Say What? When Athletes Are Misquoted

Image credit: 

Note: Tomorrow night at 7pm, Bud Shaw will be speaking and answering questions at the mental_floss store in Chesterland, Ohio. Stop by and say hello!

Last summer, United States Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin and Golf Channel contributor Jim Gray engaged in a heated exchange after Pavin accused Gray of misquoting him.

Gray quoted Pavin saying he would make Tiger Woods his "captain's pick" for the U.S. team despite Woods' struggles during a chaotic 2010 season. He quoted Pavin saying, "Of course I'm going to pick him. He's the best player in the world."

Pavin denied the report and tweeted that Gray got it all wrong.

"His interpretation of what I said is incorrect," Pavin said. "There's nobody that's promised any picks right now. It would be disrespectful to everybody that's trying to make the team."

In sports journalism circles, these are what is known as fighting words.

I have suggested Pavin vs. Gray in UFC 119, the number signifying their combined weights. So far, no mixed martial arts promoters have shown interest.

According to reports from the PGA Championship, Gray was later seen pointing a finger in Pavin's face, saying "You're a liar. You're going down."

Athletes alleging they've been misquoted is a sports tradition richer than the Masters, older than the World Series. It's a game played more often than the U.S. Open (tennis and golf), the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup and the Olympics combined.

The most recent example happened when Detroit Pistons' forward Charlie Villanueva tweeted that Boston's Kevin Garnett called him a "cancer patient." Garnett, who has honed a league-wide reputation as a trash talking bully, denied Villanueva's claim. instead, Garnett said, he told Villanueva, "You are cancerous to your team and our league."

If you believe that, you also believe Garnett concluded by saying, "And, young man, you are a disappointment to your parents, your school and your church."

Tomorrow is a new day

Most often, it's reporters who are accused of misquoting athletes. In sports journalism circles, stories of reporters screwing up the facts grow in legend by the year, connecting as they do to the institutional fear we all share about looking like an idiot in print.

One such story from years long gone concerned a Denver sports writer who covered an Army-Navy game played in mud that smeared the jerseys of every player. It was only while sipping a cold one in a bar late that night, the day's work long behind him, that realization of a colossal blunder hit home.

According to the lore, the writer called his newspaper to say, "In my (story), change all the 'Army's to "Navy," and all the 'Navy's" to 'Army."

Players have long believed that the sports media practices more insidious intent, that we happily misrepresent the facts to sensationalize the events of the day in order to sell newspapers or magazines. Those resentments have been around for decades. And they have led to some of the dullest answers in the history of the English language as players try not to say anything the least bit newsworthy.

"I'm just out there trying to do my best."

"I'm just going to keep working hard."

"Tomorrow is a new day."

Or:

"We just need to take it to the next level."

"Our backs are against the wall."

"There is no tomorrow."

In a sense, social media has allowed athletes to do away with the middleman. They bypass the media filter. They post things to their own websites or pages.

They may think they're getting over on sports writers. I'm not so sure.

Cutting out the scapegoat

I think in many cases the athletes who would've blamed the media for their troubles in past years have simply lost a good excuse. Now, they're doing and saying dumb things all by themselves and they no longer can use the media as a scapegoat.

That's why we have YouTube videos of Stephon Marbury eating Vaseline and crying. Those are separate videos, though it's understandable if the former brought on the latter.

That's why we've had Cincinnati Bengals' receiver Chad Ochocinco tweeting about condoms and how that silly grand jury did former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress wrong in sentencing him for reckless operation of a firearm.

It's why leagues are enforcing Twitter limits.

Former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin was reprimanded by the NCAA for mentioning a recruit by name on his Twitter account.

Brian Ching of Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamo was fined for tweeting after a game. His message: "ref is a cheat." That cost him $50 per character.

When the Chargers fined cornerback Antonio Cromartie $2,500 for using Twitter to suggest the team hadn't made the Super Bowl in part because of the poor quality of training camp food, he didn't exactly learn to keep a lower profile.

Traded to the Jets, Cromartie showed up this summer on an episode of HBO's Hard Knocks. Asked on camera for the names and ages of his eight children (believed to be living in five states), Cromartie struggled to remember. Ridicule descended on him.

