On Saturday afternoon, Aug. 8, when John Kordic checked into a seedy motel in Quebec City, his hands were so bruised and swollen he couldn’t grip the pen to sign the register. The room clerk, who knew him from another movie, signed his name for him. Several hours later he was dead, at 27, the victim of the masters of the “professional” sport in which he practised his trade.
A week later, in a small European town, Ben Johnson, after flopping at the Olympics, finished well back in the pack in the 100-metre dash, ignored by the sportswriters, written off by his competitors, now scarcely even mentioned on the sports pages—a victim of the masters of the “amateur” sport in which he practised his trade.
There is a similarity between John Kordic and Ben Johnson. It is more than the fact the former died of a combination of steroids, cocaine, booze and the combined efforts of nine policemen to tie him down in his berserk rage. And the latter, having lost an estimated $20 million in endorsements after his Olympic Games disqualification in Seoul, quite obviously cannot run as fast off steroids as when he was on them and is now 30 and ignored by the country he once represented.
The similarity is that they were both used by those who run the “sports” in which they excelled—with different gifts. Both young, both undereducated, from unsophisticated backgrounds. Both used, both abused, both exploited by those who could gain from them.
In Kordic’s case, it was the cynical and greedy businessmen who run the clubs that form the National Hockey League and hire goons who can hardly skate to beat up on players opposite. In the trade, they are known as “enforcers.” In reality, they are goons. John Kordic was a goon.
In drifting through four NHL clubs, used only as a goon, Kordic regularly shot steroids into himself in the presence of other players and, say some of the players, coaches who turned and looked away. He wanted to be bigger so as to be a better goon. “I have to be able to beat
them up,” he explained to his fiancée, “if I am able to get my chance.”
The NHL has a supposedly strict rule about drug use. It has no policy on steroids. After Kordic wrecked the Quebec City motel room and, trussed like a baby, was carried off in the ambulance where he died, police removed from the room 40 unused syringes along with a box of vials labelled as anabolic steroids.
Ben Johnson was a determined, monosyllabic youngster from Jamaica whose potential was recognized by coach Charlie Francis, who felt, as he confessed before the Dubin inquiry, that the way to world success led through steroids. He was Dr. Frankenstein. Ben Johnson would be his Monster.
It worked—a world and Olympic record, until the two of them were caught. To think they were the only keepers of the secret in all of Canada is to dream. At the top of the heap— looking away as if not to know like Kordic’s
coaches—were the Ottawa bureaucrats administering Sport Canada.
Ben Johnson was an employee of Sport Canada, paid with taxpayers’ money every month on the scale of the better he did the more money he got. Did no one ever notice the remarkable expansion of his shoulders? His amazing ability to bench-press heavier and heavier lifts?
Of course not. The “amateur” heads of the “amateur” sport—wanting to reward sportswriters with gold medals—looked away as Johnson became an ambulatory drugstore.
Kordic remarkably achieved a Stanley Cup ring with the Montreal Canadiens, a team once known as the Flying Frenchmen, i.e. preferring skill over muscle. Jean Perron, then the Montreal coach and now in Quebec radio tonsillectomy, recalls: “He beat the shit out of everybody. He was the best fighter in the league. Nobody could take John Kordic.”
Perhaps in guilt, the Canadiens in 1988 traded Kordic to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Russ Courtnall in an inexplicable deal, Courtnail being possibly the fastest skater in the game. Toronto it seems—once captained by the cleanest player in the league, Syl Apps, former British Empire Games pole vault champion, latterly an Ontario Tory cabinet minister—needed a goon.
What does an ex-world record holder in 100 m do when he’s young and grey? Does Sport Canada give a pension to those who once allowed a pot-bellied clutch of civil servants to jaunt around the world to international track meets where their prize stud was dusting the opposition? Of course not. Their jobs are safe. One is reminded of boxing, where world champions like Beau Jack are discovered, decades later, shining shoes in Georgia and the mighty Joe Louis ended up as a slightly addled “greeter” at a Las Vegas casino.
Last week, in Florida, the grandly named “governors” of the NHL in annual confab struggled enormously over a proposed rule change to outlaw fighting. In other words, to obviate the need for the John Kordics of the game. Of course it was scaled down to leave it to the poor referee to eject only the “instigator” of the brawls that highlight the evening news and provide the inspiring example for any future Kordic in midget ranks as the way to the NHL.
The “professional” sport of hockey took John Kordic and taught him that his fists, his bulk aided by steroids, were what kept him on a level that his skills would never keep him. The “amateur” sport of track taught Ben Johnson that the way to untold riches was to stuff his body with chemicals. Both took two young men and used them up—then junked them.
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