I almost didn’t write about Derrick Rose tonight.
I don’t have to, after all. No editor is asking me to do it. No one is paying me to do it. I’d rather not do it. And here’s why.
I don’t know Derrick Rose.
What I do know, I like. I had to chase the 20-year-old Chicago Bulls rookie guard for over a month to interview him for an in-depth feature story this past winter for the Tribune, but I never blamed him for the runaround. There were always plans he did not know about and demands he seemingly could not control, and he always seemed sincerely sorry each time the interview would get postponed at the last minute.
Getting blown off in our business is like getting a paycheck for people in other jobs. You expect it on a regular basis. And when someone like Rose acts genuinely sorry about it, you’re almost grateful. Pathetic, I know. But it’s our cross to bear.
Eventually, I had to fly to Dallas to do the interview and was impressed with who I perceived as a shy, but very thoughtful young guy.
We talked for more than an hour in the lobby of the Bulls’ team hotel and again the next day in the lockerroom before their game. He told me about the first time he experienced the death of a close friend at 19 and how angry he was when it came out that the cause of death was Russian Roulette when he knew differently.
He told me about his dreams — not of playing pro basketball, which was too lofty a goal for him before high school, but just getting out of his neighborhood.
“I just knew I had to do something, I had to be something where I was going to take care of my mom,” he said. “I knew my brothers and others in my family would be all right but I felt like my mother was working too hard. She used to cry when she’d get the bills. . . .”
He also told me his mother Brenda was his role model and how much he counted on her after the death of his friend, when she urged her youngest child to channel his grief into something positive.
“And that’s what I did,” he said. “When I got to college, I made sure I did everything right.”
I want to believe him. Even after the almost inevitable first scandal surfaced several weeks ago linking him to alleged academic fraud, which he denied.
Even after Thursday, when an old photo surfaced of Rose flashing a gang sign while at a party during his only year in college at the University of Memphis.
Many people take gang signs very seriously, regardless of the context and the intent intended. And when the NBA’s No. 1 draft choice pops up like Rose did, regardless of how young, foolish or innocent it may have been, it merits attention.
So much so that Rose quickly issued a statement apologizing: “I want to emphatically state, now and forever, that Derrick Rose is anti-gang, anti-drug and anti-violence,” it began.
I hate that I’m suspicious. Not that Rose is lying about his hatred of gangs and violence. But that I don’t know him well enough to know what to believe. That I’m suspicious about everything these days regarding public figures. That a story starts in the tabloids or on someone’s blog, spreads to the mainstream press and gets repeated and re-told so many times, it is legitimized.
I became part of it tonight when I repeated these transgressions and suspected transgressions. I was part of it when I wrote for a major newspaper. You’re a part of it if you’ve ever watched Entertainment Tonight or, heaven forbid, bought a National Enquirer or clicked on the photo of Derrick Rose.
I hate that I once did a heartwarming story that ran on the day of Super Bowl XXIII about how Cincinnati running back Stanley Wilson had kicked his drug problem, but that the night before, after my deadline, Wilson’s teammates found him in a cocaine stupor in the hotel bathroom.
I hate that I can’t get to know athletes better so that I’m better equipped to defend them.
I hate that I have to defend them.
Excuse me if I drift off occasionally. I [po[a
Sorry. You go away for seven weeks and the first day back is exhausting. Even if the first day back only lasts for about two hours. And I don’t even know if “back” is the right word. But I am going to start writing for ESPNChicago.com, I did venture into the White Sox clubhouse today with an actual working credential and I did experience once again the singular wonder of listening to Sox manager Ozzie Guillen up close and in person.
I never realized how much I missed that.
Dropping into a baseball clubhouse that you haven’t been in all season, not to mention one going through a horrific (can you call it a slump when it has lasted the better part of the last two and a half months?), is not exactly the ideal situation.
I took the safe route and hovered around Jim Thome, who would be courteous to the reporter who just did a scathing expose on him, I’m sure (a scathing expose on Jim Thome amounting to something along the lines of Jim being caught using more than the dentist’s recommended daily amount of fluoride).
