telling you this up front, publicly, because I’m god-damned angry about your ‘Fuck you’ proofing attitude with regard to my Men’s World Team report in the May-June issue.
Your articles might be satisfactorily proofed, but my Men’s Team article, despite my 20-hour meticulously careful copy, is a mess. You’ve got to take responsibility for what happens between the copy I give you and the aberration that ends up in the paper. I’m particularly unhappy about the repeatedly transposed paragraphs on pages 17 and 18 that make it impossible for the reader to straightforwardly follow the article to a climactic conclusion.
After 14 years as an editor, I know when an article’s proofed and when it isn’t. As anyone can see from the pages in question (I’ve appended copies of them here), you were totally irresponsible.
I’ve no quarrel with your writing or your editing—you did very well to catch that bad mistake I made in my USA-South Korea tie. But your disregard for my presentation pisses me off the more when I think how in the last year I’ve tried to help you as much as was humanly possible. Goddammit, I too want my satisfactions. For 20 hours of work I want payment; I want to charge you…with a duty. I want, like the lowliest broom-sweeper, the payment of seeing work accomplished, my writing to look right, to be read as I want it to be read.
Things that are important to me I can’t just pass off, forget about. You must know by now that I can’t, won’t, function that way. And yet what recourse have I to show my displeasure except publicly to protest to those who hire you? I can’t just refuse to write an important article for an editor who won’t proofread me. I enjoy writing articles, the paper needs them, needs a variety of viewpoints, and I certainly want to keep my monthly column going.
So, I’m asking you, nicely warning you, not to be lazy. Otherwise, get up and get you a beer I will, but help you keep your editorship if I have someone else competent to replace you I won’t.”
This brought the following June 1st reply from Mel Eisner (my interlinear comments in brackets):
“Re Tom…You have a legitimate complaint about a one-time editing series of errors. [It was NOT a one-time occurrence.] But there is something wrong with what I will call your Bull-in-the-China Shop method. [I also spoke to Tom.] To bring in your heavy artillery so quickly won’t work—it just does not encourage future good performance. (Or so I think. [Others might think differently?]) Specifically I object to your phrases, ‘I spoke briefly, just casually…about…replacing you,’ and ‘So I’m asking…nicely warning you….’
I cannot see the value of threatening a man’s job because of this kind of dissatisfaction. But, if you really mean it, then do it. [If it happens again, I intend to do just what I said I’d do.] If I were on the receiving end of these words I’d tell you to shove it. [Then you wouldn’t be the editor of the magazine, and apparently wouldn’t care enough to have been fired, and fired by a friend.] Let’s talk about and point out errors, but stop shooting cannons—please. [Tom egregiously did not do his job. Question is, ‘Why not?’]”
E.C. insiders also got an April 19th Update from me as follows:
“There was an unusual incident toward the end of the World’s. One of our players, Brian Masters, was sent two packages in the mail, one from Houston, one from somewhere else. For some reason Swedish Customs Inspectors opened these and found inside each a small amount of marijuana. Brian, on being questioned, denied expecting any packages, denied knowing the U.S. senders (neither of whom I had ever heard of), and the matter was dropped….
Only to be picked up a few days later by at least one Swedish scandal sheet. Interestingly enough, from the Wednesday morning an investigator first interviewed Brian (and asked him not to say anything about the matter) to the Sunday morning Sue Butler told a surprised Dennis, Houshang, and me the story, no one had said a single word to any of us. Moreover, after Dennis, Sue, a Swedish interpreter, and I had gone to the local Police Station to find out how much of what was written in the scandal sheet was true, again, neither in the tournament Press Room, nor in the Playing Hall, nor at the Hotel did one single person come up to me and inquire about this story. So it was quite clear to me, if not to, say, Sue, who seemed (I suppose naturally enough) to enjoy talking about it, that it received very, very little attention.
Gone this incident was, but not forgotten…at least in Sweden. Later, on Sept. 8, Nisse Sandberg would write me the following note:
“The ‘drug problem’ which came up at the World’s in Sweden with the parcel sent to a U.S. Team member, and which got into the Swedish newspapers, has resulted in some small problem. I must assure officials here that U.S. players coming to Sweden are not involved with drugs of any kind. This means that I cannot this season accept players who anyone here knows, or think they know, have been using drugs. For the moment anyway, only small kids, Kasia, and Sean (maybe Chartchai) are coming and there are no problems with them.”
