Ping-Pong Still Works in China
He's not one to brag, but the fact is Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman was a mean Ping-Pong player back in college. "I spent a lot of hours in the game room," he chuckles. So trying to scare up a match during an official trip to China seemed like a neat thing to do. Nothing serious, mind you, but something still reminiscent of the famous 1971 Ping-Pong diplomacy that marked a thaw in U.S.-Chinese relations. "I thought they were going to just meet at like a Boys or Girls Club and play with a couple of kids," he says. "Instead, I walk into the National People's Congress building, and they've got this table set up and some former world champions to play! Clearly the Chinese thought ahead of us."
He actually held his own. "I got a few points," says Coleman, part of a just-returned Senate delegation that yearly meets with Chinese counterparts. Better yet, playing their sport on their turf opened up top Chinese officials including President Hu Jintao-who singled out Coleman's game-to the delegation's urgings on arming Iran and other issues. "It created a little bond, a little relationship there," says Coleman. And an Olympic spirit. "I told President Hu that I will be working on my game for our next interparliamentary visit to China in two years," he says. "Let's just say the Olympians won't be the only ones competing in Beijing in 2008."
Playing Soon in Congress: the NFL
NFL Network play-by-play man Bryant Gumbel is under fire for suggesting on his HBO show that retiring National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has NFL Players Association prez Gene Upshaw on a "leash." But he might soon get some powerful allies. We hear that members of the House Judiciary Committee are interested in just how cozy the NFLPA and NFL have become and are concerned about the players association's rules governing professional agents. "This whole look at sports started with the baseball steroids scandal," says a House insider. "Now we're looking wider." What sparked Congress's new interest was the two-year suspension of star agent Carl Poston before a planned arbitration hearing with the NFLPA. He went to his congresswoman, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, for help, and now several lawmakers and the Judiciary Committee are looking into his case. NFLPA officials say they handled the case by the book and don't think Congress should butt in. And, anyway, they add, Poston should be punished for somehow missing a $6.5 million bonus for client LaVar Arrington when he played for the Washington Redskins. Still, they have scheduled an arbitration hearing on his suspension. A meeting between lawmakers and the NFLPA is planned, and Hill insiders say hearings-and legislation-could follow.
A Hamas Copycat at Work in Iraq
Hamas, the terrorist group that now runs the Palestinian National Authority, appears to be a model for radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army's move to take control of Iraq, say senior military officials. Following the Hamas bid to run sewer, health, and other social services that could help win the hearts and minds of Palestinians, Sadr's efforts look like a copycat move. "Sadr's militia is doing the same kinds of things," says a senior defense official.