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She stays healthy by ducking foes

Paul Brown is a former funeral home director, so he knows a little about dead bodies. Tonya Harding's manager-trainer says he didn't want himself or his client to end up in a body bag, thus the withdrawal from the Portland pugilist's recent scheduled fight in Oakland, Calif.

Brown, who has been involved with the boxing business for 36 years, says he has never been in a situation like the one at the weigh-in for the scheduled fight with Tracy Carlton. Carlton's racist-laden trash talk at the weigh-in, along with death threats from Carlton's trainer, convinced Brown that they should pull out of the bout, he says.

'I have never seen personal threats like this at a weigh-in,' says Brown, who is black. 'It -wasn't just the normal intimidation factor. The commissioner even jumped up and told (Carlton) to knock it off. There were a lot of people milling around, black people we didn't know, and it was a menacing situation. Tonya wanted to leave then, she was so frightened, but it was me who made the decision.'

At dinner that night with Harding and their cut man, Manuel Albares, Brown says he received an anonymous call on his cell phone with the threat, 'If the white bitch don't fight, you're not going to leave the restaurant alive.'

Brown says the three of them slept on the floor of their hotel rooms that night and stayed on the floor of the shuttle van on the drive to the airport the next day. 'I wasn't going to have us the target of no drive-by shooting,' Brown says.

Problem is, Harding is a magnet for trouble wherever she goes. Her interview on the Dan Patrick ESPN Radio show a few weeks ago Ñ which ended with Brown taking the phone and eventually hanging up on Patrick Ñ was ridiculous and embarrassing.

Whether it was paranoia or genuine potential trouble that caused Brown to walk from the Oakland bout, it makes Harding look as if she was chicken to fight. Especially since they begged off fighting Blanca Hilder, Tonya's original opponent who was replaced at Brown's insistence because she had a good record as a kickboxer.

'They tried to pull a fast one on us like they did in Dallas and Boise,' says Brown, referring to opponents who were better than advertised and beat the tar out of Harding.

Brown may have some Don King in him, but Harding's problems will continue as long as the circus act does. If she is a real fighter Ñ as Brown and Harding both insist she now is Ñ let her get in the ring against a worthy opponent and prove it.

• Speaking of true warriors, one of the most famous visits Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln City next Friday when Mick Foley, aka Mankind, aka Cactus Jack, aka Dude Love, serves as special guest referee for a rassling card headlined by a Rick Steiner-Buff Bagwell showdown. Steiner and Bagwell won't get away with any funny stuff with Foley policing the action. The former world champ once somersaulted off a steel cage onto the Spanish announcer's booth at Madison Square Garden, cheating death in the process.

• On Monday, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame unveils its class of 2004 at the Final Four in San Antonio. Expect Clyde Drexler to lead the new class of honorees. Induction ceremonies are Sept. 10 in Springfield, Mass.

• Turnover (not turnovers) on the Portland State football coaching staff: Eric Walcha (wide receivers, recruiting coordinator) and Tony Cichoke (linebackers) are leaving to enter private business. In their place are Mike Fanger and Vince Alcalde. Fanger resigned as Lewis & Clark head coach three weeks ago. He will serve as assistant head coach and will coach receivers. Alcalde, offensive coordinator at Nevada-Las Vegas the past two seasons, will coach safeties.

'We will miss Eric and Tony, for sure, but sometimes change is good,' says PSU head coach Tim Walsh. 'Mike brings a fresh outlook to our game, having served as both a head coach and offensive coordinator. Vince has NFL Europe and XFL experience, and with his background in offense will bring an offensive perspective to the defensive side of the ball for us.'