Posted: Thursday May 5, 2005 5:21PM; Updated: Thursday May 5, 2005 6:03PM
Eight in the Box
1. If you think about it, last week was a bad one to speak your mind in front of a sports reporter. Any athlete or coach will tell you any week is a bad week to do so, but last week was worse than most. You had:
Memphis Grizzlies point guard Jason Williams, tell a Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter, "I'm happy as [bleep]. I go home and see my kids and wife and I'm OK," when asked how he was coping with his team being down to the Phoenix Suns 3-0 in a best-of-seven series.
University of Oklahoma baseball coach Larry Cochell "praised" freshman outfielder Joe Dunigan III to ESPN baseball commentators Kyle Peterson and Gary Thorne, in separate off-camera but on-the-record conversations, by saying, "There's no nigger in him," and "There are honkies and white people and there are niggers and black people. Dunigan is a good black kid."
Houston Rocket coach Jeff Van Gundy told reporters a friend, who is an NBA official, phoned him and said NBA officials "were looking at [Houston center] Yao [Ming] harder because of Mark's [Cuban's] complaints."
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The fallout? Van Gundy was fined $100,000. Cochell lost his job and sullied a career that saw him take three different schools to the College World Series. Williams, who had four steals in the four-game sweep by the Suns, swiped Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins' pen. For that, he was fined $10,000 by the league.
Some random thoughts: Concerning Williams, athletes get quoted out of context all the time and if this is what happened here, I can see his (ball)point. However, telling a reporter you're "happy as f----" with your team trailing 3-0 invites scrutiny.
Regarding Cochell, I'm more offended that he claimed this was the first time he'd ever used the "N" word. He chose to break it out at age 65 in front of two fellas from ESPN? Less offensive but more obsolete was his use of the term "honky" (when obviously "redneck" or "white trash" would have been more apropos). I mean, I haven't heard anyone use the term "honky" since George Jefferson was dissing Tom Willis.
As for Van Gundy, well, sometimes free speech can cost you.
And that raises one last point worth noting. On Tuesday's episode of Around the Horn, Michael Smith of the BostonGlobe asked, "What ever happened to free speech?"
The answer: It's still free. None of the above subjects were arrested or imprisoned for what they said. Your employer can fine or fire you for something you say (just ask fellow Around the Horn panelist Bob Ryan), but that does not mean you have lost your right to free speech. If the government had ordered Cochell's resignation, or fined Van Gundy, then Smith might have a point.
2. Back in Norman, Cochell's Campanis-moment overshadowed some alleged mischief by the Sooners' biggest star, Adrian Peterson. On April 23, two men and a woman were injured after fights broke out at a Denny's in Norman around 4 a.m. Witnesses declined to comment and no one involved wanted to press charges, but the Oklahoma Daily obtained a copy of two 911 calls made that night. The Daily reported that on one call a Denny's employee named Roger is heard to say, "They're using brooms, throwing plates -- there's all kinds of things that happened so far. Please hurry."
Peterson's name comes up because Norman police pulled over a car at the time of the incident in which he was a passenger. The freshman tailback and Heisman finalist was stopped because police received information that he "apparently started the fight." A fight, according to Roger at Denny's, that was 12 against one.
3. In case you were wondering why ESPN has fallen in love with college baseball and softball, I've got two words for you: NHL lockout. That explains why hockey-analyst Thorne was interviewing OU's Cochell last week.
That rise in visibility cost Cochell his job (although ultimately it is his fault, of course) but it also has allowed a few players to receive much-deserved attention, as well. Consider Texas A&M softball's speedy sophomore centerfielder Sharonda McDonald. During the Aggies' showdown with Texas (and Olympic gold-medallist pitcher Cat Osterman), the ESPN announcers noted McDonald had swiped more than 50 bases without being thrown out. Last weekend against Missouri, McDonald, who bats leadoff, stole four more bases (including home, on a double steal) to bring her consecutive steals mark to 59. She is 48 for 48 this season and finished last year with 11 straight. In two seasons she is 95 for 101 on the base paths.
The D-I record is 73 straight, set just a couple of years ago by Nicole Barber of Georgia.
4. In Price is Right news, did you hear about Eastern Oregon freshman second baseman Sheena Lindholm? In March the Blackfoot, Idaho, native was with her team in Orange, Calif., to play in the SunWest Tournament at Chapman College. While there Lindholm, teammates and her coach attended a taping of the show. Not only was the 19-year-old invited to "Come on down" on the show that aired April 9, she would win a total $220,0000 in prizes. Not only is that a record in the show's 33-year run but, according to CBS, it is more than double the amount of the previous record Bob Barker gave away.
Lindholm, the daughter of a hay farmer, won an RV, a Cadillac XLR convertible, a Mediterranean cruise, a sailboat and a flat-screen TV. She plans to sell most of the items to finance her education and buy (use your best Johnny Olson-voice here), "a new car!" Sure, there's the XLR, but Lindholm, said she would not feel comfortable driving "that nice a car."
5. I hope, for his sake and ours, that West Virginia hoopster Kevin Pittsnogle, who declared for the NBA Draft earlier this week (but did not hire an agent), keeps his tattooed torso in Morgantown one more year. In an AP story his coach, John Beilein, said everyone's favorite March Madness folk hero "is testing the waters".
Sort of the way those two dinghy-drifting teenagers off the Carolina coast last week were testing the waters.
I love Pittsnogle. I love that when a radio interviewer described his Martinsburg, W. Va., childhood digs as a "mobile home," Pittsnogle corrected him by saying, "It was a trailer."
But this is a 6-foot-11 jump shooter who averaged less than 20 minutes per game last season. He's a player who did not become a starter until midseason on what was -- until the Big East tourney -- an average team.
The Mountaineers will return the core of last year's Cinderella Elite Eight squad, including Mike Gansey and Patrick Beilein.
Besides, if he stays, Pittsnogle might just start all season long.
6. Strange-but-true: Boarding my Chicago-to-New York flight Tuesday, I passed Morgan "Super Size Me" Spurlock seated in first class (looking lean and mean, by the way). That was bizarre enough, given that earlier in the day I'd read he is working on a documentary in which he will chronicle a month living on minimum wage ($5.15 an hour ... which, fiscally speaking, still beats blogging).
What turns the story from celebrity sighting into bizarr- world is that then I happened to sit -- in the last row -- next to a national media-relations director for ... McDonald's. She did not, despite my enthusiastic exhortations, approach Mr. Spurlock and introduce herself. However, she did share this tidbit with me: In India, where cows are sacred ("Where's the beef?", indeed), McDonald's popular item is the Chicken Maharaja Mac. Rolls off the tongue as easily as Royale with Cheese, no?
7. For the record, I never had an affair with Paula Abdul, Or anyone famous (not to mention infamous) named Paula, such as Paula Poundstone. Nor with anyone named Paul, which covers the gamut from Paul Giamatti to former Baywatch siren Alexandra Paul (who never responded to my letters).
8. In case you were wondering -- and I was -- what a gamut exactly is (and how come it seems to get covered as often as Fleetwood Mac's Landslide), it is a Middle English term for musical scale. Tune in here, and I will try and learn us both something new every week.