In that April Update, I took the opportunity to vent my irritation at the hostile grumblings of one or two of our supporters who were anti some of our U.S. Team members. [But dissension, Tim, is the American way. Self vs. Society—it’s been going on for centuries and probably always will. Just don’t be stupid, Prez, don’t be petty—be civil, decent, fair to everyone.]
Two weeks later, U.S. Team members Eric, Danny Seemiller, Team Captain/Coach Houshang, Team Manager Dennis Masters, and others received notice from Disciplinary Chair Wendell Dillon that William Steinle recommended disciplinary action should be taken against Danny and Eric for unsportsmanlike conduct at the Gothenburg World’s. He specifically wants to know if the allegations in Steinle’s paragraphs 2. 4, and 6 are correct or not, and, if they are, he’d like to hear Danny and Eric’s side of the matter. Here’s Bill’s letter to Wendell in its entirety:
“Dear Mr. Dillon:
This letter is to inform the Disciplinary Chairman of the conduct of two U.S. Team members during the 1985 World Championships in Sweden.
(2) Eric Boggan would stand out in the middle of the court and holler very loud (at least loud enough to be heard in the stands), ‘Fuck this!’ and other comments of a similar nature. Eric would also give up during matches and just hit the ball off the table or into the net. He did this against Grubba from Poland, Wang Huiyuan from China, Kriston of Hungary, Chi Yong Ho of North Korea, and Costantini of Italy.
Danny Seemiller would use the same type of vulgar language. He would not stand out in the center of the courts and scream but he was still loud enough to be heard in the stands. Danny would also give up on matches. He did it against Kucharski of Poland, Chu Vong Chol of North Korea, and Zsolt Harczi of Hungary.
(4) They both came out to a men’s doubles match with improper dress, then cursed out the Nigerian pair for being bad sports. Everyone had been informed that team members had to have the same uniform. Even when the U.S. players did play, they were still not wearing the same color shirts.
I did not see it, but I was informed that Danny also put on quite a display when he lost in the singles to Kim Ki Taek of South Korea. You might ask Rufford Harrison about this. I heard he was present.
(6) It seems to me players should be disciplined for conduct of this nature. They both acted the same way at the last World Championships. It was reported to the E.C. in the Manager’s Report [Steinle’s] but nothing was done about it.
If you find out after your investigation into these charges that they are all true and factual, disciplinary action should be taken against these players.
If these player problems are not reported in the Team Coach and Team Manager’s required reports, disciplinary action should be taken against the Team Coach and Manager.”
As you would expect, Team Coach Houshang Bozorgzadeh, Team Manager Dennis Masters, and Tim Boggan speaking for Eric had their own story to tell. (I assume, since I have no copy of a response, Danny was content to let these others speak for him.)
I’ll let Houshang start—not just with one, but two letters he wrote Dillon on May 3rd. Here’s the first:
“Dear Mr. Dillon:
This is to respond to your letter and concern regarding the Steinle allegations. I have also included a copy of my report on the World Championships, copies of which have earlier gone to President Tim Boggan and to the Executive Committee.
Mr. William Steinle is known to me as a negative and hostile man, at least where the U.S. Men’s team is concerned, and this experience spans the last two World Championships. His recent letter to you is very damaging to our team and to Eric Boggan and Danny Seemiller in particular.
I think his letter contains a lot of falsehoods and I say this after spending no fewer than 28 days with these young men as their captain and coach, witnessing their hard work and dedication, and their behavior as well, in the tournament hall, hotel, and elsewhere.
#2: Eric’s behavior and language. There were three officials at his table who understood English. I heard no offensive language and, if I had, I would certainly have told him to stop it. If the officials had warned him and he persisted they would have taken him out and awarded his opponent a forfeit win. Admittedly, Eric’s performance was not up to his Tokyo standards. Grubba of course is one of the best players in the world, and, in fact won the Joola Trophy as the best player in team competition. Eric’s scores against Kriston and Cho Yong Ho were certainly respectable. His problems in the Costantini match were mentioned in my report.
#3: Danny’s language. I, at no time, heard Danny Seemiller use untoward language or demean himself in an unsportsmanlike way. He is enthusiastic. “He gives 100 percent every game.”
