A federal inquiry into the worst problem in sports
Steroids. Dogfighting. Spygate. All well and good.
But what if the federal government decided to investigate something sports fans actually cared about?
You've told us time and time again in polls on ESPN.com -- including last week's Page 2 poll, at right -- that the worst thing an athlete can do is not hustle.
So, let's put your tax dollars to work ...
SCENE: A Congressional hearing room. LEON LETT, LINDSAY JACOBELLIS, RANDY MOSS, CEDRIC CEBALLOS, BENOIT BENJAMIN, VINCE CARTER, PETE ROSE, JIM EDMONDS, LENNY DYKSTRA, TOM GLAVINE, JEREMY GIAMBI, ROGER CLEMENS, sports book operator JAY ROOD and lawyer LANNY BREUER sit as witnesses before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA): Good morning. And welcome. I want to thank all of our witnesses for being here today. Like most of the people in this room -- and across this great nation -- I watched the thrilling Super Bowl contest between the New England Patriots and New York Giants. As the game drew to a close, I saw Patriots coach Bill Belichick nearly break into a dead sprint while getting off the field, even though one second remained on the clock.
WAXMAN: Sadly, that kind of hustle is all too rare in contemporary sports.
REP. TOM DAVIS (R-VA): As someone who grew up watching Dave Cowens and Frank Robinson, I have become increasingly concerned with the dramatic decrease in hustle at all levels of sports, particularly among our youth.
REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D-DC): This is a problem that touches every one of us. Right here in the nation's capital, Ryan Church was benched for not runnning out a fly ball. How many children saw that? How many children will follow suit? How many children will end up on the street, smoking ground-up Sudafed, selling their bodies, consorting with illegal immigrants, and God knows what else?
DAVIS: Lack of hustle is a stain on all levels of athletics. It saps the purity of athletic competition, and cheapens the lessons youngsters traditionally learn from playing sports. DAVIS pauses, squints in the direction of CARTER.
DAVIS: In some cases, lack of hustle even damages our national reputation, at least in the eyes of our northern neighbors.
NORTON: The hustle epidemic threatens to destroy our social fabric, our national character, and embolden our enemies abroad. That is why we are here today. We must act, before it is too late.
DAVIS: Quick note ... staff autograph and picture sessions will take place after the hearing.
WAXMAN: Let us also remember the children. Before we question the witnesses, I understand that two of them would like to read a joint statement on this troubling issue. Mr. Lett, Ms. Jacobellis, please go ahead.
LETT: We would like to thank the committee for allowing us to share our message. And our message is this: failure to hustle is fool's gold --
JACOBELLIS: Fool's silver --
LETT: And tragic for fans and athletes alike.
America, play through the whistle! Secure that fumble recovery, ignore the JumboTron and don't let up until you've crossed the goal line! Always dive for the loose ball --
JACOBELLIS: Unless it's a game-ending blocked kick on snowy turf --
LETT: And above all, never, ever assume you have an insurmountable lead. Someone --
LETT looks over his shoulder. DON BEEBE sits two rows behind him, tapping his foot.
LETT: Could be hustling up behind you.
WAXMAN: Sound advice for us all. Especially our youngsters. And also members of the committee attempting to slip last-minute riders into appropriations bills.
(Nervous laughter from the COMMITTEE).
WAXMAN: And now we'll proceed with our questions. Rep. Davis, you have the floor.
DAVIS: Thank you. In light of the Super Bowl -- an event watched by millions of children, who are both the future and our most precious resource -- I would like to start with Mr. Moss.
MOSS: I'm here.
DAVIS: Mr. Moss, when was the last time you blocked a defensive back on a running play?
MOSS: All the time, homey.
DAVIS: Let me rephrase the question. When was the last time you blocked a defender, as opposed to halfheartedly shoving them, then jogging toward the hash mark?
DAVIS: I'd like to remind you that you are under oath.
MOSS: (Cough). My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, or myself. (Cough).
DAVIS: Are you pleading the Fifth?
