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Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Updated: December 22, 4:44 PM ET
 



DOES EVERYONE IN SPORTS HAVE DIARRHEA OF THE MOUTH THESE DAYS?


There must have been a full moon over the world of sports for the past week. First, Rasheed Wallace pretty much called NBA commissioner David Stern a slavemaster. Then, Detroit Lions president Matt Millen likened the Chiefs' Johnnie Morton to Liberace. At about the same time, Giants linebacker Mike Barrow compared a 45-7 stomping by the mediocre Saints to getting raped, conjuring up memories of Bobby Knight's disastrous interview with Connie Chung a few years ago.

The cries of rage from media, fans, coaches, team execs, league execs and special interest groups were fierce -- and predictable. Upon further review, the Writers' Bloc is ... well, divided. Except for one thing we all agree on: If athletes didn't say and do weird and crazy things from time to time, we'd all be forced to get real jobs.

These guys ain't etymologists | From Ralph Wiley
There's definitely something worth talking about -- how we expect jocks to be etymologists. If they were, what would we do? It always cracks me up when some wag makes fun of or is horrified by what a jock utters. They sound no more absurd than you or I would look trying to play ball.

Which is pretty freaking absurd.

Matt Millen
Matt Millen didn't leave the "macho talk" of the NFL behind when he left the playing field.
Now, having said that, Barrow's comment is innocuous, to me -- anybody who is outraged about that isn't busy enough at work, even if the work is sports journalism. OK, sure, he should have said, "It was like ... being pecked to death by geese," but he didn't. What, we didn't get our daily dose of jock-induced outrage today and need a fix? Get-da, what-da.

Spike Millen, I bleed for the guy. Once, when he was with the Raiders, and I was out there writing about them, I was standing next to the field jotting down some notes. Spike came up and said he'd heard I'd written a book. "Guilty," I said. He looked at me and said, "I don't know how you guys do that. I could never do that." He meant he didn't have the skills to do it, not the desire. It's not his fault he was a good color commentator and Willie Clay Ford took that to mean he could also run a football team.

The whole "f----t" thing -- one can always reply, "I know you are, but what am I?" I'm just not one to fear words.

Unless they are uttered by Rasheed Wallace.

It's not that what he said was ominous, it was that I couldn't make out what he said. More than anything, it didn't remind me of a crazed, misguided rant of a pampered slacker who doesn't know how good he's got it. No, it reminded me of a routine by Richard Pryor, where some guy whose been smoking bud thinks he's dropping some knowledge and some science, and is actually making no sense at all.

Pryor could've done five minutes on it, and broken up the whole room. Including Rasheed Wallace, no doubt.

Some 'trash' is just plain garbage | From Melanie Jackson
I didn't even know what a "dike" was. But when that 12-year-old opponent on the soccer field called me one with a malicious tone, I figured it had to be bad.

I mean, c'mon. Every time I dribbled past the kid, some insult spewed from her mouth. She might have been too young to pull out the traditional four-letter words Dad occasionally let fly at home on NFL Sundays when his Oakland Raiders gave up a touchdown, but this one was new. And it stuck with me. It had to be bad, and certainly sounded worse than anything in my current repertoire.

Meet the Bloc
Here's the full Writers' Bloc roster:

From Page 2: Jim Caple, Patrick Hruby, Eric Neel, David Schoenfield, Dan Shanoff, Ralph Wiley.

From ESPN The Magazine: Eric Adelson, Shaun Assael, Luke Cyphers, Alan Grant, Tom Friend, Peter Keating, Tim Keown, Steve Wulf.

Other hired guns: Gerri Hirshey, Chuck Hirshberg, Melanie Jackson, Robert Lipsyte.

Over the next year, I'm ashamed to admit I think I even used it myself, on the playground or at the park or on the soccer field (what, you didn't know trash-talking takes place in girls' youth soccer games across the country?!). But then one day I found out what it meant. And I was shocked. I felt stupid and guilty.

What sort of person says that to someone else? It especially hurt because I was a tomboy with short hair who sometimes honestly did get mistaken for a boy.

