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LeBatard Explains Himself


DaGreatOne
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Posted on Thu, Jul. 29, 2004

IN MY OPINION

 

Friendships do impact objectivity

 

Objectivity is in eye of beholder

 

DAN LE BATARD

 

dlebatard@herald.com

 

Like in any business, you develop relationships in this one.

 

Objectivity?

 

It is both an ideal and a lie.

 

Humans -- if indeed you think journalists are that, and not parasites or leeches -- can't really be objective.

 

The best we can do is try to be objective.

 

Aspire to it.

 

But we all have our biases.

 

And bias is practically a job requirement for a sports columnist. You can't give an opinion without taking a side, really, and columnists are paid to opine. We try to be fair, sure, but even something as allegedly absolute as truth can be subjective. All columnists do is tell you their truth. And relationships, if you are human, are going to impact how you see and present that truth.

 

Which brings me, roundabout, to Ricky Williams.

 

WHO CHOSE WHOM?

 

We've been discussing the idea of a warts-and-all book together for six years (just got a little more interesting, didn't it?). It is about fame and life and doubt and fear and parenting and politics and relationships and maybe some sports, too. If we do it, it would be my first real book -- you aren't going to hold the flimsy pamphlet I wrote about the 1993 Marlins season against me, are you? -- and I chose to do it with him, of all the athletes I've covered in nearly two decades, because I found him relentlessly interesting, willing to reveal everything, and both a perfect and flawed prism through which to tell the story of how sports is the funhouse mirror where society goes to check its reflection.

 

Or maybe he chose me.

 

I'm still trying to sort that out.

 

Our relationship began after his junior year of college, when I visited him for a magazine article and asked him about just about everything except football because he didn't seem terribly interested in talking about being a running back. Since then, there have been a thousand awkward professional moments for me (like when Saints coach Jim Haslett, whom I've never met, called me to ask my advice on how to deal with his running back).

 

I'm already eternally grateful that I get to steal money for a living -- Covering sports? As a job? Are you kidding? -- but what are the odds of the one athlete whom I want to write a book on somehow getting traded to the city where I'm a columnist and becoming the city's biggest sports star (pre-Shaq)?

 

What am I supposed to do as a journalist? Quit? Never write about the city's biggest sports star or the city's biggest team? This has resulted in more professional headaches than benefits. I haven't made any money off this relationship, unless you count a Herald-approved radio show in which I went out of my way to ask him all the difficult questions. Any time the appearance of conflict of interest has emerged, I've had to discuss it with the highest levels of our newspaper.

 

ANSWERING THE CALL

 

I'd like to tell you that breaking the Ricky retirement story was because of some majestic journalistic effort, but all I did was answer my phone. If I hadn't been home, I would have missed his call, and we might still not know he is retired because the Dolphins certainly weren't interested in revealing it. I've tried to talk him out of retiring before, like just about everyone else (Yet another awkward professional moment. The ''objective'' local columnist isn't supposed to be trying to protect the future of the local team), but he sounded less confused and happier than I've ever heard him when he called Saturday. And so, objectivity be damned, I was happy for him.

 

Is my view of his decision colored by the relationship? Obviously. How could it not be? Dave Wannstedt and the members of his coaching staff whisper secrets to their media confidants. Pat Riley uses access like currency, giving media members time with the understanding that, if they like him and are grateful, criticism might soften. Michael Jordan knew how to get the world's media in the palm of his hand just by being charming. It's all natural, human, which isn't what journalism always is.

 

Doesn't stop me from criticizing them when I think they are wrong, mind you, Williams included. I've written before that he is selfish, irresponsible, myopic and fumbles too much. You can look it up. I've told him worse to his face. I have spent too much time yelling at him over the past six years because he has exceptionally little guidance in his life and I happen to respect his workplace and sports a lot more than he does. And this very often leads to one of us getting angry and hanging up.

 

But most of what I've written about him is positive because I happen to think he is, despite his flaws, a good person in a sports world that can use more of those.

 

THE OTHER SIDE

 

I get accused of being an apologist for athletes a lot, and I take that as a compliment. There is a generational and cultural gulf between the people writing about our games and the ones playing them -- most of the people opining in sports pages are older and whiter; most of the people playing in the sports pages aren't -- and I enjoy taking up the cause of athletes because many of them either aren't thoughtful or articulate enough to do it for themselves or don't even much care to.