#4: Improper dress: Yes, the U.S. players had changed shirts because they were sweaty. On starting this men’s doubles match, the Nigerians complained to the referee about the non-matching shirts. I then ran and got two matching shirts for them to put on, but the referee said they did not need to make the change. They then went ahead with the match. I saw the incident as a bit of unfriendliness on the part of the Nigerian team, for this rule was obviously waived several times during the doubles play. Notwithstanding the fact that the referee overruled the Nigerians, I explained to our players that the rule calls for matching uniforms, and that we would abide by it. I did not hear either Eric or Danny curse their opponents.
#5: Danny’s display. This is what happened. In Danny’s last match, he lost to Kim Ki Taek, 23-21 in the third. When it finished, Danny shook hands with Kim and the officials, then threw his paddle into his bag and sat down with his head in his hands, his eyes filled with tears. That’s all.
In my opinion, Eric, Danny, and the entire team should receive commendations, not disciplinary measures.”
Here’s Bozorgzadeh’s second letter, which is meant to counter (Steinle’s #6) threat to suspend Houshang:
“Dear Mr. Dillon:
I write you now of Mr. William Steinle’s conduct during the 1985 World Championships.
This Gothenburg World’s is the fourteenth I have participated in, either as a player or as a captain and coach. Over that span of years, I have yet to see a person with such a negative attitude and dislike for his country’s players as William Steinle. Thus, his letter to you does not surprise me.
Two years ago, in Japan, although he worked very hard, his demeanor with our players was very poor. On talking to me or the players, he would invariably turn away, avoiding eye contact. When Eric Boggan played against Kriston of Hungary in the Singles, Steinle sat in the box behind me, talking loudly and obviously distracting Eric, who looked over several times. I asked Steinle to be quiet and watch, else leave, for neither Eric nor I could concentrate on the match. He got up and left.
This year in Gothenburg, from the time we arrived at the Opalen Hotel, he denigrated our team constantly, in front of both American friends and foreigners.
On the morning we played China, he was sitting with his video camera next to Jimmy McClure. I suggested to Steinle that he save some of his tape for our matches against other teams and winning situations. His reply was to the effect that if he had a million feet of tape he would not waste one inch of it filming the American team.
During Brian Masters’ Singles contest with Chartchai Teekaveerakit of Thailand, Steinle continuously cheered for the Thai. When Brian lost the match, Steinle jumped up and down, cheering loudly.
Following our win over Hong Kong, Steinle told Dennis Masters, our Team Manager, that Hong Kong had dumped the match. It was obvious to all that the match was extremely important to Hong Kong.
Due to his false allegations and prevailing negativism, I strongly suggest that any disciplinary action be against William Steinle in lieu of our players.”
Now here’s Team Manager Dennis Masters’ June 1st response:
In reply to your letter of Apr. 28th, 1985 concerning William Steinle’s charges of unsportsmanlike conduct by Eric Boggan and Danny Seemiller during the World Championships, I would like to make the following statements.
Concerning Steinle’s paragraph #2, this was not one of Eric’s better tournaments. From the time Eric arrived in Stockholm he was not feeling well. Houshang took him to a doctor who found that Eric had a bladder infection which he was given medicine for. As far as giving up in several matches, I agree that it certainly looked as if he was not trying to play his best all the time. I think it’s impossible for me or Mr. Steinle to know what was going on in Eric’s head or feel the pressure that Eric was under. How can any player who is not playing his or her best and feels inside that it’s impossible to win (for whatever reason) be disciplined for not trying hard enough?
On the subject of cursing, this is something I personally do not approve of even though my son, Brian, has been known to have problems with this, and I have to agree with Mr. Steinle that it occurred on several occasions and I was not happy about it. But in defense of both Eric and Danny, I did not consider it very serious because:
It was not so loud or obvious as Mr. Steinle stated.
Neither player was ever warned or reprimanded by officials.
Many other teams that I watched, such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary (Jonas Takacs particularly), Switzerland (their women’s team), and Romania (their women’s team) cursed more frequently and much louder than our players did. This does not excuse it, but in this type of atmosphere where it is being done by many and the officials are not controlling it, I don’t think our players should be disciplined. Also, I don’t believe that the time to start disciplining our players for something that goes on at almost every tournament in the U.S. is at the World Championships. I don’t think that cursing should be permitted, but if a penalty for it is to be enforced, we should do it first in all our tournaments at home.
