Tuesday, March 9, 2004
Updated: March 12, 10:11 AM ET
IS CONFESSION REALLY GOOD FOR THE SOUL?
Yesterday, the Writers' Bloc considered the Arnold Palmer/Ken Venturi "cheating" scandal. That got the WB's Steve Wulf thinking: Wouldn't it be better to confess your ultimate sin publicly, rather than have it published in a book years from now under the byline of your worst enemy?
And so here, for the first time in print, are the worst moments of a chagrined bunch of WBers.
The tainted winner is . . . | From Steve Wulf
So it turns out that the skeleton in Arnold Palmer's closet was wearing a green jacket.
I'm assuming we all have something in our past we're at least a little bit ashamed of. Since it's better to come clean than to watch as some old rival or ambitious prosecutor takes advantage of your sin, I wish to confess. I do not deserve the third place in straight news reporting I got from the Florida Sportswriters Association in 1976.
To make a long story somewhat shorter, I was the assistant sports editor of The Fort Lauderdale News at the time. Super Bowl X, Steelers vs. Cowboys, was down at the Orange Bowl, and we didn't have enough credentials to go around. So I volunteered to write the main game story off the TV while the columnist, Bernie Lincicome, and the sidebar guys did the actual legwork; afterwards, they would provide me with the quotes I would need.
I watched the game at a friend's house, and I got so comfortable, I actually fell asleep during the fourth quarter. I did wake up in time to see Roger Staubach throw a touchdown pass to tight end and Fort Lauderdale native Percy Howard, which, by the way, was the only pass Percy ever caught in the NFL.
I waited in the office for the guys to come back with their quotes. In the early hours, I edited copy, picked pictures, laid out pages and wrote the story. I think the lead was "Cinderella wore black." (I know, something else to be ashamed of.) I didn't go to bed until the paper did.
Anyway, I pretty much forgot about the story until it came time to submit entries for the state awards later that year. I also entered a much better story for features. Alas, when they announced the winners, the feature story was not mentioned. But the Super Bowl story? I got a third for a piece about a game I did not attend, a game during which I fell asleep, a game I illuminated with quotes that other people had gotten for me. I felt a little like Percy Howard.
If I could find the third place plaque, I would turn it in. But I can't, so I'm turning myself in.
Before someone else does it for me.
The PayDay Blues | From Ralph Wiley
That's okay, Wulfie. But see these scars around my eyes, the ones that caused the editor at The Oakland Tribune to regard me studiously and then give me boxing as a beat, and send me to Vegas for countless memorable fights? Let me tell you how I really got them.
Fifth grade. Assignment: Find all the nouns on a picture page. Prize: a PayDay candy bar. Came down to me and class prig Theresa Person.
Theresa was 11 and already had a moustache, and was wearing a rope chain on her cat-eye glasses. As an adult, she probably looks better. Actually, she can't help but. She found 51 pictured nouns. I also found 51, but reported 52.
"Where is the 52nd one?" the teacher asked while scanning the teacher's guide.
"It's the page number, itself," I said. (And these sabermetricians think they are being original nowadays.)
"But, but . . . " said the teacher.
"The page number is a number," I said, "and a number is a person, place or thing, isn't it?"
Well, actually, in that case, it probably wasn't. Still, it was a good enough ploy that the teacher didn't feel like spending another minute arguing with an 11-year-old about it. My mouth began to water for that PayDay candy bar. But the teacher, a nice woman whose name now escapes me, wisely decided to say I was right and had won -- but she was giving the PayDay candy bar to Theresa Person, anyway. You see, Theresa was by then bawling her eyes out, and nothing could calm her down even to the point of intermittent epileptic heaving -- except that candy bar.
The teacher said I'd won, but not to worry, I'd get over it.
Went outside at recess and hit my head again and again against the brick corner of the Hanley Elementary school building. And that was how I earned the scars around my eyes, which my editor thought came from boxing, which led to me covering boxing, getting hired by SI, and, well . . .
Thank God for teachers who make up the rules as they go along.
Danke Schoen | From Gerri Hirshey
Okay, okay. It's been bothering me for years. It may as well come out. We all know writers are not supposed to accept gifts from their subjects. And I've sent back my share of perfume, designer sunglasses and pricey hooch (though I'll admit the silver picture frame from Gianni Versace was a tough one). But I did slip. Just once . . .