 

I'm also biased in that I happen to enjoy most the colorful hot dogs who rattle the antiseptic place where we escape to our fun and games. Terrell Owens. Rickey Henderson. Warren Sapp. Charles Barkley. Manny Ramirez. Barry Bonds. Allen Iverson. There are enough people out there criticizing them, so I choose the other side because I happen to think going to a game and complaining about the behavior is like going to the circus and complaining about the clowns.

 

Williams is one of the most thoughtful people I've met under the big top, I can assure you of that. He has called me from all over the globe over the years, about the latest epiphany, quoting something from a new philosopher he is reading or talking about an artist exhibit I should see or complaining about how difficult it is to be a parent sometimes. He called me Wednesday, and this is what came out of his mouth in the first five minutes:

 

``You think Adam and Eve are meant to be analogies for our parents in the Bible? Parents teach you shame. [My son] likes to walk around naked. We're the ones teaching them that's wrong. Is it possible that whenever you have fear and anguish and shame in your heart, you are Satan, but when you have truth and love, we can all be Jesus Christ? That when we have truth and love in our heart, we can all heal people?''

 

``A friend just said to me that she was a wild animal who needed some taming. I told her a wild animal isn't meant to be tamed. She said that a wild animal hurts people. I told her that a wild animal is better off dead than tamed. The wild animal is our heart. The tamer is the mind. [My son] should walk around naked if he wants.''

 

He sound confused to you? Trust me when I tell you he has never seen things more clearly.

 

''It's not that I wasn't happy playing football,'' he said. ``It's that I wanted to be happier.''

 

NOT TO WORRY

 

I told him that people here are worried his story is going to end tragically, like former NBAer Bison Dele. The nomad who used to be known as Brian Williams quit and died in a boat fight overseas.

 

''You know I don't have a violent spot anywhere inside me,'' he said.

 

Then he joked: ``When I change my name, then you can start worrying about me.''

 

I told him people here are making a big deal about his marijuana use.

 

''What about the drugs we need just to make it through practice in pain,'' he said. ``You have guys all over the field panicking if they've forgotten to take all their pills before practice. I never have and never will use hard drugs. I made it through Week 10 last season without using any pain medication at all. You know how hard that is?''

 

Some of what he says makes me think he is crazy; some of what he says makes me think he is the only one who is sane. It would be a damn interesting book, if nothing else.

 

People have been wondering lately why it is that I haven't been more critical of him in this space and on ESPN.

 

Two reasons:

 

1. There are enough people out there doing that now. You can get that anywhere. The one thing you can get here that you can't get anywhere else is his voice. He isn't talking to anyone else. It's my job to get his side out there. Not because he wants it out there. He doesn't. He couldn't possibly care less what anyone thinks anymore. But he lets me quote him, reluctantly, because he understands I have certain responsibilities as a journalist.

 

2. I think the timing of this was terrible, but that nothing else about it was wrong.

 

You people calling him a coward? Have you not seen how the man chose to make his living? That's cowardly? You people saying he should stand by his word and his contract? Have you not seen how often the rich men who run these teams terminate those non-guaranteed contracts when a guy is hurt or aging? (He waived the Dolphins before they could waive him.) You people saying this is a money ploy? Do you not remember the fan-friendly and stupid contract he signed that would have given him financial difficulties in the future because it was all incentive-based?

 

Am I too close to this story?

 

Yeah, probably.

 

It was kind of unavoidable.

 

But I support Ricky Williams.

 

That's what you do with friends.

 

 

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Guest marlins02

this is the weirdest sports story EVER. that is all.

 

 

i hope his son gets out of that walking naked habit. it could cause him some trouble in the future.

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Guest marlins02

? ``A friend just said to me that she was a wild animal who needed some taming.

 

 

Article

481719[/snapback]

 

 

i think the girl was just coming on to him.

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Because Williams, in spite of all the crap he's spewing, does care how everyone takes this...

 

It's funny that he hid this 3rd drug offense thing from Lebatard until just now. Makes you think that was a bigger factor than he's letting on.

 

It was a good article by Lebatard. His Williams stories still have no balance, but, like he said, he's expressing an opinion. Anything he writes about Williams can't be read as a straight up news story. It's an opinion column.

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Because Williams, in spite of all the crap he's spewing, does care how everyone takes this...

 

It's funny that he hid this 3rd drug offense thing from Lebatard until just now. Makes you think that was a bigger factor than he's letting on.

 

It was a good article by Lebatard. His Williams stories still have no balance, but, like he said, he's expressing an opinion. Anything he writes about Williams can't be read as a straight up news story. It's an opinion column.

481806[/snapback]

 

Yeah thats why on top of his articles is usually classified as an editorial as it says IN MY OPINION.

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