Regarding Steinle’s paragraph #3, Danny did seem to give up against Chu of North Korea and Kriston of Hungary. But both times he did it, he was very far behind and it was close to the end of the game and it would have been almost impossible for Danny to catch up against this level of competition. As far as Danny’s cursing was concerned, I can only recall one incident and it was at such a low level that I only just heard it while I was on the bench (almost as close as you can get). My personal feeling is that Danny is a credit to our team and I find it unbelievable that anyone would seek disciplinary action against him.
Paragraph # 4: Eric was in the blue uniform that the team had been wearing the entire time. Danny was in a different color (red) but I feel this was a lack of communication and certainly unintentional on Danny’s part. The officials were going to let them play and the Nigerian doubles pair did not seem to object. It was the Nigerian coach who made such a fuss, which I thought was unsportsmanlike. Houshang and Scott Preiss were able to get matching uniforms, which took care of the problem. Only, ironically, the Nigerians turned out not to be in the same uniform since they were wearing different colored shorts….The Americans did not complain about the Nigerian’s uniforms (which they had every right to do after what the Nigerian coach did) and went ahead and played the match.
That’s as much as I was privy to regarding Steinle’s accusations.
However, I would like to make a few comments myself on Mr. Steinle’s behavior at the World Championships. From the time he arrived in Gothenburg, Mr. Steinle had a negative attitude. He didn’t like the way the team practiced or the clothes they practiced in. He was certain that the U.S. men’s team could not win a tie, and then when they beat Hong Kong, he said he didn’t know why Hong Kong would dump to the U.S. but he was sure they did. He actually seemed unhappy about the men’s team’s successes. He seemed only interested in Sean and let it be known that he felt Sean should have played much more. I overheard him say a number of negative comments about Houshang, Eric, Danny, and Brian.
Since Mr. Steinle was a member of the U.S. delegation and quite a bit of effort was spent on making arrangements for him, I think he should have been there to support the team (like the rest of our large group), and not to try to undermine their spirit with his negativism. At the very least, he should have kept his feelings to himself and suffered in silence.
In the future, I think if Mr. Steinle wants to attend the World Championships, he should make his own travel, hotel and ticket arrangements and go as part of the Thailand delegation….
Regardless of what others might think, my feeling is that this was a successful World Championships for the U.S. We accomplished what we set out to do. I know the players and coaches were very happy to have a large friendly crowd supporting them.
The rest of my Team Manager’s report will be presented elsewhere. For now I want to thank Gus Kennedy, Tim Boggan, Houshang and Henan for all their help.”
O.K.. it’s time now for me to present my own May 7th somewhat lengthy take on Steinle and his accusations which I sent not only to Wendell and his Disciplinary Committee but to other interested parties as well. It’s entitled “BAD TASTE”:
“I feel I personally have to respond to Bill Steinle’s request for Disciplinary Action against Eric Boggan and Danny Seemiller, U.S. players whose unquestioned heart and hard-working attitudes have enabled them—just the two of them, one after the other—to dominate our sport from the early 70’s on.
Bill’s charge—which to me shows not just objective values often shared by others but (‘Judge not lest ye be judged’) Bill’s own very subjective human frailties and prejudices—is really an attack on Houshang Bozorgzadeh, the Team Captain; Dennis Masters, the Team Manager; and me, Tim Boggan, Eric’s and now the USTTA’s much too permissive father, for allowing, even encouraging, the Team’s much-too-free-for-Bill life-style.
Indeed, the charge against Eric and Danny might also have been brought against Brian Masters, whom Bill, as a member of the Selection Committee, did not originally want on the Team and whom he rooted against in Gothenburg, might have been brought against anyone who didn’t share Bill’s IMAGE of what a U.S. Team must be like and how its players must conduct themselves.
In my view, Bill’s charge has far less to do with unsportsmanlike conduct than with lapses in good taste. The first of two questions that Bill raises for me is, “What should be done when a player occasionally shows bad taste?” The answer that comes to mind is ‘Suffer it even as you hope to stop it.’ Which answer is precisely what comes to my mind when I think of the second question Bill raises for me, ‘What should be done when a USTTA member, part of our Official U.S. Group at the Gothenburg World’s, has a very bad mouth?’ That is, when over and over again offending words come grim-lipped, tastelessly out of it.
‘Judge not lest ye be judged’…to which, I’m sure, Bill, who has the up-front courage of his convictions, would say, ‘Fair enough.’ Just as well, because to better understand Bill’s specific charge against Eric and Danny I want first to establish a context that will give the interested reader a better perspective of said charge. This involves my ‘reading’ of 54-year-old Bill himself, whom I originally met on the Circuit in Wilson, N.C., Jan. 25-27, 1980, and whom in a tournament hotel bar I first helped to gain entre to our best U.S. players.
