Thanks, But No Thanks

Logan Young gets a target letter from the U.S. attorney.

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University of Alabama football booster Logan Young declined an invitation to meet with a federal grand jury this week and now expects to be indicted as early as this month in a recruiting investigation that has gone on for more than two years.

"My attorney got a letter last Friday asking me to talk to the grand jury, which I'm not going to do," said Young, reached by the Flyer last week on vacation in Florida.

Asked why not, Young said, "Nobody does that. My lawyer says just don't do it."

Young characterized the letter as a "target letter" which generally indicates that an indictment is going to be presented to the grand jury. Young's attorneys, Louis Allen and John Pierotti, both declined to comment. U.S. attorney Terry Harris also declined comment.

The news comes as a backdrop to the Alabama-Tennessee football game in Tuscaloosa Saturday. Both teams are having disappointing years, but their partisans have spent the two weeks leading up to the game gleefully exchanging insults, accusations of cheating, and even threats of violence in various fan forums.

Young, a Memphis businessman and fanatical Alabama fan, has stated his innocence ever since he was publicly identified as the alleged source of a $200,000 payment to Lynn Lang, Albert Means' former football coach at Trezevant High School, to get Means to enroll at Alabama. The Flyer has learned that the amount at issue is now around $50,000.

Lang pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge last year and has been awaiting sentencing. The university formally disassociated itself from Young. In open court, Lang said former Alabama assistant coaches Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams were also involved. Young said he believes Williams will be subpoenaed to testify to the grand jury this week.

Attorney Philip Shanks, who represents Williams and Cottrell in a suit filed last December against the NCAA and University of Alabama officials, declined to comment about subpoenas to either man.

Despite Young's denials and his behind-the-scenes role in the countersuit against the NCAA and Alabama officials, there has been an air of inevitability about his eventual indictment. Lang has changed his story a couple of times, and the amount of the alleged payment has varied from $200,000 to $120,000 in newspaper reports. There have been persistent rumors of bag men and money laundering at Tunica casinos. But Young has always been the money man in every scenario. With the events in question now three years old, the feds and lead prosecutor Fred Godwin either have to indict him or back down, leaving them with two small fry -- Lang and his former assistant coach and self-described whistleblower Milton Kirk -- but no big fish for their considerable trouble.

It isn't easy to continuously hype an old story that came out of the box characterized by Kirk as "slave trading" and by prosecutors and The Commercial Appeal as the recruiting scandal of the century, but various interested parties are doing their best to provide fresh intrigue, trash talk, and hints of violence.

Radio sports programs and Internet bulletin boards for Alabama and University of Tennessee fans were buzzing last week with rumors and rants about possible indictments and scandalous allegations involving UT football.

Attorney Tommy Gallion of Montgomery, Alabama, accused UT coach Philip Fulmer of involvement in securing bank loans for star UT football players while they were still in college. Fulmer denied it and threatened to sue. The charges merited only a couple of wire-service stories in the CA, which claims a proprietary interest in the Lynn Lang story.

Shanks, a diehard Alabama fan working with Gallion on the lawsuit against the NCAA, has accused UT boosters of orchestrating a campaign to get Alabama in the media, on the Internet, and in the federal courts and NCAA office.

Shanks said somebody recently tossed a dead cat in his yard, and last week his house was burglarized and a Cottrell file was stolen. In a separate incident, he said he was followed and threatened with bodily harm by a neighbor who is a UT partisan. He filed police reports after both incidents.

Even the weekly meeting of the Touchdown Club, normally a good-natured affair, hasn't been off-limits to hard feelings. According to host Shellie McCain, last week a UT fan smarting from the Vols' loss to Georgia took offense at a joke, confronted the offending speaker, and angrily vowed to tolerate no more of it. Cooler heads prevailed and violence was averted.

At this week's meeting at Chickasaw Country Club Monday, it was mostly the standard football fare, with little mention of Young or hot scandals. An indictment or an ugly game Saturday would change that. n

Amateur Athlete's Dream: A Higher Level of Mediocrity

It's easy to laugh at sports fanatics, but for a lifelong fan, the only thing more fascinating than other people's games is our own pathetic athletic trials and exploits.

For most of my life, I never knew what my meniscus was. After two knee surgeries, I talk about it the way other people talk obsessively about their pets or their children.

The meniscus is the cartilage in the knee, sometimes likened to the knee's shock absorber. If you play sports or work on your feet, it will probably wear out or tear by the time you reach middle age, leaving you with a pronounced limp. Next comes an X-ray, MRI, arthroscopic surgery, rehab, and a medicine chest full of Vioxx, Celebrex, or Bextra.

Then you're a member of the brotherhood or sisterhood of the torn meniscus. Like strangers who discover that they went to the same high school, we instantly brighten when meeting one of our kind and launch into a detailed discussion of what ails us. This bores our friends and spouses to death, but we don't care.

Most sports injuries are far from life-threatening and usually treatable, so at least the conversation is fairly upbeat. Our injury becomes our badge of honor. We tried, we failed, but we're still trying.

And in our sports-crazed country and culture, that's right up there with love, family, and work on the Big List.

All athletes fail.

Some of us fail sooner than others, on the playground or in junior high or high school. Some make it to college. Some of those actually get to play. A few of those make the pros. But even elite athletes fail because that is the nature of sport.

The best athlete I ever knew was a high school classmate and track star, Ron Kutchinski. At a time when the top runners in the Midwest were struggling to break two minutes in the half mile, "R.K." ran a 1:53. When 54 seconds in the quarter-mile was good enough to win a lot of races, he ran a 49 flat. No rival's lead was big enough and no thrill was greater than watching him run the anchor leg in the mile relay on a dimly lighted track on a spring night with the crowd screaming.

He was unbeaten in high school. He won the Big Ten championships at the University of Michigan. In 1968 he beat the great Jim Ryun at the Olympic trials to qualify for the team that went to Mexico City.

And there he was defeated by a combination of high altitude, strange food, and superior competition. Damn virus. If only ...

If such a great athlete could lose, then what about the rest of us?

What indeed. I started playing tennis when I was 10 years old, and, even though I never got very good at it, I have been playing for more than 40 years. After college I took up racquetball, and it was pretty much the same story. Five years ago, I discovered squash, an indoor-court sport with a well-deserved reputation for elitism and obscurity.

Pretty soon I was playing four times a week, playing by myself, going out of town for tournaments, visualizing shots as I went to sleep, and watching videos or "squash porno" on my VCR.

In middle age, after trying and failing to become any good at half a dozen sports, I had achieved the fantasy jock's dream: a higher level of mediocrity.

For the men and women of the torn meniscus, that's our goal, modest as it is. We have watched, cheered at, and played in thousands of games. And sport still has us in its grip. Some say it's their therapy, their joy and camaraderie, or their way to lose weight. Frederick Exley was on to something when he wrote in A Fan's Notes that sport sustained for him "the illusion that fame was possible."

I like high-powered CEOs who knock off early to chase a tennis ball. I have to turn away so I don't boo-hoo when I watch the old fatties in the Memphis Marathon waddle up the hill near my house, five hours of painful loneliness ahead. And I like the Grizzlies, not because they will win someday but because they've lost a lot and keep trying.

They may be the best athletes on the planet, but in that sense they're just like the rest of us.

E-mail: branston@memphisflyer.com

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