MOSS: I'm not here to talk about the past or discuss the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject.
DAVIS: Mr. Dykstra, in your previously submitted deposition, you stated that it is your belief that some athletes may even resort to performance-enhancing drugs in order to increase their abiliites on the field. Can you please add to this assertion?
DYKSTRA: If I took them, it was only because I love hustling so much.
REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN): Mr. Ceballos, the information in front of me indicates that during a two-year period with the Los Angeles Lakers, you not only failed to hustle on defense, but never actually crossed the half-court line in an effort to play defense.
BURTON looks through notes, pushes glasses up nose.
BURTON: I believe the term for this is ... (pause) ... cherry-picking? Is that correct? Mr. Ceballos, can you confirm this information?
CEBALLOS leans back. A LAWYER whispers in his ear. He leans forward.
CEBALLOS: I believe I was water-skiing during the period you mentioned.
BURTON: Mr. Ceballos, if that's the case, then how did you possibly average over 20 points per game in the 1994-95 season? Surely no professional basketball team -- even the post-Magic Johnson Los Angeles Lakers -- could be that devoid of actual talent.
CEBALLOS slouches into seat, hunches shoulders.
CEBALLOS: No hablo Ingles.
DAVIS: Mr. Ceballos, our records show that you played in Israel and Russia, but never in Spain, Brazil or the Mexican Leagues. Please answer the question.
REP. CAROLYN B. MALONEY (D-NY): I would like to address the next question to Mr. Ramirez, who is on the witness list...
(MALONEY scans the room).
MALONEY: ...but does not appear to be with us today.
A CONGRESSIONAL AIDE approaches MALONEY, pointing toward a utility closet.
MALONEY: Apparently, Mr. Ramirez ducked out for a bathroom break.
WAXMAN: Hey, there's a toilet in there?
DAVIS: Not that I know of.
MALONEY: While we wait, let the record show that I strongly disagree with Mr. Ramirez's public testimony that an ALCS loss does not qualify as the end of the world, because, and I quote, "who cares?" On behalf of this committee and the American people, let me assure all of you: we care. We care about our children, because without them, who will care about our children's children?
REP. DENNIS J. KUCINICH (D-OH): Well said. I'd like to add my concern for our children's children's children, as well. I also believe it is important we get a sense of the scope the problem, of how widespread it really is. Mr. Rose, I'm honored you could join us. Just what are we dealing with, here?
ROSE: This is a full-blown epidemic. It disgusts me.
Today's ballplayers are loafers, slackers, namby-pamby lollygaggers. When was the last time you saw someone slide headfirst in order to squeeze out a hit? How 'bout in your congressional softball league?
WAXMAN: I'd consider it if there was some PAC money waiting for me.
KUCINICH: Mr. Rose, you were known for the headfirst slide. Are you saying modern athletes just don't hustle the way players of your generation did?
ROSE: I'm saying they don't hustle the way I did. Put your head down, forget about getting hurt. That's hustle. Desire. Want-to. What's happening to this country?
ROSE wipes a tear from his eye.
ROSE: Besides, I kept all my betting slips in my back pocket. Damn if those things didn't get torn up otherwise --
KUCINICH: Um, betting slips?
ROSE: And here's another thing. I'm out there working the autograph circuit. Like an animal. I hardly see the same level of hustle from my peers. Where's the pride? I can sign 1,000 balls in 45 minutes flat. I BET ON BASEBALL. SORRY. PETE ROSE HIT KING. Whoomp! There it is. Hell, I'll knock some out right now, I have a couple buckets in my trunk. You guys want the discount rate?
REP. ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS (D-MD): That won't be necessary, thank you. If we're going to keep our playgrounds -- and yes, our nurseries -- safe from the menace of lackadaisical effort, we need to take a systemic look at the problem. It goes beyond individuals. It goes to the nature of the system itself.
CUMMINGS pauses, reads over notes.
CUMMINGS: Mr. Benjamin -- do you pronounce your name BEN-WAH?