To me, Bill’s experience in the table tennis world, 1980-85, is relatively limited. Neither he nor his subjective camera (which delights in focusing on Eric not when he’s playing well but when he’s playing badly and is self-tormented) knows as yet how to watch a match. As was apparent from our talks in Gothenburg, Bill still can’t see how the Chinese dump match after match, deliberately don’t try. Lest the point escape him, were he to see this, he’d modify his encomiums of them?
For what it’s worth I see Bill as a sensitive but not a worldly person. He too often has blinders on, which I think work to his disadvantage. In my opinion, he needs a good liberal arts education. Bill is, in part, like (I don’t say he is one, but he is, in part, like) one of those fanatically-minded McCarthy-like ‘new born’ Christians whose idea of Democracy—in this case Table Tennis democracy—is that everyone pay Puritanical service to strict behavioral norms and niceties but who really, before their God or any other God’s Grace can come to them, need to practice far more Brotherly Love. Bill seems incapable of realizing that the players he criticizes are freedom-conscious human beings with their own soul-strengths who very likely will never conform to any one person’s idea of Perfection, not even their own.
Bill is fast turning into a congenital grumbler. Consequently, whether he knew it or not, he was a very disruptive force, an energy drain, to me, to anyone who was working as hard as I and certain other officials were in Gothenburg trying to bring good vibes to the Team.
It was quite clear from the beginning that Bill was there in Sweden (and—careful, Tim, careful, no cheap shots—his daughter too, who was often as negative and dour-looking as he was) only to support some members of the Men’s Team—the agreeable Ricky, Sean, the kind of kid (‘O’Neill’s residence, Sean speaking’) he favors (drives to tournaments, roots for, films), and Chartchai (who, living for months and months now with the O’Neills, is dependent on them and echoes them—I spent a lengthy part of this past New Year’s Eve listening to everyone in the O’Neill house telling me, as if with one unyielding voice, how Danny, who I see as our most universally respected player, and E.C. member-elect, was a ‘cheater’).
So, keeping this background in mind, I do think that Bill can’t help but want Eric and Danny off the Team and in their place his—Bill’s—teammates, Sean and Chartchai (whom he rooted for against Brian in the Singles).
Still, no question about it, no matter how subjective Bill’s opinions are, no matter how disruptive or trying they are to others in responsible positions who find them unnecessarily rigid, he’s entitled to them. When, however, Bill deliberately (and to my mind unjustly) involves other people in official USTTA action, he goes beyond stating his beliefs, he tries officially to enforce them on others, and so, given the considerable teamwork accomplishments of the people he’s involved, he precipitates an argument, a fight, a little war…of words.
For Bill, the inception of the war started at least as far back as October, 1981 (see the Topics article ‘On Playing Doubles’) when Bill came at Danny and Eric for not having a more encouraging attitude toward their doubles partner. [Bill specifically criticized Danny’s attitude toward Ricky while they were on their streak, unprecedented in U.S. History, of winning eight straight U.S. Men’s Doubles Championships.] Astonishing, is it, how Bill never seems to question why when he sees imperfections in others, he can’t play the C’mon, we’re in this together game, do it your way, we’re behind you. His point of view is, ‘If you don’t play it my way, the Jack Armstrong way, I don’t play…and you don’t either.’
In his 1983 Team Manager’s Report Bill said that it was a 100% waste to send Eric and a 50% waste to send Houshang to the pre-World’s training site. Eric, he said, was uncoachable (by who? Henan?), believed everything he did was correct, hit the ball only when he wanted to and how he wanted to. When Danny asked him to, Eric would put in a little effort. Since Eric didn’t like to do physical exercises, he just went through the motions. When Eric thought that 6:30 a.m. was too early for such training, Houshang revised the time to 9 a.m. Houshang, Bill said, was not a coach. The players did what they wanted to do—Eric, for example, didn’t like Houshang’s training schedule, so Houshang changed it. The last two days of supposed training Eric spent more time playing basketball than table tennis—with the result that Eric got a finger in the eye. Pretty damn dumb for Eric to be playing contact basketball before a World Championship, huh? Why have a coach that the players won’t listen to? Why have players that won’t listen to a coach?
