On eve of classic, Martin trying to catch fair shake as well as his usual take

Bill Burton

August 14, 1991|By Bill Burton

In the world of fishing, Roland Martin, who learned the sport hereabouts, is a perfectionist. Every cast is planned, and never a backlash.

But in early summer there was backlash of a different kind. In public relations.

"I learned a hell of a lot about being humble," said the handsome blond, 51-year-old angler, one of 40 who will fish the BASS Masters Classic here starting next Thursday.

He wishes he could make that cast again. There wouldn't be any backlashes this time around, Martin promised over the phone yesterday.

With the opening of the classic eight days away, Martin, who has become a millionaire because of his ability with the rod, is spending as much time trying to correct a nightmare as he is in concentrating on the biggest fish-off in the world.

The likable, soft-spoken pro thinks he got a bum rap, but said he isn't mad at anyone. He just wants to set the record straight in an episode that generated stories across the nation when a 14-year-old Rock Springs, Ga., boy with an inoperable brain tumor didn't get his wish to go fishing with his hero for a day.

Dream Makers Inc. made the request on behalf of Chris Mathis who regularly watches Martin's syndicated TV fishing show. Darlene Mangrum, director of Dream Makers, said Martin's refusal was the first turn-down ever for such a request.

But, it isn't that simple, claimed Martin. "I have never talked with Darlene, I didn't know anything about the request in the beginning -- and didn't have all the information until the stories started in the papers. It more or less got out of hand from the start," lamented Martin, who added he has decided to speak out now because of the negative impact the reports have had on his family and friends -- as well as Mathis and his family.

"If I had known about all of this, I could have worked some time in for the boy -- but I didn't. I was out of town. I'm involved in charitable activities, I have worked with Make a Wish Foundation, and while this was going on I had three days scheduled for the Florida Easter Seals Society."

Martin blames a communications mix-up. "This is my busiest time of the year, and other people make my schedule, I just go where I'm scheduled -- and that schedule is made under contract with Outdoor Telecommunications in Atlanta."

The communications breakdown started when Mangrum called Martin's large marina at Clewiston, Fla., and made the request through Lance Ramer, the marina manager, said Martin. "He told her I was away, my schedule was all tied up, and referred her to Atlanta.

"They finally called Atlanta, and as I understand it, the request was for either me or Orlando Wilson [another TV fishing celebrity who scheduled a trip], and a fishing trip was worked out with Wilson. I never turned the boy down, and told that to the Mathis family.

"I apologize. I can't always handle everything personally. I love kids, and I do a lot for them, but never publicize it."

The oft-quoted "All I know is that this gal [Mangrum] seems to consider it a personal insult that I didn't drop my life and do everything for the kid" was taken out of context, Martin insisted. "I'm sorry it came off that way, but anyone who knows me knows I couldn't be that way.

"But, I apologize."

While the furor was developing, Martin said another boy and his family were guests at his marina for two or three days, he spent some time with the boy, and all went well. "We can't publicize all we do because of all the requests it generates -- and there's the problem of deciding legitimate requests."

Martin's schedule is exceptionally busy. There is the marina business, shooting 26 TV shows a year, 13 tournaments scheduled on the BASS trail alone, personal business trips, and appearances for sponsors of which he has many from BP Oil to Mercury Outboards and Ranger Boats.

Martin, winner of more than half a million dollars on the BASS trail alone, said he was gratified by the support of others in the fishing field, among them Bill Dance and Homer Circle. "They know what I do for charity."

Sponsors also came to his support, one raised its contribution. But the whole episode bothers Martin who is as busy now trying to mend fences as he is preparing for chasing bass in the upper Chesapeake complex.

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