From that point on, I never used that word against anyone again. And years later, of course, the guilt that I'd ever used it hit home all over again when I met my first gay friends.

So don't think Johnnie Morton was the first football player to be called the "other F-word" last week, or that Jeremy Shockey was the first person stupid enough to publicly call someone a "homo." Derogatory terms toward someone's sexual orientation -- whether they're gay or not -- have been around and used to insult for decades. Same goes for racial slurs and that dreadful "N-word."

My point? No, I don't expect professional athletes to be etymologists. But I expect them to grow up, grow out of bad habits and come to their senses, sooner or later. Like the rest of us.

Do NOT stop the insanity | From Patrick Hruby
As much as it pains me to say this, Ralph is absolutely right. Now, excuse while I cut out my tongue, then blind myself for good measure.

Just kidding, R-Dub. Sorry, Melanie.

Mike Barrow
Mike Barrow was quick to apologize after his "rape" comparison.
Seriously, though, putting stock in jock/celebrity talk is almost always a bad idea -- because, quite frankly, what the hell do they know, anyway?

Might as well include Cornel West in next year's slam dunk contest, or actually give a damn about who Alec Baldwin endorses for president (assuming the increasingly corpulent actor hasn't left the country already). Johnny Depp thinks America is a "big, dumb Puppy"? It's not like he's conducting high-level negotiations for the State Department. Warren Sapp sees the NFL as a bunch of "slavemasters"? Until he's storming the league's New York offices with a flaming pitchfork, color me unconcerned. If I need tips on running a 4-3 defense, I'm consulting Michael Barrow (who clearly watches too much "Oz"); if I need a rape counselor, I'm calling a local hotline.

Or think of it this way: Would you really want to be called out for every single stupid, misinformed, offensive and flat-out ridiculous thing you've ever uttered? God knows I wouldn't. There's not enough time in the year, let alone the day.

That said, I'm monumentally grateful each and every time a sports figure lets loose the dogs of dumb. Gives me something to make fun of, and more importantly, helps me pay the bills. So kudos, Rasheed Wallace -- the NBA might be keepin' a brother down, but your socio-economic speculations are keeping this brother up.

Oh, and I'll take some of what 'Sheed is smoking, too. Given the substance of his rant -- and I think Ralph alluded to this -- you just know it's the good stuff.

Meet Rasheed Wallace, thinking man | From Alan Grant
OK, this is a tough one. First off, thanks, RW. I woke up this morning, thinking maybe I should suggest doing something on Rasheed Wallace. Last night, I read pieces by Bill Walton, Rick Bucher and Ray Ratto on the errors of 'Sheed's ways. Predictably negative responses all, but no one posed the question: Why? Why did he say those things? What would make one think such things, then have the cajones to actually give them utterance? Why? It's the same response I have to folks who bring up the black coach issue. They agree that it's strange there are so few black coaches, but no one dares ask why.

But "why bother?" I asked myself. No one wants to hear that maybe 'Sheed is just bored with the game the way any grown man who makes his living at a child's game eventually gets bored and starts to notice things outside himself. It's inevitable for the thinking man (and yeah, despite the clumsy way he expressed his thoughts, I do reluctantly call 'Sheed a "thinking man"). I also know, from experience, that the thinking man/athlete (a slash is needed here because throughout my life I've been told that this is a unique strain of human being) might only suppress his thoughts for so long until they come gushing forth like a fart. Excuse you, Rasheed Wallace.

I gasp each time an athlete reaches down into the well of "social consciousness" and emerges with a cup only half full. I grow tense not because of what he's saying, but because of what he's omitting. And I'm compelled to fill in the blanks. I believe that search for dumb and dumber extends to the corporate sector. There is an all-points bulletin for dumb n-----s, who will gladly bury their opinions, bug their eyes, shuck and jive, and of course sell out the other not-so-dumb n-----s, all for the sake of "diversifying" the workplace. David Stern strikes me as a fairly bright man, so he undoubtedly detects a ray of truth in 'Sheed's words.

But what does all this have to do with sports, specifically the Portland Trail Blazers? Perhaps nothing.

I'm going back to bed.

