Here's One Record You Will Not Find in Guinness Book

Never let it be said that athletes do not have social consciences.

Why, just the other day the players on a local baseball team banded together in refusing to be interviewed after the game by the team's radio station. The players were upset because only those appearing on the postgame show were getting gift certificates, rather than everyone as in years past.

A few years ago, the Cincinnati Reds threatened to take group action if team management didn't back down and allow the players to sell their feet by wearing identifying logos on their baseball shoes. Management relented, fearing national headlines such as: "Reds Go Shoeless."

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. The lessons of the Boston Tea Party and other great protests were not lost on our modern jocks. Patrick Henry would be moved to tears.

But when it comes to standing up for anything other than their own right to make more money, athletes usually don't. When was the last time major league baseball players walked off the job in support of striking umpires or peanut vendors, for instance? Don't bother looking it up.

That's why Daley Thompson is a freak.

Thompson, an Englishman, is the world's greatest decathlon performer and one of the leading personalities in sport, exceedingly bright and charming. He is also a fun-loving, witty, cheeky lad who rather enjoys tweaking the nose of the Establishment.

Last weekend Daley staged a little one-man protest that went beyond drollery. Competing in the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, he defaced his official jersey, scratching out the name of the games' sponsor, Guinness.

Guinness is a brewery that pumped $3 million into the games as the chief sponsor. Guinness has worked hard over the years to build a strong, positive association with sport. The Guinness people weren't amused by Daley's little protest. They protested his protest.

There was talk that he would be disqualified, or worse. So he was risking the loss of a major decathlon title, and endangering his future eligibility in a sport he truly loves.

He wore the racing bib the next day, with the sponsor's name intact, but added his own parody of the company slogan. And after winning the decathlon, he took off the jersey during his victory lap.

He could have hurt himself, financially and politically, with all this nonsense.

Why did he bother?

Who knows? Daley Thompson marches to his own drummer. Going into the 1980 Olympics, Thompson's No. 1 rival for the gold medal was expected to be West German Guido Kratschmer. But West Germany joined Jimmy Carter's boycott. A month before the Games, Thompson interrupted his training to compete against Kratschmer.

So Daley is an independent chap. Maybe he wanted to show other athletes that they can use their public forum for something besides snagging bigger endorsement offers.

Maybe he protested against the Guinness sponsorship because he is a nondrinker who resented serving as a walking billboard for a brewery.

Maybe Daley did it because he is an Englishman who is disturbed at the astonishing amount of violence and mayhem committed by English soccer fans, many of whom are not nondrinkers. When soccer fans beat other soccer fans to death with fence posts, you start to wonder if maybe the stick boys quaffed one too many stouts.

Or maybe Daley Thompson has noticed all the drug news, the deaths and scandals and ruined lives, and wanted to make a small statement against one of those potentially dangerous drugs. In terms of helping people kill themselves, of course, alcohol and tobacco make cocaine look like cotton candy.

Personally I consider beer an excellent beverage for slaking the thirst after a hot day. Or after a cold day, for that matter. Besides that, it's legal. But I'll defend to my last six-pack a guy's right to not advertise on his body a product to which he objects.

Cigarette and beer companies spend billions of dollars every year to sponsor hundreds of big sporting events, everything from rodeos to car races to tennis tournaments to track meets, and seldom is heard a discouraging word from an athlete.

A couple of years ago, a skier won a big event sponsored by a cigarette company, and in a gesture of protest against the sponsor's product the skier refused to accept the winner's cup.

But Daley Thompson is the first sports star I know of to risk his own neck for a cause other than his own material gain. Maybe that's not a fair statement. Let's not forget Roberto Clemente, for instance.

But Daley, even if his protest was only symbolic and haphazard, is the first real big-time athlete to take on the alcohol and tobacco sponsors.

This has got to be some kind of world record.

I'd like to look it up, but the only comprehensive book of world records I know of isn't likely to include this one.

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