It takes a unique mind to be a professional athlete. You have to develop total recall, the ability to remember every at-bat against a given pitcher or down-and-distance situation for a quarterback, and be constantly adding to that library of information. But at the same time, you have to forget every failure, every strikeout, every interception, every loss as soon as it happens. You also have to forget every hit, touchdown, goal or victory, too. You have to believe your skills are worth millions of dollars, and that they make you qualified to challenge other multi-millionaires. You have to accept that the day-to-day emotions of an entire city, state or region will be based in part on your performance. And you have to balance all of those external factors with the internal pain vs. pleasure argument, whether the joy you take from playing is worth the pain it can cause (this is a bigger deal in football and hockey than in basketball or baseball). All of this can combine to drive a person crazy. The annals of sports history are filled with the lunatic fringe, from the comical to the criminal. But here’s my personal top 10 list of athletes you should never spend time with, and the reasons why.
10) John Rocker: Because he’s an asshole. Rocker’s not particularly dangerous, he’s just a jerk. A racist, ignorant, admitted HGH-using jerk. You shouldn’t spend time with him not because you might get hurt, but because it wouldn’t be any fun. Sometimes racism can be taken to such absurd levels that it becomes comical that anyone could possibly believe this stuff. But then you meet a guy who actually has prejudices, who actually believes certain factors beyond a person’s control make him or her inferior, and you just feel antsy. You don’t want to be around people like that unless you have the same prejudices, and even then that person’s stupidity (independent from their racism) may make you feel uncomfortable because it makes you question yourself. So whether you’re a Commie leftist pinko or a gun-toting redneck sumbitch, avoid Rocker.
9) Ben Roethlisberger: Because he’s a scumbag. How great was it when Richard Seymour punched Roethlisberger in the face? That’s what you get for talking smack! In all seriousness, Roethlisberger is the classic case of an athlete getting special treatment. His first sexual assault charge, regarding a 31-year-old in Lake Tahoe, went away because of a lack of physical evidence. The woman later sued, and a friend suggested she was a gold-digger. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for this one, but the second, against a 20-year-old? Disgusting behavior, and the quarterback was lucky to dodge prosecution. The media exposure got to be too much for the girl, and she backed off. But she never recanted her story, which makes me think it happened. Roethlisberger is a misogynistic piece of crap, and Seymour probably could have dodged any suspension by saying he did it because he has a daughter and he did it for her. Add to this Roethlisberger’s moronic decision to go motorcycling without a helmet, and you have a true douche-bag of the douchiest caliber. He’s not worth your time.
8) Tank Johnson: Because he left a stoner alone with children and guns. Johnson has never actually brandished a gun or fired it on a crowd, so he’s not as high up as he could be. His arrests have mostly been for misdemeanor firearm possessions. But there is the matter of his bodyguard, William Posey, who was busted for marijuana possession at Johnson’s house while Johnson was at practice. Having a stoned bodyguard is probably a bad idea (it tends to slow your reaction time), but the cops found six firearms, including assault rifles, some of which were loaded. Why on earth would you allow someone to get high while around loaded guns? The worst of it is that there were kids home at the time all of this went down. When have you ever read “marijuana,” “assault rifles” and “children” in the same sentence and had it be about something good? Johnson seems kind of stupid in a more dangerous way than Rocker or Roethlisberger. He probably would never actually shoot someone, but his carelessness throws up too many red flags.
7) Travis Henry: Because you might wind up pregnant. Henry is far and away the most virile man in professional athletics. He has fathered 11 children through 10 different mothers. Ten! Lots of people probably won’t sleep with 10 different women in their whole lives, and he’s done it by age 32. Only the Ol’ Dirty Bastard from the Wu-Tang and Johann Sebastian Bach (the ODB of the Baroque era) have fathered more kids than he has. We’d forgive his indiscretions if he did right by his children, but (gasp!) he’s also a deadbeat. He’s been arrested for failure to pay child support, which totals over $170,000 per year. So if you’re female, and you see this guy coming, grab one of those iron chastity belts from “Men in Tights” and run the other way. Oh yeah, and he’s been arrested for cocaine possession with intent to deal (and that was a plea bargain).