Vegas, late '80s. Flush times. The hotel boom is so intense, Wayne Newton tells me the construction crane is the state bird. We're driving around town in his Rolls, enveloped in a dense fog of cologne (his); he shows me his Arabian broodmares, his pet penguins cavorting beneath sprinklers there in the desert. I genuflect at the statue of Elvis each of the four times I pass it outside the Hilton showroom to catch a Wayne show.
I pride myself on thorough investigation, and I wanted to see if grannies still wept during "Daddy, Don't You Walk So Fast." The last night, I stagger from the theater, besotted: Wayne dedicated a song to me. "Lady." He sang it with green lasers bouncing off his giant Elvisoid belt buckle.
Who needed more than that? The story ran in Vanity Fair. It was not a puffer -- but Wayne is a guy with a sense of humor about himself. Then it came, in a Tiffany box. A watch, engraved on the back: Gerri: When you need time from a friend, call me. Love Wayne.
I still have it. I earned it. No, no they can't take that away from me . . .
But I didn't inhale | From Jim Caple
All right, I'll come clean. Yes, I bet against the Reds.
Five-finger discount | From Melanie Jackson
Thirteen years have passed, yet I still introduce the story with the same lame excuse: Everybody else at school was doing it. So I thought I'd go ahead and try my hand at some petty shoplifting.
(Eek. I can't believe I'm writing this to share with everyone. Mom and Dad will not be so proud to show off this Writers' Bloc entry, that's for sure. Maybe I should just write about some of those minor NCAA violations I might have committed in college . . . )
Anyhow, it's senior year of high school. I've been like the Golden Child to this point. But for some reason, a classmate and I headed to Target for some new tapes of our favorite bands.
We were already stupid, but then we got greedy. Not only did we steal a pair of scissors to help cut off those plastic contraptions they put on tapes to prevent idiots like us from shoplifting, we thought we'd go for, oh, five or six tapes. Each.
Oddly enough, it seemed like we were being followed every aisle we walked down. We ended up dropping off a few of the tapes, but still had a couple hidden on us as we made our way toward the exit. I was two steps outside when some dude behind me made it clear he knew what I had tucked in my pocket.
So the game's up, right? Hardly. I ran. And boy, did I run fast. Keep in my mind I was a competitive soccer player who put the "tom" in tomboy; and though I wasn't fast, I was quick for short distances. Coach would have been proud to see me pull away from Dude.
But then, ever the team player, I doubled back to see if my friend was getting away and got ambushed by a second Dude, who put me in a thumblock that still has my joints smarting.
I got off with a warning, and a decent fine. It was horrible. Seeing my Dad's face when he came to get me was worse. Living it down all these years . . . well, it turns out I survived. I was back in California recently, visiting family, and even returned to the scene of the crime. (I had been banned from the place for a year, of course, but I didn't return for, like, a decade out of sheer embarrassment.)
I had a good time poking fun at myself -- "Hey Dad, this parking spot is about where I got wrestled to the ground" . . . "Mom, do you think they still have my picture up in the back room?" -- and my parents even mustered a laugh or two.
But when we went through the checkout line, my three-year-old daughter refused to hand over the new My Little Pony we were about to purchase. She didn't want to give it up even for a second so we could buy it. Dad and I looked at each other, shook our heads, snatched the toy out of her hands and made sure we paid for everything before we walked out.
Slow-hand Patrick | From Patrick Hruby
Okay, time to come clean: I used the 30-lives code to beat "Contra." What can I say? I have slow thumbs.
The tattle-tale | From Chuck Hirshberg
What astonishes me about Wulfie's tale is that he apparently thinks it's unusual for a reporter to sleep through news events and steal from his colleagues. I've slept through press conferences, election nights, arraignments, surgical procedures and, once, a 72-hour hurricane. I was trained to consider napping and stealing a badge of professional pride and now I fear that guys like Wulfie are dragging journalism down.
Fact is, I am not ashamed of anything I've ever done in my life. But I know lots of people who should be, especially my big brother, Matt.
Matt was born three years before me and always seemed to think that his superior intelligence, size and ability ought to accord him the lion's share of respect. It never did, though, because I was superior to him in one respect, and one only: cuteness.
At the age of four, I had two huge pecan-pie eyes, with long lashes; I had floppy Dumbo ears and a gumdrop nose; and I had a knack for doing mischievous stuff that would have gotten a seven-year-old in a heap of trouble, but was tolerated in a preschooler. This drove seven-year-old Matt absolutely bonkers.
