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One Tough Mother

March 06, 2006
March 06, 2006

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March 6, 2006

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One Tough Mother

Uh, boss, just alittle heads-up that you'll be hearing very soon from Cherie Davis, the motherof U.S. speedskater Shani Davis.

This is an article from the March 6, 2006 issue

She's probablygoing to be madder than Oral Roberts at a Hooters. She'll scream that I'm anignorant racist. She'll want me fired, castrated and kicked off the companybowling team.

I know this becauseno matter what anybody says or writes about Shani, America's 1,000-meter goldmedalist, she flips. In fact, she flips more than a referee's coin.

Her enemies list isjust slightly longer than Nixon's. She has feuds going with Bonnie Blair (whoadmitted that she wouldn't mention Shani's name lest she incur Cherie's wrath),Bob Costas, Eric Heiden, NBCOlympics.com, SI, The New York Times's SelenaRoberts and the Chicago Tribune's Philip Hersh, who, she says, has "a whitesupremacist's agenda."

Never seen anythinglike it. Three-hundred-and-fifty-pound sportswriters run from her. The peoplefrom U.S. Speedskating go all Marcel Marceau when you bring her name up. EvenShani's girlfriend stays away from her. "She seems scared of me,"Cherie says.

Cherie screeched atNBCOlympics.com for not putting Shani's picture first on its Athletes to Watchpage. Hersh once wrote the phrase "Black Saturday" in a story aboutAustrians skiing badly, and she told him he was racist.

And what's all thatrage cost her 23-year-old son? Millions of dollars.

See, Shanishould've been the feel-good story of the Turin Olympics--the first blackathlete to win an individual gold medal in the Winter Games. (In addition tohis gold, he won a silver in the 1,500.) Instead, he came off as icier thanAdmiral Byrd's axe. And almost everybody blames his mom for it.

"Of course theysay that," she said. "Got to blame a black person."

But you have allthese feuds--

"Yes! I toldeverybody, don't speak to him, don't talk about him, don't even look at him!All you can do for Shani is leave him alone. Just ... leave ... him ...alone."

She charges thatU.S. Speedskating (USS) conspired with Shani's teammate Chad Hedrick to"get" her son. "I told Shani coming in, 'They're going to find away to get you. And it's going to be bad,'" she says.

She has a validbeef with USS. Even though Shani never wanted to race the team pursuit inTurin, the federation signed him up anyway, "in case he wanted to changehis mind," a USS official said. But when he didn't--thus hurting Hedrick'sshot at five golds--it looked like Davis had flaked out at the last minute. Ofcourse, Cherie's yearlong war with USS didn't help.

Hedrick rippedShani, Costas chided him, and hundreds of columnists around the countryfricasseed him. "I get all these e-mails, people calling him names.Unpatriotic, selfish, n-----," she says.

And when Shanifinally won his gold, he gave NBC's reporter Melissa Stark sulking, curtreplies until Stark finally had to ask, "Are you angry?"

"Well, whyshould he be all warm to her?" Cherie says. "She's got some painted-onsmile. She doesn't care about Shani! ... Why does his first moment have to beshared with that woman?"

Shani did have afar warmer interview with Stark after he won the silver medal, but by then thedamage was done, and Joe Corporate was running from the Davises like they wereIRS auditors.

"If we want tobe poor, it's none of your business!" Cherie says. "We don't care aboutmoney anyway. Between us, we have one '89 [Ford] Escort. That's it.... So Shaniwon't be a hero, won't be on the Wheaties box. Shani is still going to be allright."

Sometimes youwonder. There is footage in a Dutch documentary of her calling Shani a loser tohis face. She doesn't deny it: "He's my son, I can call him a loser if Iwant. I thought it was funny."

Ohhhh-kay. And whatabout this quote she gave the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Bryan Burwell: "Ifit weren't for me, Shani would be selling drugs on the street."

Shani doesn't denythat. "Some of my friends had big dreams that their parents didn't support,and they ended up [selling drugs]," he says. "My mom believed in mewhen nobody else would."

It's funny that wayabout Cherie. She gives and she takes. He would've never made it to Turinwithout her, but once there, she was about as much help as chapped thighs.

Does he sometimeswish she would just shut up?

"Sometimes," he says. "But that's who she is. I love her. I'drather be broke than change the way my mom is."

Good thing.

• If you have acomment for Rick Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com.

RIFFS of REILLY

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Shani Davis should've been the feel-good story of Turin,the first black to win individual gold at the Winter Games. But he came off asicy, and everyone blames his mom.
PHOTOPETER READ MILLER