6) Ron Artest: Because he might punch you in the face. Artest’s fight in Detroit (which has been fantastically nicknamed “The Malice at the Palace”) changed basketball forever. The fight made NBA players look like brutal thugs, not top-notch athletes. NBA Commissioner David Stern imposed a dress code less than a year later. Thanks to the dress code, the NBA image has been rehabilitated, so now we just see players either in uniform or in dress clothes. And man do they look classy! Boy, they look sharp! Thanks, Ron! But beyond his contribution to athletic fashion, Artest’s fight brought much-needed publicity to the world of trajectory calculation. Because after a cup of water short-circuited Artest’s brain, causing him to climb into the stands and beat up the first white guy (and yes, I think it was at least partially based on race) he could find, the all-important question to ask was: “did Artest beat up the right dude?” Trajectory analysts went to work, and soon there was an answer: nope. Not even close. Off by probably two sections and eight rows. The end conclusion: if Artest is mad (you can tell because he’ll lay down on the scorer’s table, apparently to not draw attention to himself), and you look at him funny, he might punch you in the face. He lacks the psychological and mathematical skills necessary to determine the true source of his anger, so he just fights whoever is nearby. The solution: never be near Artest.
5) Delmon Young: Because he’s really accurate. On April 26, 2006, Young was called out on strikes while playing against our very own Pawtucket Red Sox. Disappointing, but not devastating. But apparently, Young didn’t like the call, and voiced his disagreement with the umpire as he walked back to the dugout. Video of the incident gives no clue as to what was said, so I’m sure it was something like, “Golly, I certainly disagree with your strike call, but I am just a minor leaguer and you are an umpire, so I will defer to your experience and good judgment and return peaceably to my dugout. Then I will throw a bat at you.” Seriously, he throws a bat at the umpire after getting ejected. It’s not just the act, but the throw itself, that makes Young so dangerous. That bat flies in a perfect straight line, end over end, hitting the ump square in the chest. The bat flies across the screen, so think how far away Young must have been, and he was still dead-on. It’s so accurate that you almost want to side with Young, because if he can aim that precisely, he must have a pretty good eye. Pitchers should be coming to Young for help with their control. If ninja stars could be thrown that accurately, “Ninja Gaiden” for the NES would have been far easier to beat. The lesson of this incident is that you should probably stay at least three blocks away from Young at all times. Any closer, and he might as well have a laser-sight, because he’s going to hit you.
4) Adam “Pacman” Jones: Because we fear the unknown above all else. And with Jones, you never know what shenanigans you might get into. Maybe you’ll just smoke some pot and chill out. Maybe you’ll go to a party, where Jones will spit on a co-ed. But if he takes you to a nightclub (probably speeding along the way), you’ll be lucky if a spitting incident is all that happens. Jones and nightclubs are like matter and anti-matter: put them together and everything blows up. Maybe he’ll beat up a stripper. Maybe he’ll get in a fight with security. Maybe he’ll bite someone. You just don’t know where Jones’ craziness will take him. And possibly worse than Jones are his friends, who you’ll probably also have to hang out wit. Like the friend who was busted for dealing cocaine. They found Jones’ Cadillac outside his house. Or the friends who were with Jones when he and Nelly went nuts in that Las Vegas strip club. They came back with a gun and shot up the crowd. If they made a movie about Jones and his friends, it would be “Crazy and Crazier.” Bottom line: if you see Jones entering some place, don’t go in that place. If you’re already in that place, leave… quickly.
3) Mike Tyson: Because he’s Mike Tyson. Ever seen “The Hangover?” Remember how when Zach Galifianakis gets punched out by Tyson, and his friends agree that’s punishment enough for drugging them? It’s kind of like that. Tyson poses the dual threat of being a professional boxer and simultaneously bat-shit crazy. One punch could probably give you a concussion, but his weapons don’t stop at his hands. He still has his teeth. Add in the drug addiction, rape conviction and “eat his children” comment, and you have a seriously bonkers dude who could kill you with his bare hands.
2) Marvin Harrison: Because you’d never see it coming, and he has friends in low places. This might seem like an odd choice. Marvin Harrison was the superstar wide receiver of the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton Manning’s go-to guy. And he led a pristine life on and off the field. Never talked trash. Was polite to the press. Never flaunted his money in a recognizable way (mansions, fancy cars, entourages). Gave away turkeys on Thanksgiving. Went back to his old neighborhood and tried to clean it up without appearing self-righteous (opened a high-class sports bar that has zero Harrison memorabilia; ran a car wash that employed locally). But wait until you read this. It’s the strange story of Harrison getting into a shouting match with a Philadelphia lowlife that ends in Harrison shooting him several times. The guy lives, but then he gets shot to death a few weeks later, and the police suspected it was Harrison’s cousin. Only a lack of credible witnesses prevented this case from going to trial, and Philly cops have been pissed about this ever since. This is a guy with a lethally dangerous dark side that you’d never, ever expect. Until it’s too late.
1) Gilbert Arenas: Because he might shoot you.
(As opposed to Plaxico Burress, who’d just shoot himself)