The one who signs the checks, holds the power | From Patrick Hruby
Alan,

If we're actually going to debate the merits of what 'Sheed said -- or was tryingto say, or meant to say, or was getting around to saying, after clearing out his, er, mental flatulence -- then I'd like to add this:

Congrats, Mr. Wallace, on figuring out something that freelancers like myself already know: While all of us are Americans, we live under Check rule.

Which is to say, he who signs the checks, rules.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna get back to penning anti-Disney jokes that later will be cut from my WB contributions.

A fine mess? | From David Schoenfield
Here's my question: What kind of statement is the NFL sending if it doesn't fine Matt Millen while fining Joe Horn $30K for his harmless stunt?

I know, I know ... sticks and cell phones may break our clones, but names will never hurt us.

Jocks find their 'Queer Eye' | From Robert Lipsyte
Dr. B-Lip, locker-room shrink, reels with shock and delight. The jocks are finally getting in touch with their feminine sides (just when smaller, softer males have decided that's so yesterday, and it's safe to beat their chests in the glow of the plasma screen).

Barrow felt unmanned by the humiliating defeat, so he reached for the ultimate expression of powerlessness -- in war zones and prisons, the powerful rape those who can't defend themselves. It was the perfect expression of how Barrow felt, and human rights activists should sign him up.

Wallace is finally figuring it all out and is getting the Curt Flood treatment for sharing. The late Cardinals outfielder caught hell in the '70s for suggesting he was a $90,000 plantation slave. His brave legal stand eventually led to free agency. Athletes still are not the power in their own games.

Millen still thinks like the linebacker he was instead of the suit he is supposed to be. Good for him. Gay slurs are in every Pee Wee coach's playbook. It's less about homophobia than about laziness; it's a sleazy short-cut to motivating youngsters who are typically unsure of their emerging sexuality. The slurs tend to work in the short-run, shaming kids to hit harder, push themselves out of fear of being marked unmanly. Not everybody gets past it, and so when some jocks feel totally disrespected or scared they reach for what they still think is the ultimate putdown (see Shockey, Jeremy, et. al.).

All three of our patients for today were responding to some degree of feeling powerless. Let's listen to this before we pile on.

Truly empty-handed | From Dan Shanoff
Dr. Bob: If Matt Millen "feels powerless" simply because an ex-player won't shake his hand after a game, he shouldn't be fired for the slur -- he should be fired because he's an executive-management eunuch.

B-Lip, you have sinned! | From Chuck Hirshberg
Where'd you get your medical license, Dr. BeeLip? Bob Jones University? U K.K.K?

As homophobes like to say, there's a culture war going on in America today, but it's not between traditional values and secular humanism. It's between decency and cruelty. Which side are you on, Writers?

If you can be a doctor, Beelip, I can be a preacher, and, Lord, I feel the HOLY SPIRIT creeping up under my robes and squeezing my butt-cheeks. It's telling me that Pee Wee football coaches who motivate children by using the word "f----t" are not one bit less contemptible than they would be if they used the "n word" for the same purpose. It's telling me that those coaches are teaching children to despise, and bully, other children, and not for who they are, but what they are -- in this case, effeminate, or, later, homosexual. And -- help me Lord -- HUNH! The Lord sayeth: Giving strong children permission to bully weak ones is the very ESSENCE of cruelty.

Oh, I feel His presence, now! I'm just getting started! Remember Esera Tuaolo, the defensive lineman who came out of the closet last year after retiring from the NFL? One of his teammates was asked what would have happened to him if he'd come out while on the team. The answer: "If he'd come out on a Monday, he'd-a been in the hospital by Wednesday." There's only one person in this church who should be more ashamed of himself than Matt Millen -- and that's you, Beelip. That ain't me talkin'; it's the Holy Spirit.

I'd like to wind it up now ... oh, wait, the Lord wants to say something else: It's a SIN! A sin to compare Mike Barrow to Matt Millen. Barrow is being crucified for being misunderstood, like others I could name. David Steele of the S.F. Chronicle writes: "If Barrow really believes that missing tackles and blowing coverages are akin to being 'violated' and 'raped,' he might be in need of a little perspective."