In this assessment, Bill really says that if I, Bill, were running this Team, things would be different. I’ll say.
And yet, why is he so negative?
What really did he think could be accomplished under those unnatural conditions at Colorado Springs in such a short time before the World’s (other than to begin to get the generally compatible perennial Men’s Team together)?
How inexperienced Bill has shown himself to be.
How coachable does Bill think he is? Or a 2600 player? It just may be that any number of good or bad players aren’t coachable for whatever reasons. Bill, like lots of people with a little knowledge picked up vicariously, delights in making definitive statements, is so unbending that he can’t conceive of Eric, or Eric’s last great predecessor Dick Miles, or anyone else not wanting a coach? Or not wanting to run at 6:30 in the morning? Or not trying every point? Though anybody ought to know that every good player is governed by the psychology that’s best for him, or the pace that’s privately his own. Actually I myself share this TRY, TRY value of Bill’s and am very disappointed even today when, for whatever reason, Eric doesn’t try hard (the one thing I absolutely insisted on in bringing up Scott and Eric was not that they practice but that they try hard in tournament matches). But I could never presume, either when they were young or when they turned into men, into U.S. Champions with a background and knowledge of the sport far exceeding my own, to ‘punish’ them because I was disappointed that they did not play every point, every game, every match with psychic uniformity. I never had a mind that thought that way. I always wanted them to transcend the everyday, rise to the occasion.
Bill talks as if from a Champion’s experience. But he is not a Champion and certainly doesn’t have the respect of the Champions he knocks. It’s really more important to Bill to look good, to be proper, than to win. It’s something a losing athlete can always do—it’s a hedge; observe the amenities, TRY. But being a Champion often involves something different, something I don’t believe Bill personally, totally knows about, something that has to do with instant adaptability, deviation from the norm, a Self that triumphs over Society, a flash of intuition, a risk taken that goes against advice, against reason, that violates all laws of preparation, of harmony. Fuck the Coach, fuck the people who want me to be graceful, nice, I’ll do it my way.
How naïve Steinle’s comments are.
Eric believes everything he does is correct. Isn’t that absurd? Eric has always been a perfectionist—has always been extremely self-critical. And, listening to Bill, you’d think Eric wasn’t in good physical shape. And he shouldn’t play basketball? And, most absurdly, Bill the Outsider’s subjective criticism of the longtime Houshang-Eric Captain-Player relationship. Who the hell is Steinle to criticize any method of training or of not training that produces winners? Houshang in his own special way—certainly not Bill’s way—helped Eric to produce what some consider the greatest performance of any U.S. player at the World’s in a quarter of a century!
And what happens? Bill comes back with a report that is almost totally negative. ‘Eric played well’—just three words: that was all Bill could bring himself to say that was in any way positive.
What a bad mouth Bill has.
When Bill speaks of Eric’s ‘conduct’ in his ’83 Team Manager’s Report (or in his later letter to the Disciplinary Chair), he stresses Eric’s use of a ‘vulgarism.’ Perhaps accompanied by a gesture. Bill is very upset about Eric’s occasional use—audible use—of the word ‘Fuck.’ And yet does Bill really think that when Eric, frustrated, bursts out at his father, whom I’m sure he loves, or at Houshang, whom I’m sure he respects, that everyone sees Eric’s honest, emotionally charged use of that word as negatively as Bill does? ‘That is the dumbest fucking thing I ever heard of’ Eric says to his Captain. Does Bill really think such a voice—and how many people does it after all reach?—would offend Houshang, Eric’s surrogate father, anymore than it would offend me? Can’t Bill grasp another voice, a young person’s voice, another life-style? Can’t he hear the honesty, even the affection in the voice? Does Bill’s behavior norm, his unvarying insistence on the niceties, have to be everybody’s behavior norm?
And, my god, how many vulgarisms are we talking about here? One gets the idea that Bill rather stalked Eric at the beginning of that ’83 World’s when Eric, upset, lost 5 of his first 6 matches. What about the incredible 17 out of 18 he then won? He sure couldn’t have had occasion to use many obscenities in that streak.
So what, finally, is Bill’s conclusion in his ’83 Team Manager’s Report? Unbelievable: that if ever again Eric says—what?—one, two, three public ‘Fucks’ in the heat of competition, he should not be warned by an umpire, should not have a point taken away from him, should lose not a game, or a match, but should be “barred from playing for the U.S. Team.” This is not the voice of a reasonable, responsible man.