It was about that time that Ozzie came by with the newest issue of Sports Illustrated, disgusted at the photo of the miscreant who had to be dragged off the court at the French Open after charging up to Roger Federer in mid-match and trying to put a hat on Federer’s head.
His point was that putting this guy’s picture in a national magazine would only encourage other morons to behave similarly. Sox general manager Kenny Williams suggested it may have been more useful to photograph what went on once the security guards got the guy under the stands.
Guillen explained in a way only he could, that in his country, they’d just pummel the guy in front of the entire stadium: “There, now who else wants to run out here?” he demonstrated with a few extra words thrown in.
I’m so glad Ozzie isn’t one of those men who utters a single curse word and feels compelled to apologize to a woman who has spent her entire career inside men’s lockerrooms. Ozzie lets them fly around women like me, utilized as verbs, adjectives and even the occasional noun, and I view this as the ultimate show of respect. Ozzie being Ozzie.
I had actual work to do and I managed to do it, getting one entire interview completed before running out of battery power for my tape recorder. Lest you misinterpret, this was a good day for me. Throughout my career, I have carved out a well-earned reputation for having just about every mechanical malfunction a print reporter could possibly have, dead batteries being the very least of it.
The humorous part for my colleagues has been that the malfunctions always seemed to occur at the key moments of every press conference and interview. The non-humorous part is that it often elicited from me one of Ozzie’s favorite words within microphone range of pretty much every TV and radio reporter in attendance.
Reporters can be very kind, very sympathetic people in real life. Many of us would surely stop and open a door for someone older than ourselves. We donate money to charity. We tear up at sad movies. But if one of us trips and falls on the way into a clubhouse on deadline, we all know that being trampled is a perfectly acceptable consequence for our carelessness.
I was feeling very lucky to be back in this humorless, miserable company again.
We will see what tomorrow brings.
Yes, I am still browsing through the same issue of Sports Illustrated. Sorry, but it has to wait until my People Magazine is completely consumed first and that can easily take a good 10, 12 minutes.
So I’m reading and I laugh — that sarcastic, self-righteous laugh — because I see a story about a 16-year-old baseball player from Las Vegas.
I am not laughing that self-righteous laugh because Sports Illustrated and Tom Verducci, a gifted writer l once worked with for one day on the staff of Today newspaper, chose to write the story on the fabulously gifted Bryce Harper.
Verducci, who was already on his way to sportswriting greatness when he graciously shared his going-away cake with me on his way out of Cocoa, Florida in 1983 en route to New York Newsday, and recently wrote The Yankee Years with Joe Torre, knows a great story like he knows a great baseball player. And this kid is clearly both.
But I laugh because I know that at precisely the same time I am reading the story, at least a couple thousand crazy parents of semi-talented eight-year-olds are also reading and envisioning similar scenarios for their kids.
I know this because I live in a place – it’s called America, maybe you’ve heard of it – where in the absence of more serious concerns in life or sometimes despite more serious concerns in life – there is a serious break from reality when it comes to children and sports.
Now granted when our 11-year-old son Alec won his baseball playoff game the other day, I found myself thrusting my fist so hard that my husband gave me a look that suggested I was one step away from becoming the kind of troubled parent I have read about in People Magazine.
Also, I will admit that when we found out last night that Alec made the travel soccer team again this year, thus granting us the privilege of writing out a check for $850, not including travel and uniform expenses, I was a little too relieved.
I am told that the $1,100 total is inexpensive compared to other suburbs and other sports but I don’t need to be told. And let’s not even discuss a sport like hockey.
I am now trying to picture my father paying over a thousand bucks for us to play sports, or even the $150 we pay for Alec to play house league baseball, and this makes me laugh as well.
But once again, I stray.
Recently, I watched as the father of a 10-year-old pitcher on an opposing team yelled for his son not to give the hitter “anything good,” and to pitch it “low and inside.”
Mind you, it’s a good night when Chicago White Sox pitcher Bartolo Colon can keep a pitch low and inside, and that the father yelled this with a straight face and a serious tone, and you will appreciate the hilarity of the moment. At least for me, anyway.