Of course, he couldn't say HBO misquoted him.

A few days later, he did say an HBO producer ordered a second take of the segment and asked him to pause more between each name. Network spokesmen deny the claim.

No one in sports (other than the media) has been accused of playing as fast and loose with the facts as boxing promoter Bob Arum, but I've always had a soft spot for the guy.

When he was making a name as a promoter in the 1970s, Arum was talking up one of his fighters in advance of a bout. A sports writer from Newsday called him on it, saying, "Bob, yesterday you said he was a bum."

Answered Arum, "Yesterday I was lying. Today I'm telling the truth."

It was pure promoter speak. Boxing journalist/historian Tom Hauser says, "That quote has haunted him ever since."

Could've been worse.

At least Arum didn't say, "I was misquoted."

Here are some of the various ways athletes have been misquoted...

He really was misquoted, they ran a retraction, but still...

After the signing of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade was quoted saying:

"We're going to be wearing a bullseye. But that's what you play for. If we lose a couple in a row this season, it will be like the World Trade (Center) is coming down again."

NBA FanHouse issued a retraction citing a transcription error. The correct quote:

"We're going to be wearing a bullseye. But that's what you play for. We enjoy the bullseye. Plus, there's going to be times when we lose 2-3 games in a row, and it seems like the world has crashed down. You all are going to make it seem like the World Trade is coming down again, but it's not going to be nothing but a couple basketball games."

Invoking 9/11 is never good. But that "transcription error" hardly seems like a typo.

He was misquoted and when he finds the guy who signed off on the manuscript, watch out.

Charles Barkley briefly considered fighting the release of the book Outrageous, saying he was misquoted.

By himself.

Well, actually by the co-author of his autobiography.

In the book, all Barkley did was trash 76ers owner Harold Katz and claim that his own grandmother could score more points in a game than Manute Bol.

According to the AP account, Jeff Newman, Simon & Shuster's sports-books director, said he was sure co-author Roy S. Johnson had tape-recorded Barkley's remarks for the book.

Barkley's grandmother never refuted the claim.

Since we're still friends I won't claim you misquoted me but, dude, you're killing me.

Roger Clemens, the seven-time Cy Young winner, arraigned earlier this year on perjury charges, said he never used HGH or steroids despite the testimony of former Yankees' teammate Andy Pettitte saying Clemens told him he used HGH.

Clemens said he told Pettitte of a TV show he saw about three older men regaining their quality of life through HGH use. Clemens said Pettitte may have "misheard" him.

Next, Clemens will have to talk to Pettitte about the Miracle Ear infomercial he watched just the other night.

He meant to say that Chiefs veterans often flew in nuns on the road for spiritual enrichment.

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was quoted in ESPN the Magazine describing how Chiefs veterans paid for women to fly into town to spend time with players during a 2007 trip to San Diego.

Bowe said he was misquoted. ESPN The Magazine said it had a tape of the interview.

When Bowe met reporters to say he was misquoted, someone asked, "What about the actual interview? Did you actually talk to the guy?"

Bowe's answer: "I really can't remember, man. That's why I'm still stuck in a daze."

I'll say.

You just can't trust these co-authors.

In his book, Terrell Owens described his comeback from a 2004 leg fracture as, "If you'll forgive me for saying so...nothing short of heroic."

During a book tour stop in Dallas, Owens said co-author Jason Rosenhaus was responsible for that choice of words.

Totally believable.

Owens would've no doubt preferred "nothing short of incredibly heroic."

The New Age misquote: the mis-tweet.

Boston Celtics' great Paul Pierce's Twitter account insinuated a sweep of the Orlando Magic after a Game 2 win -- "Anybody got a BROOM?"

Pierce's representatives quickly denied the post was his. Athlete Interactive, which handles digital media for players, supported the claim that Pierce's account was hacked in four separate tweets.

In the meantime, Pierce said in a TV interview, "We're coming home to close it out."

Just checking? Can we quote you on that?

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

November 9, 2010 - 9:43am
webby
submit to reddit