BENJAMIN: BEN-OIT. Like DE-TROIT.
CUMMINGS: Very well. Mr. Benjamin, you were selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft, correct?
BENJAMIN: Correct. With a capital "K."
CUMMINGS: And in 15 seasons you played for nine different teams, averaging just 11.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest?
BENJAMIN: I don't have the numbers in front of me, but that sounds accurate. With a "k."
CUMMINGS: And you are 7 feet tall?
CUMMINGS: Mr. Benjamin, is it fair to say that a 7-foot-tall corpse with suspension wire attached to its arms could average at least 15 points and 10 rebounds over the course of a professional basketball season?
BENJAMIN: I'm not in a position to judge that.
CUMMINGS: Did you hustle on more than a handful of occasions over the course of your career? Did you suffer at least one floor burn in the NBA? With the Globetrotters? In Greece, maybe?
BENJAMIN: I don't know how to answer that. I remember bruising my shin while playing in South America. It may have happened at the beach.
CUMMINGS flips through a stack of documents.
CUMMINGS: Mr. Benjamin, I'm looking at the standard NBA player contract. It says that salaries are guaranteed, meaning that you stood to collect millions of dollars no matter how little effort you put forward.
BENJAMIN: That's how things work, yes.
CUMMINGS: Would you say the salary structure as it exists in professional sports gave you an incentive to hustle?
BENJAMIN: I don't know. Coaches will yell at you, but after a few years you learn to tune them out. It's easier these days. We didn't have iPods back then.
CUMMINGS: Mr. Benjamin, what sort of message do you think that sends to the youth of this nation?
BENJAMIN bops his head, silent. White headphone buds are visible in his ears.
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Mr. Carter, can you hear me?
CARTER: (Placing large headphones on table) Loud and clear.
VAN HOLLEN: Mr. Carter, you admitted in a nationally televised interview that you didn't push
yourself as hard as you should have while playing for Toronto.
CARTER: It's true. I didn't. I was fortunate to have talent. Spoiled, even. I didn't have to work at it as hard as others --
VAN HOLLEN: Mr. Carter, you only cheated yourself. Can you please show me your hands?
VAN HOLLEN: Show us your hands.
CARTER lifts his hands.
VAN HOLLEN: They don't look purple to me.
VAN HOLLEN: Mr. Carter, former Duke point guard Steve Wojciechowski hails from nearby Severna Park and played many of his college games against Maryland. He is without question the scrappiest athlete I have ever had the privilege to watch in person. Nobody slapped the floor more often while dropping into a defensive stance.
CARTER: Slapped ... the floor?
VAN HOLLEN: Mr. Carter, where has your lack of hustle gotten you?
CARTER: Well, I was a first-round draft pick, and I do make more money than I could ever spend in 10 lifetimes --
VAN HOLLEN: Mr. Carter, Wojciechowski was named the national defensive player of the year. Can you say the same?
VAN HOLLEN: My point exactly.
REP. JOHN P. SARBANES (D-MD): Moving on. Mr. Breuer, I understand that you are here on behalf of Allen Iverson.
BREUER: That's right.
SARBANES: For the record, the committee considers Mr.
Iverson one of the fiercest competitors in the history of professional basketball, an undersized wisp of a scoring guard who plays with little regard for his physical safety. He embodies hustle.
BREUER: Thank you. I'm sure Allen will appreciate the kind words --
SARBANES: And for that reason, Mr. Iverson's cavalier attitude toward practice is particularly perplexing. Is it true that Mr. Iverson does not give his all during practice? That sometimes, he doesn't even show up?
BREUER: We're talking about practice. Not a game. Practice.
SARBANES: Mr. Breuer, why isn't Mr. Iverson with us today? I'm looking at the NBA schedule, and the Denver Nuggets are set to play the Washington Wizards ... tonight. Just a few blocks from here.
BREUER: Allen's at morning shoot-around.
REP. WM. LACY CLAY (D-MO): Very well. Let's turn our attention back to baseball. Mr. Edmonds, welcome. From your diving catches to your diving catches, you set an unimpeachable example for our youth.
