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The Inside Track | Chris Dufresne SECOND THOUGHTS

His Invention Nails Some With the Tale of the Tape

August 25, 2003|Chris Dufresne

S. Joseph Begun is in the hall of fame but you've probably never heard of him.

His induction wasn't televised on ESPN and he didn't have to decide whether to go in as a New York Yankee or a Boston Red Sox.

Begun, who died in 1995, never batted .300 or tossed a professional touchdown pass, yet his contributions to sports have been immeasurable.

A member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Begun was a pioneer in magnetic recordings and is credited with developing the first consumer tape recorder in the United States.

Dave Bliss and Rick Neuheisel probably wish he invented the Hula Hoop.

If there is an unbiased hero in this sordid sports summer of sacks, lies and audiotape, it might be that remarkable, battery-operated contraption.

If we've learned anything, it's that coaches sometimes lie but technology doesn't.

In this ongoing reality show, "Coaches Caught on Tape," grown men have been revealed.

Had there not been incontrovertible electronic evidence, for instance, former Baylor coach Bliss might have gotten away with an unspeakable frame-up.

As if the apparent murder of one of his players, Patrick Dennehy, wasn't shocking enough, Bliss was ready to cover up the truth about his program by painting Dennehy as a drug dealer. This would explain how the player had more walking-around money than the NCAA likes to see and provide a red herring for a program rife with rule-breaking.

Bliss might have gotten away with it, too, had not an assistant coach secretly taped a meeting on micro-cassette recorder.

The tape, obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, records Bliss saying, "what we've got to create here is drugs," and, because the player is dead, "Dennehy is never going to refute what we say."

Because of tape, one of the biggest scandals in the history of college athletics was not allowed to fester into something even worse -- the character assassination of a slain man.

Thank you, Mr. Begun.

In a far less disturbing case, the University of Washington this week released tape recordings of Rick Neuheisel's first interviews with NCAA investigators.

Washington fired Neuheisel for his participation in college basketball tournament pools the last two years, a violation of NCAA rules.

Washington also terminated Neuheisel "with cause" for initially lying to the NCAA about his involvement in the pools. Neuheisel already had been put on notice for saying he had not interviewed for the vacant San Francisco 49er job in February when, in fact, he had.

The NCAA tapes of June 4 record Neuheisel saying, "I never placed a bet on anything." Pressed later, Neuheisel asked for a second chance to set the record straight.

While not worthy of a sentence to Attica, the tapes proved what many long suspected: That Neuheisel does not always choose truth as the first option.

Tape recording is not foolproof and is subject to human error, context analysis and interpretation -- who could forget that 18-minute gap in the Watergate tapes?

I also vaguely recall Ray Malavasi, the former Ram coach, once denying something he said, adding, "I don't care what the tape says."

In the Neuheisel case, the NCAA also had to admit the first part of its interview with the coach was not recorded because of a problem with the taping procedure.

This could lay the groundwork for a conspiracy theory in Neuheisel's lawsuit.

Bob Sulkin, the coach's attorney, told a Seattle reporter, "I find it incredible that key evidence has been ... lost or destroyed."

Memo to NCAA staffer: You have to push record and play.

It's difficult to imagine a sports world without tape recorders.

Without the benefit of playback, you wonder how writers of lore kept up with the tongue-tied likes of pitcher Dizzy Dean, "he slud into third," or the comically convoluted Casey Stengel.

We're guessing the ink-stained wretches scribbled fast and cobbled together snippets as best they could.

Recorders can be cumbersome, off-putting and sometimes impossible to use on deadline, but they also can be a reporter's biggest ally.

In 1997, Marshall star receiver Randy Moss held a news conference to refute quotes attributed to him in The Times.

Luckily, I had the tape to prove that Moss said, verbatim: "Even though I hate to say it, I think there's really a little bit of hatred on the team. Just for the fact, I came in with all this publicity."

What better defense was there than that?

Tape recorders don't just chronicle bad news, either.

Imagine what history would have lost had former Dodger manager Tom Lasorda's famous postgame tirade been jotted down with pencil and pad?

Luckily, on May 14, 1978, KLAC radio man Paul Olden set his tape recorder on Lasorda's desk after the Dodgers lost a 15-inning game in which Chicago Cub slugger Dave Kingman hit three home runs.

Kingman's third home run was the eventual game winner.

Olden posed the question to Lasorda, "What's your opinion of Kingman's performance?"

Lasorda gave an incredulous look and said, "What the ... do you think is my opinion of his performance?" en route to a glorious, 1-minute 35-second, tape-recorded outburst that rivals Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine in baseball's audio annals.

For these true tales of the tape -- good, bad, perfunctory and profane -- we thank a German-born inventor and his magnetic curiosity.

It's enough to give one, well, pause.

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