With this background on Steinle, I come now to the actual charge made by him against Eric and Danny. The charge is “unsportsmanlike conduct”—which to me is just nonsense. (Did Bill care to tell us about the point an umpire improperly gave to Eric in his five-game match with the young Czech Grman, which Eric promptly returned by serving into the net?) Does he really think Eric or Danny abused or unfairly took advantage of an opponent?
Wendell Dillon, the Disciplinary Chair, has asked Eric and Danny to respond to paragraphs 6, 4, and 2 of Bill’s letter. I’m not their hired lawyer, but I respond for them.
Paragraph 6 really has no bearing on any 1985 charge—for no one, not Steinle now or two years ago, not anyone has ever seen fit to give Eric (and I would guess Danny) a copy of the Team Manager’s (Steinle’s) Report. So of course they’ll have to guess what Bill means. The vague phrase ‘Eric acted the same way’ this World’s as last—what does that mean? ‘Acted’? So it has nothing to do with (see Paragraph 4) ‘dress.’ Maybe it has something to do with not trying in matches? But, my god, that can’t be right. Eric’s record at the ’83 World’s was sensational—at least to everyone but Steinle. So what’s left? In 1983, Eric, like how many other players from how many other countries, used an occasional obscenity? Could be. But doubtless it wasn’t worth remembering. I should think to any fair-minded person Paragraph 6 must be quite incomprehensible to Eric and Danny.
Paragraph 4, according to my understanding of what actually happened, cannot be correct. True, Eric and Danny were not wearing identical uniforms when they went out to play the Nigerians in the Men’s Doubles (Danny said he didn’t realize the uniforms had to be alike). And when the umpire challenged him he asked her, “Hey, look, is a change absolutely necessary? It’s a quarter to 10 at night. Do I really have to go back to the hotel and get different shorts?’ The umpire is sympathetic. ‘Wait a minute,’ she says, ‘I’ll ask the Referee.’ Soon she comes back and says, ‘It’s O.K. Play.’ But now the Nigerian Coach protests. He wants a default. This, to my mind, is poor sportsmanship—and understandably Eric and Danny had a few words with these Africans.
But O.K., O.K., USA Trainer/Masseur Scott Preiss runs back to the hotel and gets the requisite complementary shorts, and then, as Danny puts them on, someone points out that though the Nigerians’ shorts look similar they are in fact of different colors. So, when the U.S. players in turn threaten with a straight face to default the Nigerians, the Nigerian Coach quickly withdraws his protest….C’mon, c’mon, quit the bullshit and play said our players. So, in the end, it was the Nigerians who were technically not dressed properly, not the Americans. But is any of this really anything to concern the Disciplinary Chair about? And what the hell is Steinle doing?
This leaves only Paragraph 2 of concern to anyone.
Two parts to the charge: (1) Eric and Danny didn’t always try. (2) Eric and Danny uttered—how many?—audible obscenities.
I’ve indicated in my SPIN article on the Men’s Team, which (see enclosure) I wrote before seeing Steinle’s letter to Wendell, where Eric or Danny did try or didn’t try, and the matches they won and didn’t win. Though I was sympathetic to Eric, I think the article is the most accurate account of what actually happened in these matches. Let me say that as usual Bill’s subjective camera picks out only those matches Eric lost. About Eric’s win over Kucharski, after Eric had given up the first 21-5, Bill says nothing. In his mind, the win shouldn’t count.
Look, I agree it hurts that Eric, for whatever reason, gives up on occasion. But who is Steinle to tell Eric or Danny how they should play to win? They’ve spent their whole lives winning: this they, not Steinle, know about. If they can’t win, it has to bother them, and maybe they need psychological help, maybe not. Anyway, who the hell needs Steinle? Who is he anyway? Other than someone who from the beginning rooted against Eric, who would like to see him lose, who would like to bar him from playing with the U.S.
Better Steinle himself improved his conduct. Better he tried on occasion to give support to Eric and Danny. Sitting so near to the team, but often looking disinterestedly or sourly away at other matches, showing his obvious displeasure that Eric or Danny was playing, he deservedly incurred Houshang’s anger.