The Holy Spirit wants to know if David Steele is some kind of moron? OF COURSE, BARROW DOESN'T BELIEVE THAT! He was searching his mind for a metaphor to describe how he was feeling: beaten up, humiliated, robbed of his dignity. He actually prefaced his comments by saying: "I don't know what it's like to be raped ..." He wasn't trivializing rape, he was doing the exact opposite: trying to express his feeling that this loss was something UNIQUELY HORRIBLE. For centuries, defeated athletes have compared losing to being "killed" or "murdered." No one takes offense because that would be ... STUPID! Do we think that when a player says, "We creamed 'em," he means the opponents were literally steamed, chopped and lightly simmered with butter and half-and-half?

Oh, Church of the Writers' Bloc: Can I get a witness?????

Listen up, Chuck | From Robert Lipsyte
Chuck might be the greatest preacher to come out of sports since Billy Sunday, and you remember how his message set me on the path of righteousness after Joe Horn's wrong number. But I think he forgot how to read today, he is so hungry to flay sinners. Those three jocks acted out of the conditioning that all the pulpit gasbags, including coaches and writers, have laid on them, and if we don't listen seriously, there will be no end to their sad and infectious expressions of panic.

Let the mouths keep roaring | From Tom Friend
Of course, you might have noticed that "The Best Damn Show Period" -- sorry, it's on every friggin' hour -- held a "Who wants a date with Johnnie Morton?'' contest; I think a chick won.

Anyway, Millen is what he is. One time, late in his career, his 49ers played his old team, the Raiders, in an exhibition game. And five minutes after the final gun, Millen was already dressed and visiting the Raider locker room.

Bob Golic asked Howie Long, "How'd he get in here so quick?"

Long: "You didn't know? Millen doesn't shower after preseason games."

So forgive him ... he's just a dumbass product of his environment. He does not know what he has just done.

In fact, none of them know. So let 'em all say what they want -- Rasheed, Barrow, Shockey, all of them. I am so sick of columnists, etc., telling athletes to shut up and then complaining later that there aren't enough good quotes out there.

Give me Barrow over the vanilla, politically correct Peyton Manning any time.

We can hear them now | From Eric Neel
This is simple:

  • Barrow said what he said to get a little attention. He was just envious of LT eating up all the NYG NFL airtime these days.

  • Millen said what he said to get fired. Didn't you hear the desperate cry for help? "Please, somebody, put me out of my misery, I'm beggin' you." That's what he whispered to Morton at first. When Morton kept walking, Millen panicked like a drowning man and started to flail, hoping and praying that some reporter would write it down. He doesn't deserve a fine, David. He deserves to be fired. Just ask him.

  • Wallace was the other way. Wallace said what he said to stay put. He won't admit it, but Rasheed loves Portland; loves the lattes, loves Powell's Books, loves the way the sun hits the bridges and cuts through the fog over the Willlamette River first thing in the morning. He'd heard the rumors he'd be dealt. He had to do something to make himself untradeable, that's all.

    Seriously, I'm with Ralph on Barrow and Millen. Crass and dumb, but not shocking or especially meaningful.

    And I'm with Ralph on Rasheed, too. I'm not sure what he said either, RW. But I do know what the Commish said. He said: "Mr. Wallace's hateful diatribe was ignorant and offensive to all NBA players. I refuse to enhance his heightened sense of deprivation by publicly debating with him."

    And I know something else, too. I know the Commish would usually leave that first part, the part about "hateful" and "ignorant," out of an official statement; that he'd usually begin with "I refuse to ..." I know that power likes to stay above the fray, likes to stay invisible (that's why they call it power; well, that and the suits). And I know that for a minute there Mr. Stern was down in the street, flexing and shouting, and looking to rumble like regular folks.

    So I'm wondering if maybe you're especially right about the Pryor thing, RW. Because you know, even when it didn't sound like he was saying much, Richard was always saying something that cut close to somebody's bone. I don't know exactly what Rasheed was talking about, but listening to Stern, I'm pretty sure he said something. You know what I'm saying?

    Parting shot ... | From Ralph Wiley
    This is good, grasshopper. And this is also merely there. This ... is the Shao-lin way.