For instance: Both of our parents were scientists, so Matt and I were introduced to scientific inquiry at home, at a very early age. I can't remember what little chemistry "experiment" Matt was allowed to perform one afternoon, but it involved mixing various powders and potions and making a huge mess. I was considered too young to understand the lesson, and too clumsy to hold the beaker without dropping it, so I was allowed to watch, but not participate. Naturally, I was jealous as hell.
So that evening, I decided to perform a chemistry experiment of my own. Each night, just before taps, I would amble to the WC to empty my bladder for the coming snooze, and to massage my lips with my Rocky & Bullwinkle toothbrush. On this particular occasion, bitten by the chemistry bug, I removed each and every bottle from the medicine chest and dribbled a few droplets of each onto a towel, just to see what would happen.
Halfway through my experiment, who should burst into the bathroom but Matt, who triumphantly alerted the authorities, confident that I would be scolded and punished for this unauthorized research.
But no! My mother was very, very firm that I was to conduct no further experiments; however, she laughed at the one I'd done, and reminded me that I was cute. Cute as could be. She kissed me on the forehead and tucked me in.
Well, Matt was almost beside himself. But he was far from defeated.
The following night as I sat innocently in front of the television, watching Maxwell Smart or something, Matt came padding into the room.
"Mom-meeee, Dad-deeee!," he shouted. "Chuck is doing more experiments!"
And he held up a towel, smeared with toothpaste from end-to-end and decorated with dribbles of St. Joseph's aspirin.
My parents are scientists, but that doesn't mean they're smart. They both fell for this frame-up like two tons of bricks. I was shipped off to bed and cried myself to sleep. In the cutest way.
Matt has never apologized to me for this outrage. Don't you think it's time he did?
Heathers | From Eric Neel
I should say first that there was a dark day in 1978 when I saw "Grease" three times in a row. See, there was this girl . . .
I should also admit that in the seventh grade, I gave another girl a pink wool Izod sweater as a horribly inappropriate and poorly received Valentine's Day gift. What could I have been thinking?
There, that feels better.
Now to the biggie, which, unlike most of my shameful moments, actually does not involve a girl.
I was four or five. We were new to a cul de sac ranch house in Kirkland, Washington. On one sunny Sunday afternoon, my dad and I were busy landscaping the front yard. Old tree roots coming out here, new plants going in there. The two of us, father and son, digging holes, getting down in the muck, spreading color and life all around. It was glorious.
Late in the day, he planted some small heathers in a corner bed tucked up against the shady side of the house, and then decided to call it quits and head in for a beer. I stayed out, turning soil and watching bugs.
After a while, I made my way over to one of the heathers. And for reasons I can't explain, I picked its flowers. All of them. One by one. And then its leaves, from top to bottom. I started slowly at first, carefully considering the small pink-purple petals; but I picked up speed and quickly, quietly stripped the poor bugger bare.
I have no excuse and no explanation. I don't remember if I felt a rush of power or the pull of experimentation or if I felt anything at all.
But when it was done, and halfway to dead, I remember I felt terrible. Guilty, ashamed, afraid of what my dad would say. I ran in the house and said nothing, hoping no one would notice.
I don't know if Dad saw it later. He never said anything. But to this day, when I see heather, I get all tell-tale-heart about it, sure that the brothers and sisters of the little plant I offed are screaming out his pain and shouting out the ugly details of my crime.
So before they write it up -- or worse, tell my pops -- I want to come clean.
Dad, it was me. I'm sorry. It was a nice plant. It deserved better. I'll plant another one, another 10, right now, today.
Going dutch | From Patrick Hruby
This is great. Like putting my soul through a carwash. So here's a second confession: I saw the movie "Dutch," Ed O'Neil's first and last star vehicle, in a theater. I even paid full price.
There. I already feel cleansed.
The game face | From Alan Grant
Not exactly traumatic, but a significant moment in the
life of one who would eventually compete for a
living . . .
I had never lost a race before. Never. So the thought
hadn't ever occurred to me before. Not until that day
in fourth grade at Pasadena Christian School. The
entire class was engaged in foot races, which
consisted of dashes across the width of the field,
about 40 yards, to a chain link fence, then back.
Again, I had never lost one of these and, as my turn
approached, I didn't really give it much thought. That
was until the teacher, Mrs. George, matched me against
one Nichelle Holiday. That's right, Nichelle, spelled
with an "N."
Nichelle's claim to fame was being the tallest person in the
class. Only eight years old, she already stood well over
five feet. As I recall, the minute Mrs. George made
this particular pairing, the class quickly divided and
turned the day's event into a pre-pubescent Battle of
the Sexes. Nichelle, you see, was also undefeated in
The girls stood on one side. "Get him, Nichelle."
