It’s true: The pros don’t play good defense. At least they don’t off the court. Seems whenever a PR bullet is moving in their direction, they offer the verbal equivalent of trying to block it with their skin.
Nicolas Batum may be the latest example.
A week and a half ago, the 23-year-old was publicly broadcasting his desire to play for the Timberwolves over the Blazers. Then, Portland matched Minnesota’s offer, which keeps Batum in the Northwest and makes him the first guy Southwest will approach if it revives the “Wanna get away?” campaign.
But wait a minute … according to Blazers general manager Neil Olshey, the whole Rip City diss was just a ploy that Batum’s agent put him up to — that the forward’s statement in no way reflected his true feelings. If true, then Nic really must have a big upside, because there is no way a grown man can be that easily manipulated.
Batum will have a chance to give a first-hand explanation for his words, but don’t expect much accountability when he does. Professional athletes have the money to possess just about anything they want, but what very few of them own … are their mistakes.
In the 2000 World Series, a seething Roger Clemens picked up a piece of Mike Piazza’s broken bat and rifled it at the catcher as he ran toward first base. Clemens’ excuse afterward? That he thought it was the ball.
LeBron James tweeted that “karma is an (expletive)” when the Lakers beat the Cavaliers by 55 points two seasons ago, but when the public backlash began to mount, the King insisted he was just making a general statement.
And after Serena Williams unloaded on a lineswoman at the U.S. Open last year, saying “I truly despise you” and that she should look the other way if they cross paths in the hallway, the tennis star claimed that she didn’t even remember the incident and would have to watch it on YouTube.
Three of the most imposing athletes their sports have ever seen, yet when it came time to ‘fess up, they each morphed into Millhouse.
Few things are sorrier than the inability to say sorry. And refusing to admit “I messed up” usually just leads to bigger messes.
When cyclist Floyd Landis was first accused of doping, he blamed his positive test on whiskey, sending his reputation downhill faster than a Pyrenee ever could. He was later banned from his sport for two years.
When Sammy Sosa’s bat was found to be corked after it broke in 2003, the slugger claimed that he was using a batting practice bat and was unaware of its condition. “I didn’t inhale” suddenly seemed creative.
And when the rest baseball’s home run kings were under investigation for steroid use, almost all of them denied themselves right out of the Hall of Fame — usually claiming that they unintentionally took the drugs. Eggs, after all, can make you strong, too.
Basically, these are all examples of music-facing procrastination. College students wait until the last minute to finish their term papers, and athletes hold off on having to endure any type of consequence.
In both cases, however, this rarely improves the situation.
Does nobody these days remember Andy Pettitte, who admitted to using HGH in 2008 and now pitches for the Yankees stench-free? Is it beyond incredible that athletes can see the value of a “my bad” between the lines but rarely outside of them?
Obviously there are certain cases — such as philandering or drunk-driving — in which the future of one’s image depends on public contrition. But there are so many other times where people fail to see that the smart move is to admit to having been stupid.
Clearly, denial is not exclusive to athletes. Politicians and entertainers surrounded by scandal are just as susceptible to concocting fairy tales.
Still, when you’re in sports, and your job is to face the planet’s most awe-inspiring physical specimens, facing the truth shouldn’t be so hard.
Matt Calkins is the Trail Blazers beat writer at The Columbian. He can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org