Surely it must be harder for most reasonable people to sympathize with 54-year-old Steinle’s inflexibility than 21-year-old Eric’s motivational problem. After all, it’s Eric, not Bill, who has the pressure on him. Eric must play world-class table tennis 10 months out of the year to earn his livelihood—a very, very short part of this time he plays for his country. It’s Eric, not Bill, who has table tennis priorities, who has to produce. I think it’s fair to say that in tie after tie at the World’s unless Eric won three matches the U.S. very likely could not win. That means Eric had always not only to play very well, but, despite his forced day-in, day-out Bundesliga schedule, he had to be psychologically up—or, since few if any of us can will ourselves to be psychologically up for every match, he had both to try and not try, so as to create rhythms for himself that would allow him, if possible, to rise to an occasion. Against Italy, the tie we had to have, Eric did the best he could at that given time. He won just enough—Danny was left to finish off the Italian 3rd.
The last part of the charge has to do with Eric and Danny’s use of an occasional audible obscenity. Since I myself heard Eric say one vulgarism that would have been audible in the stands and one that wouldn’t have been (I saw all the U.S. Men’s ties but one), I strongly question the rhetoric Steinle uses: ‘Eric Boggan would stand out in the middle of the court and holler very loud (at least loud enough to be heard in the stands). Fuck this! and other comments of a similar nature.’ How often did Eric holler an obscenity? Once? Twice? A hundred times he was vulgar? This is some accusation. Was he ever warned by an umpire? Was a point ever taken away from him? Or didn’t the umpires care? Maybe they didn’t hear him? Understand the vulgarity? Weren’t offended?
Perhaps Steinle, more than most, is more aware of the world that I thought. Perhaps all over the globe obscenities have crawled, continue to crawl, at him, and he just can’t stand to see them in his recreational world, his escape world of table tennis. It’s not sporting. It’s not fair. It’s not…not wholesome.
But for others like Eric and Danny the world of table tennis is no pit-pat play world. They’re well aware that evil slithers here. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, they work at the sport, endure the pressures that winners face, the uncertain future. It’s not a fuckin’ easy way to make a living.
How about some show of understanding, Brother Bill?”
The Disciplinary Committee, in the person of its Chair Wendell Dillon, sent concluding July 31st letters to Houshang, Eric, Danny, and Bill. Here is the gist of what he said to each.
“…While agreeing that his [Bill Steinle’s] actions were disruptive, we do not believe that they were sufficient to warrant disciplinary action.
…Thank you for submitting the request for disciplinary action. I think it was undertaken in retaliation for his [Bill’s] complaint against Eric and Dan. Our investigation forced him to look at his own actions. Whether that will help or not I don’t know….”
“…After reviewing the evidence, the committee determined that there was no basis for disciplinary action.
That you quit in matches is well documented, including in Tim’s article. Quitting is contrary to the spirit expected of players representing our country in international competition. We determined that this should be resolved by you and our team captain and coach rather than by disciplinary action.
We had no evidence other than Steinle’s allegation on your audible vulgarities. Your use of the alleged word is well known. Use of that one word can turn off more parents from allowing their children to play the sport than most anything else.
You are clearly the finest American table tennis player in many years. You are setting an example every time you play a match. Although we determined disciplinary action was not warranted, I hope that you will consider the charges seriously and improve the example you set for young players.”
…Our report is based on the evidence and the committee members’ personal observations of you over the years. None of us has ever seen you give up in a match or heard of you giving up. No evidence was presented other than the complaint [by Bill Steinle], which we determined was an uninformed opinion. No evidence was presented on your use of audible vulgarities.
It is the decision of the committee that there is no basis for disciplinary action.
The sportsmanship and fighting spirit you have displayed over the years are well recognized and are a credit to the sport.”
…The committee determined that there was no basis for disciplinary action against you.
It was obvious that the recommendation for disciplinary action against you [by Houshang] was in retaliation for your report on Eric and Dan.
There is obviously animosity between you and the team management and some players. I consider your comments to me in Sweden official complaints because of my position [as USTTA Disciplinary Committee Chair].
If you made similar comments to others in private, that is certainly your privilege. If you made them in public, particularly in the presence of players or observers from other countries, it is not proper conduct for a member of our official party.
By booking your tickets through Gus Kennedy, staying at the Opalen Hotel, eating at the tournament mess hall, and using the ACC pass for access to the tournament floor, you were a member of the USTTA official party.
The $400 donation to the USTTA is certainly welcome and does entitle you to be yourself. If you feel as strongly about this team management and some players as you apparently do, you might consider attending as an individual in the future and deprive the USTTA of your donation.”
This ends the coverage of the 1985 World Championships.