You know what I say? Oprah Doprah is what I say. TV fancy lady Oprah Winfrey banned Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman from plugging his new book—Walk on the Wild Side—on her show last week, calling it "vulgar."
Well, Oprah, what you know about jock books wouldn't fill a dentist's spit cup. Athletes have been writing books like this for years. There is not a thimbleful's difference between Rodman's latest work and most of the others that preceded it.
For instance, in The Art of Pitching (1984), Tom Seaver offered a risqu� look at his private world. "In addition to my uniform shirt, I always wear a T-shirt underneath," Seaver wrote brazenly. "If it is warm, I wear a short-sleeved cotton shirt. If it is cooler, I wear a woolen undershirt." Rodman is no different. He, too, discusses his apparel choices. "I like dressing up in women's clothes," he writes, "because it makes me feel good and brings out my feminine side.... I like dyeing my hair and posing naked and showing off my tattoos."
Mickey Mantle, in his controversial autobiography, The Mick (1985), told about where and how he liked to spend his free time, and yet he endured no public criticism for it. "Billy [Martin] and I and our wives would sit around in our New York apartment," Mantle wrote, "...in our bathing suits." Is that any less disturbing than the way Rodman chooses to relax after a hard night's work, at a lively Chicago nightspot, Crobar? "They have a bondage rack," Rodman writes, "and men will stand there writhing in pain while voluptuous women pour burning wax onto their nipples...to the beat of earsplitting technohouse music played by a lesbian deejay named Psychobitch." I ask you, Oprah, why the selective persecution?
With this literary effort Rodman is attempting to do nothing much more controversial than what John Wooden did in his Practiced Modem Basketball (1966): Offer a few rules of life. "Keep courtesy and consideration of others foremost in your mind at home and away," Wooden said. Similarly, Rodman offers one of his rules to live by: "Don't f—- in a cemetery." Who won't benefit from that nugget of wisdom?
Sports books often influence young people in ways that teachers and clergy cannot. In Quarterbacking to Win (1964), Y.A. Tittle advised kids: "If only I can instill the feeling in all you youngsters, to strive to do better, in sports, in schoolwork, and in your job when you are a grown man, then I will have succeeded." Is that any different from the counsel Rodman gives young people? "If you want to have public sex," Rodman advises, "go have sex in your car.... Just...don't do it in the park where everyone can see you." And people say we lack role models.
Athletes like to give tips, just as Stan Musial did in his Stan Musial: The Man's Own Story (1964). He wrote: "I'd never advise any boy to use the same bat I did, but I do recommend he pick up a bat he can handle properly." Is that much different than this instructive tidbit from Rodman: "I'd say I j—- o— at least twice a week"?
Certainly, nobody can blame Rodman for giving us a glimpse of his hopes and dreams, as Hank Aaron did in his bombshell, Aaron (1968): "There's no doubt about what I'd like to do in the future," Aaron wrote in the book's surprising climax, "...I'd like to stay in baseball...either as a hitting instructor or a coach." Can we deny Rodman the same opportunity to write of his own aspirations? "When I die," he says, "I want to be stripped naked, frozen and placed in a see-through freezer." Maybe not something you want to see in your grocer's dairy case, but heartfelt nonetheless.
Besides, not all of Walk on the Wild Side is controversial. Rodman takes a conciliatory tone toward NBA commissioner David Stern. "I'd love to take [him] as my prisoner," he writes graciously, "strip off all his clothes, rub lipstick and makeup all over him, dress up like Frank [Sinatra] and sing to him." Yet has Stern called to thank him?
Rodman seems to be taking the most flak for his revelation in the book that he wants to legally change his name to Orgasm. Again, this may seem shocking, but in time we won't give it a second thought. Imagine this exchange after a big Bulls win.