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How Little We Know Whether napping or snapping, athletes offer peculiar motives for their inscrutable acts

Dec. 11, 2000
Dec. 11, 2000

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Dec. 11, 2000

How Little We Know Whether napping or snapping, athletes offer peculiar motives for their inscrutable acts

Let's take this opportunity to clear up a few minor
misunderstandings.

This is an article from the Dec. 11, 2000 issue Original Layout

When Minnesota Vikings tight end John Davis was arrested at 4:16
a.m. on a recent Monday while--in the words of police--"asleep or
unconscious" at the wheel of his idling vehicle "in the middle of
the roadway" in a suburb of Minneapolis, well, as you might
imagine, it was all a crazy misunderstanding.

As his agent, Marc Alexander Balic, patiently explained to the
Minneapolis Star Tribune, Davis "was not inebriated...He was
out a little late and on his way home...He was too tired to
drive so he decided to take a little nap. He only expected to be
there a few minutes, but he was apparently there a little
longer." The incident, Balic told the Saint Paul Pioneer Press,
was something "we all probably have done."

Indeed, who among us hasn't been there: In the middle of a
drive, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the street,
napping? Still police charged Davis with driving while
intoxicated, failure to submit to chemical testing and careless
driving. For breaking curfew, he was suspended for one game by
the Vikings and is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 18.

Sadly for Davis, men of uncommon vision are seldom understood in
their own time. Though Ohio State basketball coach Jim O'Brien
has lost 19 consecutive games to Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun--19
consecutive games!--he has called it a "misunderstood record," one
that will no doubt be better appreciated by future generations
privy to a new mathematics.

"He is the most misunderstood player we have in this game," major
league pitcher Mark Guthrie once said of a former LSU teammate.
"People are shocked when I say Albert Belle is a nice guy, but
it's the truth."

Albert Belle, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer: Greatness
shouldn't have to explain itself. If small minds cannot
comprehend the profound wisdom of a 19-game losing streak or of
being asleep or unconscious at the wheel or of threatening
trick-or-treaters in your Ford Explorer (as Belle did)--well, it
took them centuries to comprehend Copernicus too. "To be great,"
wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, "is to be misunderstood." Emerson,
meet Iverson. Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson says he
wants only one word on his tombstone: MISUNDERSTOOD.

Athletes and coaches should wear that word on a sash, such as the
one on Miss Universe. It would save us all time and trouble, as
with that goofy mix-up last winter, when John Rocker called a
black Atlanta Braves teammate "a fat monkey." A month passed
before former Brave Ryan Klesko could counsel us, as the San
Diego Union-Tribune paraphrased, "that some of the pitcher's
remarks were misunderstood by people not familiar with clubhouse
humor." The nuances of clubhouse humor--the snap of wet towel on
bare butt cheek, the shaving cream pie in the face, the
welder's-torch flame of a fart set on fire--cannot be explained,
any more than one can explain the peculiar genius of Charlie
Chaplin.

Detroit Tigers manager Phil Garner, reports the Detroit Free
Press, "thinks fans have been hard on [Juan] Gonzalez partly
because he's often misunderstood." Tennessee Titans coach Jeff
Fisher on receiver Carl Pickens: "I think he's been
misunderstood." Ferdie Pacheco on WBO featherweight champ Prince
Naseem Hamed: "He's a misunderstood figure." The Associated
Press on Colin Montgomerie: "Refreshingly honest and constantly
misunderstood."

These men may mystify us now. But real visionaries--Galileo and
Roger Clemens--will be truly understood only by people a century
or two removed from their own. It will take a more highly evolved
society than ours to comprehend what was clear to Clemens during
the World Series: that the Yankees' righthander fielded a broken
bat because he thought it was a baseball, and endeavored to clear
the dangerous item from the field by throwing it at Mike Piazza,
you know, lest somebody get hurt, or, you know...something.

I never quite got the explanation, but then I never quite got
calculus. That is my shortcoming, not Sir Isaac Newton's.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO