The Indy Racing League, yielding to criticism and mindful of the possibility of a media boycott, changed its position and issued a credential to a Sports Illustrated reporter for the May 30 Indianapolis 500.
Tony George, president of the IRL, yesterday granted a credential to Ed Hinton, SI's senior auto racing writer, but not before calling Hinton "a danger to himself and to the sport he covers.
"It's my hope that I never see him or they never come around," George told the Associated Press. "I'm not a communist, but I just feel like something had to be done, a statement had to be made."
George and IRL officials revoked Hinton's credentials after the magazine ran a story earlier this month on a collision at a North Carolina track that killed three spectators. The piece was accompanied by an Associated Press photo that many said showed too much of the gore present at the accident.
The story, written by Hinton with assistance from other reporters, alleged that IRL officials could have taken greater steps to ensure fans' safety. The story and photo also ran next to a motor oil ad with a humorous touch depicting five men with their heads under a hood that could be seen as making light of the accident.
After the story ran, IRL officials told SI that while Hinton would not be welcomed at the 500, other SI writers would be. The magazine then announced that it would not cover the race, a stance that the Chicago Tribune also took. Other newspapers reportedly considered following suit, and the IRL yesterday changed its stance regarding Hinton, who will cover the race for SI.
Certainly George is within his rights to be angry over coverage, but thankfully for him, he got smart and recognized that, at a time when the Indianapolis 500 -- once the dominant American auto race but now facing challenges from CART and NASCAR -- has slipped in prestige, he needs all the friends he can get.
A `Big Red' tribute
ESPN's Chris Berman was more than a little skeptical when he heard that Secretariat was No. 35 in the channel's yearlong survey of the 100 greatest athletes of the century.
"I'm amazed that we ran out of people to put in the 100 greatest athletes. Did we run out of people?" Berman said earlier this week.
It's an interesting question that certainly won't be settled by the beautiful, 30-minute biography that airs tonight at 10: 30, chronicling the life of the great thoroughbred, thought by many to be the greatest racehorse of all time.
In fact, an ESPN spokesman said that at least three of the panel selected to pick the list of 100 had Secretariat in their top 10.
As you watch the film of the incredible stretch run in the 1973 Belmont, where Secretariat won the Triple Crown by an astounding 31 lengths and in record time, you'd have a hard time arguing that those three panelists were wrong.
For the record, Berman said his list of great 20th century athletes is topped by Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali, in that order.
Around the dial
Tomorrow at 11: 30 a.m. on CNN, the always marvelous Jim Huber takes a look at the Columbine High School girls soccer team's attempt to win a state title this week, less than a month after the shooting incident that killed 15 at the Colorado school.
NBC (Channel 11) has five games on its NBA playoff slate this weekend, leading off with "NBA Showtime" at 2: 30 tomorrow, then Utah at Portland, followed by the Lakers playing host to San Antonio.
At halftime of the Lakers-Spurs game, the "loser's bowl," er, the NBA draft lottery, will take place, as college underclassmen, like Maryland's Steve Francis and Duke's William Avery, discover why the phrase "Stay in school; it's your best move," may apply to them.
Sunday's lineup starts with "Showtime" at noon, then Philadelphia playing host to Indiana, the Knicks tussling with Atlanta and another Spurs-Lakers game. By the way, TNT teams Hubie Brown with Marv Albert for tonight's Indiana-Philadelphia game at 8.
The Orioles make their first Sunday night appearance as the Texas Rangers visit at 8, and Cal Ripken will be one of the focuses of Roy Firestone's "Up Close" special tonight at 9: 30. Ripken and his wife, Kelly, will chat with Firestone, who also talks up Magic Johnson.
Besides ESPN's 1960s festival, airing at 7: 30 tonight, and the Secretariat show, the "SportsCentury" project will get its widest distribution to date, with a pair of two-hour specials airing on ABC (Channel 2). Tomorrow's program, at 2 p.m., will pay homage to the greatest coaches of the century, and Sunday's show, also at 2 p.m., will note the most influential overall figures.
Buoyed by higher ratings, ESPN begins its cable-exclusive coverage of the NHL's "Frozen Four," opening with Game 1 of the Colorado-Dallas Western Conference finals tomorrow at 7: 30, with Game 2 of the series Monday night, same time, same outlet.
Meanwhile, Fox (Channel 45) will have the first game of the Buffalo-Toronto Eastern Conference series Sunday at 2 p.m., with analyst Terry Crisp joining Suzy Kolber in the studio for the rest of the playoffs.