I also love the dad who’s as tall as he is wide, taking his seven-year-old’s dominance in pee-wee basketball as a sure sign that he’s headed to Duke.
When Bryce Harper was nine, Verducci tells us, he was recruited to play for travel teams all over the country who offered to pay his plane fare , hotel expenses and meals. He would go, sometimes alone when his parents could not accompany him, and for the past seven years he has played between 80 and 130 baseball games annually.
For the elite children athletes in this country, this is standard procedure and for kids like Bryce Harper, it helped him flourish. Harper, whom they call “the LeBron James of baseball,” has hit the longest home run in the history of Tropicana Stadium, the home park of the Tampa Bay Rays. But take it down a notch, to the kids who merely play 50 or 60 games a year, drive to the next state instead of flying cross-country and hit baseballs 200 feet as opposed to 500, and the odds of them getting any closer to Sports Illustrated than standing next to a newsstand, are infinitesimal.
Take it down a level further to the kids who play in the games I watch, and they would have a greater chance of getting hit by a meteor shortly after winning the lottery.
But I also know that SI article is pinned up in some kids’ bedrooms tonight. And worse, on some parents’ refrigerators.
Great story in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated about college football players who discover after their playing careers are over, that they are seriously overweight.
Most people would go right to the cover story on the Stanley Cup. Or the NBA Finals. Or even the feature on the 16-year-old baseball player they’re calling “Baseball’s LeBron” (more on that tomorrow). Me, I go right to the story about the fat kids.
I’m not being insensitive calling them “fat kids.” As one of them, Jeff Kendall, a 300-pound-plus lineman from the University of Oregon, said in the article: “All of a sudden you go from being a fat kid living the dream to, well, just fat.”
It was an interesting story, highlighting the fact that less than three percent of college players go onto play professional football while many of the rest are left to wonder what’s next. And for the guys whose bodies just need a break after years of lifting weights and working out and eating whatever they want, the 300-pound-plus lineman become 400-pound health risks.
And what lasting and meaningful impression was I left with after I finished reading, you ask?
How annoyingly unfair it is that men have such an easier time losing weight.
Granted, one former player, Nebraska center Brett Byford, had age on his side when he dropped 75 pounds in three months. I think if you read with a highly powered magnifying glass, you’d see underneath his “After” photo: “Results are not typical.”
And indeed, his diet plan was a bit unconventional: one meal a day for the first week, followed by two days of fasting.
But that’s how men do it, no matter what age they are.
My husband skips his nightly bowl of ice cream for a week and he loses five pounds.
And how about the guys on my favorite show, “Biggest Loser,” who routinely drop 30 pounds in a week (If you’ve watched the show, you know I’m not exaggerating). On one episode, one poor woman contestant, after spending just as much time on the treadmill while pretending that a two-ounce container of diet pudding was satisfying her sweet tooth, actually gained weight. The trainer’s explanation? That stress contributed to her weight gain.
I’m not saying men don’t have their own problems. They get stressed, their cholesterol goes up and their hair falls out. As much as we women can tolerate – childbirth and the communal dressing room at Loehmann’s springs immediately to mind – I don’t think most of us would handle baldness as well as our male counterparts.
But in the world of dieting, men have a distinctly unfair advantage.
I’m sure there are very sound physiological reasons that I could Google if I really cared about backing up my opinions with fact (this should also look good on my next employee background check). But I prefer to chalk it up to the gods.
I chalk a lot up to the gods when it’s convenient. For instance, when I was on my way home last week from two really encouraging and fruitful meetings concerning future employment only to field a phone call from a mean New York literary agent who told me that NO ONE would buy my latest book idea, I immediately determined two things. One was that of all the correspondence I’ve had with New Yorkers in my lifetime, at least 95 percent has been unpleasant. And two, that it was the gods telling me not to get too comfortable or too cocky.
And so it is that the gods are also responsible for men losing weight easier. The gods like it that most men don’t really care that much how they look. If I told my husband he could stand to lose a few pounds or that his stomach was getting bigger, he’d shrug and go back to watching American Chopper on TLC. If he said the same thing to me, I would cry and likely seek legal counsel.
