The misbehavior of athletes

Some see jocks behaving badly; I see a cup half full

Updated: January 27, 2010, 10:15 AM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN The Magazine

Scott Rovak/AFP/Getty ImagesMark McGwire's admission came far too late, but it has been good news for Ken Griffey Jr. fans.

This column appears in the Feb. 8 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

You can't knock the smile off my face with a snowball. I am Optimist Prime. You see a recession? I see a pawnshop boom. You see global warming? I see terrific new surf spots. You see a sports world full of cheats you wouldn't let babysit your rubber tree? I see a column. For instance ...

It's been bad news if you're a Mark McGwire fan. He copped to using steroids throughout the '90s, which surprised exactly three people, all of them at the Beijing Dominos Association. After all, McGwire's younger brother (admitted 'roids-using bodybuilder Jay) wrote a book proposal detailing all the junk he introduced to his bro. McGwire's five-years-too-late confession was weaker than prison coffee. He insisted his usage was light and didn't help him go deep. Please. It was like Carlo Gambino admitting he stole library books.

But it's been good news if you're a Ken Griffey Jr. fan. With every tearful, trembling doper who fogs up our flat screens, Griffey shines brighter. We point to his 630 home runs and say, "Not a smudge on them!" We point to his failing with age -- less than 40% of his bombs have come past his 30th birthday, compared to more than 60% of McGwire's -- and exclaim, "A slugger not built in a lab!" We point to Griffey's before and after pictures and compare them to McGwire's or Barry Bonds' or Sammy Sosa's and rejoice, "Behold! Hat size still a 7 1/8!"

It's been bad news if you're a Tiger Woods fan. Unless you think launching a Scud missile into the middle of your family, losing tens of millions a year in endorsements and having to live like Howard Hughes is a sweet career move.

But it's been good news if you're a Jack Nicklaus fan. How many guys turn 70 (Jan. 21) and suddenly never look better? Nicklaus' flying home on Friday nights with a tourney lead to see his kid play high school football is positively Rockwellian now, isn't it? Fifty years married so far and not a mistress turned up yet. And when you search for the word "controversy" on the Golden Bear's 14,000-word Wikipedia bio, you get "Text Not Found." Ain't it wonderful?

With every PED confession, Ken Griffey Jr. shines.

It's been bad news for USC football fans, who just lost the Doberman Pete Carroll to the NFL and had him replaced with the puppy Lane Kiffin, an unproven, scatter-mouthed, rule-breaking 34-year-old whose combined head coaching record is 12-21. Kiffin's leaving the Vols was especially bad news for Kiff in's 1-year-old, Monte Knox Kiffin, whose middle name is an homage to Knoxville. Honey, do you have the Wite-Out? Maybe we can pencil in "Troy" on the birth certificate?

But it's been good news if you're a UCLA football fan. Suddenly, Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel looks like the altar boy in town, the seasoned genius. Hell, Neuheisel's already beaten Kiffin head-to-head, trumping the Vols 19-15 last season. Plus, Kiffin tried to steal Neuheisel's brainiac offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, and whiffed. It's all sunshine in Neuheisel's sports section lately. Trading Carroll for Kiffin as your crosstown rival is like trading a hangman for a hangnail.

It's been bad news if you're a Gilbert Arenas fan. Agent Zero became Salary Zero after being suspended for storing four guns in his locker and reportedly drawing one against a teammate over an allegedly unpaid $60,000 card-game debt. The night before he was put in David Stern's deep freeze, a playful Arenas said, "If I really did something wrong, I would feel remorse." Let's see, besides having guns without a license, sneaking guns into an NBA arena, brandishing them at a teammate like the gunner he is and gambling for huge dollars on a team flight? Agree. It's a real hold-up, Gil.

But it's been good news for innocents who don't particularly want holes in their chest cavities. Five days after Arenas' suspension, former Net Jayson Williams pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for accidentally killing Gus Christofi, his 55-year-old limo driver. Christofi got two surprises that night. One, he never thought he'd be invited inside Williams' 30,000-square-foot mansion. And two, he never thought the shotgun Williams was toying with would go off and shoot him dead. Williams has been through eight years of legal hell and now will do 18 months to five years in jail. Maybe he can tell Arenas how funny guns are.

Finally, it's been bad news for fans of the Clippers' Blake Griffin, the NBA's top overall 2009 pick, whose kneecap surgery ends a rookie season that never began.

But it's been good news for Griffin himself. He doesn't have to watch any more Clippers games this year!

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