TWO very different professional sports, an ocean apart, came face to face with serious problems over the weekend that demand immediate attention.
Two driving deaths at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, were a numbing reminder that safety should never take a back seat to other considerations in auto racing, where speeds are so unforgivingly fast.
And while what happened on the Formula One circuit is far graver than the fighting and rough stuff that occurred in the National Basketball Association playoffs, the collective danger posed by several outbreaks of violence on NBA courts across the United States is that such acts can taint a respectable event.
In what was the most tragic auto racing weekend in many years, reigning three-time Grand Prix champion Ayrton Senna of Brazil was killed the day after rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed when his car hit a wall during qualifying.
Senna missed a turn on the seventh lap of Sunday's race, and smashed into a concrete barrier at more than 186 miles per hour. Earlier this season Senna had been critical of racing officials' decision to phase out ``active'' suspensions and other electronic devices that aided drivers but seem to favor bigger, richer racing teams. These aids may be especially missed on a course like Imola, where one observer says you can go 150 m.p.h. everywhere. And for a driver like Senna, who was known for driving ``deep'' into a corner, traction was paramount.
Jackie Stewart, the Scottish three-time world champion, was prompted by the events in Italy to suggest that the drivers band together so that they could refuse to drive on dangerous circuits. Surely, intense safety discussions will occur before the next Formula One race at Monaco on May 15.
The NBA's troubles flow out of ugliness that marred several weekend games. Most notable were a bench-clearing brawl between the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat and series of on-court muggings of various members of the Utah Jazz by San Antonio's Dennis Rodman. At presstime, league commissioner David Stern was no doubt in the process of meting out some heavy fines and possible suspensions. More of the latter would help, though, since what hurts a player most is not being able to play. Touching other bases
* Minnesota's Scott Erickson, the major league pitcher one might have least expected to throw a no-hitter, accomplished the feat last week against Milwaukee. In 1993 he led the majors in hits allowed with 266. A 20-game winner in 1991, Erickson had only nine victories in 40 starts before his hitless gem.
* With the World Cup soccer tournament set to begin in the United States just 45 days from now, a flood of media previews will soon wash across sports pages. One information source already available to the public is a commemorative 1994 US Soccer Media Guide, a 160-page, spiral-bound book that reporters no doubt will use extensively during the month-long tournament. The guide contains numerous World Cup facts and figures and may be ordered from US Soccer, the sport's American governing body. Checks or money orders for $10 may be sent to: US Soccer Media Guide, 1801 S. Prairie Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60616. Non-US residents must add $5.