His blood pressure went up and he cut back on the ice cream, got on the treadmill and now has it under control. He might like it that his pants fit better in the waist, but only because he doesn’t have to buy new pants now.
As for me and my friends, we talk about weight only slightly less than we talk about our children and much more than important world events.
I would come to some profound and maybe even witty conclusion at this point, but I have to go downstairs and pretend that blueberries and Cool Whip are what I really want for dessert. And that I don’t deeply resent my husband for eating coffee chocolate chunk ice cream.
The gods have no sense of humor.
Why do I get the feeling that if I jumped in front of a speeding train to rescue a group of orphans, at the press conference awarding me my medal for bravery, someone would ask me how it felt spending my career around naked men in lockerrooms?
Everyone wants to know about the naked men.
For a while, I thought maybe it had finally become a non-issue. I would speak to school groups and the kids had moved onto more mature topics like, “How much money do you make?”
I swear, a kid asked me that once. I glanced over at the teacher, waiting for, “Tommy, that’s not an appropriate question for our guest,” but she was leaning forward, waiting for my answer.
I attempted to steer the kid away from the topic with a gentle, “Oh, I make enough, Tommy. Now buzz off,” but he was persistent.
His little hand shot up again and this time he asked, “What kind of car do you drive?”
It almost made me yearn for the naked men questions again. But alas, they had not gone away as I have discovered over the past few days in interviews promoting my biography of Lou Piniella.
We talk about Lou. Maybe we talk about the state of journalism. And then, boom, there it is, always asked as if we don’t have a female Speaker of the House, Secretary of State and something called bath towels.
I won’t pretend it did not used to be a concern 25 years ago, when I was first starting out in the business. Primarily, I wondered how I would feel when I was in my 40s, traipsing around lockerrooms with men who could, theoretically, be my sons.
But then I figured no way would I still be in the business that old anyway. Yes, I was apparently a smart ass.
And now, here I am, in my 40s, and it looks as if I will be back in lockerrooms one day soon. Funny thing is, it has never been much of an issue for me or any other woman I’ve ever known in this business. I always did my job, held my notebook at strategic angles when necessary, and got the heck out as soon as humanly possible.
Turns out, I don’t care if the men are 20, 25 or 30. It is still an unpleasant place to be, always was and is the same for every male reporter or cameraman in there unless there is something seriously wrong with them. To imply that it is only uncomfortable for women is to believe that it is natural for a roomful of grown-ups to do their jobs with only half of the people wearing clothes.
Occasionally and just the other day, someone will think they’re brilliant when they come up with the argument, “How would women athletes feel with male reporters in the lockerroom?” This is usually asked with utter seriousness, as if thousands of male reporters are storming women’s sporting events.
I’m sure there is the exception or two, but generally speaking, a female athlete will go anywhere she is asked to be interviewed, in any state of sweatiness and in any scenario, including having just lost a major championship because of her blunder. She will do this because women, almost without exception, understand that to be a professional athlete in this country is to also be a p.r. person, a marketing executive and a ticket agent, if necessary.
That said, I have noticed in covering the WNBA that the younger women athletes have become just as capable of being moody, surly and generally unquotable as their male counterparts, which is certainly encouraging for the women’s movement.
But it has nothing to do with where they are standing at the moment and whether they are dressed or not.
Here’s the other thing. Professional athletes – even the big-bellied offensive linemen — don’t much care who sees them naked. They really don’t. You see this same phenomenon in your typical public pool lockerroom, where there are always those people who prance around way too long without their clothes on (I assume this happens in men’s public lockerrooms but I can’t say for sure as I do not want to be arrested.)
If you’ve ever noticed – again, at least in the women’s lockerrooms – the naked people generally fall into two categories: the really great-looking, middle-aged women, usually with some form of surgical enhancement, or the really old women who just don’t give a damn whom they’re grossing out.
Same with athletes, minus the surgical enhancement (but occasionally chemical help). And substitute the really old people with coaches (who occupy the section of the lockerroom I do everything in my power to avoid).
Most of this I can’t share in my radio interviews unless I want the FCC involved.
But I’m thinking about it.