The boys stood near me. Gleeful shouts of "Aw, this is
gonna be good," and "Alan is gonna cream her!" danced
But as I took my mark on the edge of the field, I
looked at my opponent. She wore a yellow dress
with little green flowers on it. I looked at her legs.
They were awfully long, a helluva lot longer than
Then I noticed her expression. She looked
confident. In fact, I believe this was the first time
I had ever seen an actual "game face." I felt my
stomach tighten and I began to sweat inside my
I remember wanting to tell my fellow male classmates
to ease up on the trash talk, because I wasn't so sure
about this one.
Mrs. George yelled, "GO!"
As I recall, we were even for the first 30 yards.
Then, as we got closer to the fence, she began to pull
away. This was foreign territory, this viewing my
opponent from behind.
My normal M.O. was to barely touch the fence, not
wanting to waste time or movement before I made my
move back. But it didn't matter. When Nichelle reached
that fence, she didn't just touch it with her fingers.
She ran into it, pressing both palms against it, in
the process bending the fence, then ricocheting her
body off of it. (I remember this so vividly because
that particular image -- the yellow dress bending
steel -- was seared into my cornea for quite a while.)
By the time I hit the fence, she had opened up a
10-yard lead and was not really
running as much as galloping toward the finish line.
When she crossed it, the girls lept in unison and the
boys stood in stunned silence as their conquering hero
became nothing more than the second-fastest person in
I spoke to no one.
Years later, when we were attending different high
schools, one of the girls who'd been there that fateful
afternoon told me that Nichelle said hello and that
she wanted to race me.
I swear, my stomach tightened.
Altered States | From Jay Lovinger
My excuse for ingesting an illegal substance (hint: Quite often, after taking it, you wind up talking to God) on a day that I was the only person working in the sports section of my small upstate New York newspaper? It was a beautiful summer day, and it was the '60s.
Plus, to be fair to myself, I took it early in the morning, I didn't have to report to work until 3 p.m., and previous experience told me that was plenty of time to get back into my "right" mind.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, previous experience was no predictor. So when I arrived at work at 3, I could barely speak coherently, let alone lay out and write headlines for a four-page sports section. Luckily, since it was a summer Wednesday, there were no local high school or college games going on, and baseball was the only major team sport in season.
For about four hours, I sat at my typewriter, randomly tapping on different keys, humming loudly to myself. At 7, one of the guys from the composing room came by to remind me that I had to have the first "out-of-town" page to them by 8. I stopped humming and nodded reassuringly.
The same thing happened at 8 and at 9, by which time I had reacquired enough sense of urgency to realize that I needed to do something . . . and soon. So I filled one page with harness racing entries for the next day, and filled two others with a single, randomly-chosen photo from the wire -- providing minimalist captions for both. (Memory fails me on this, but they were something like "Billy Martin in the dugout" and "Mickey Mantle swinging.")
Then I went back to humming loudly and randomly tapping my typewriter keyboard.
The next crisis arrived at about 11:30, when I was informed that I had an hour to put together the back page. My "plan" -- if it could be dignified as such -- was to use the entire back page to run the wire story on the Yankee game. No pictures -- just a headline, a boxscore and the wire story.
It was a good plan. But, unfortunately for me, several big stories broke all at once on deadline -- a no-hitter from somewhere, a record-breaking home run of some sort, a sports celebrity death, etc.
By this time, I was coherent enough to realize that I had a serious problem, and not much time to solve it. It was too late to go back and re-layout some of the other pages -- something I was in no condition to do anyway -- so I decided to squeeze all five stories on the back page.
The layout I chose -- though never before or since tried in any real newspaper -- was simplicity itself: I would run all five stories under five-column headlines, one inch deep per column, no matter how relatively important. (Cutting was easy: They were all AP stories, so I just cut from the back until they were down to the right size.) The headlines would run in descending typeface size. But when I tried to do a headline in 72-point to lead off the page, it seemed silly even to me to have the Yankees winning a meaningless game in a headline that would have been suitable for announcing World War III -- plus, it didn't leave enough room for the other stories, no matter how much I cut them.
So I opted for 60-point, 48-point, 42-point, 36-point and 24-point headlines.
In other words, the back page looked like some kind of demented eye chart.
Amazingly, nobody seemed to notice -- no editor, no reader, nobody from the composing room. Or, if they did, they were too kind -- or weirded out -- to say anything. Or maybe they just didn't care, because they had better things to do on a beautiful summer day during the '60s.