EDMONDS: Thank (gasping) you (gasping).
CLAY: Mr. Edmonds, you sound winded. Are you OK?
EDMONDS: I'll be (inhaling) ... just fine (exhaling). Give me a second to catch my breath.
EDMONDS is sweating profusely. He wipes his forehead against his jacket sleeve.
CLAY: Mr. Edmonds, do you need a glass of water? A paramedic?
EDMONDS: I swear, I'm fine. Just a little gassed. I ran over here from Bethesda. Had to hustle to make it on time.
CLAY: Mr. Edmonds, were you aware that the committee sent a car to pick you up?
REP. EDOLPHUS TOWNS (D-N.Y.): Mr. Glavine, as a representative of New York -- and a guardian to all the precious children living there -- I'm trying to understand the remarks you made following the Mets' historic late-season collapse.
TOWNS: You said, and I quote, "I'm not devastated.
I'm disappointed. Devastation is for much greater things in life." Mr. Glavine, would you mind telling the committee what, exactly, is greater in life than winning baseball games?
GLAVINE: With all due respect, I believe there is a war going on in Iraq --
TOWNS: Mr. Glavine, can we infer from your remarks that you did not give maximum effort at all times? That as a result of misplaced priorities, you failed to hustle?
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R-CT): We've talked a lot today about the lack of hustle, about what that entails, and even some of the causes. What we haven't yet discussed are the tragic effects, the ones that put all of our infants, toddlers and school-age little bundles of hope and joy at risk. To put a human face on this issue, I've asked Las Vegas sports book director Jay Rood to join us.
ROOD: Good afternoon.
SHAYS: Mr. Rood, your statement?
ROOD's hand trembles as reads from a prepared statement. His eyes are moist.
ROOD: Members of the committee, I speak to you today as someone who has seen the devastating impact of failure to hustle firsthand. During a national semifinal game between the University of Connecticut and Duke University at the 2004 Final Four, Blue Devils guard Chris Duhon made a 38-foot, running 3-pointer as time expired --
SHAYS: Go Huskies!
ROOD: Banking the ball into the basket. It was an uncontested, one-in-a-thousand shot, and while Connecticut still won the game 79-78, Duhon's make allowed Duke to cover the point spread.
ROOD pauses, weeping softly.
ROOD: I'm here to tell you ... (sniff) thousands of gamblers who bet on UConn lost ... (sniff) ... everything. College funds. Money for textbooks. Money for baby formula. All of it wiped out. Just like that.
ROOD shakes his head.
ROOD: We made a killing on the vig, but still --
SHAYS: Take a moment, Mr. Rood. There. Now, tell us, in your professional opinion, could this tragedy have been prevented?
ROOD: Yes. Someone on UConn could have kept their head in the game and guarded Duhon on the final shot. Someone could have hustled.
(Silence in the room).
REP. DIANE E. WATSON (D-CA): Mr. Giambi, I have a single question. In Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS, why didn't you just slide?
GIAMBI: Er, well ...
WATSON: Would you be willing to take an IQ test?
WAXMAN: My apologies, Mr. Giambi, but we're running short on time. You'll have to come back next week. We'll fit you in before Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson, and after the 2006-07 New York Knicks.
DAVIS: Why can't we have Mr. Giambi testify tomorrow?
WAXMAN: Tomorrow is Carl Pavano.
WAXMAN: That's an all-day hearing.
WAXMAN studies his notes.
WAXMAN: I'd like to hear from one last witness before we adjourn. Mr. Clemens, it's my understanding that on October 22, 2000, you pitched for the Yankees in a World Series game against the New York Mets. Is this correct?
CLEMENS: Yes, to the best of my recollection.
WAXMAN: And during this game, you threw the jagged barrel of a broken bat at Mike Piazza as he was running to first base?
CLEMENS: I did. It's not something I'm proud of.
WAXMAN: Mr. Clemens, some observers suggest that your bat-tossing behavior was consistent with 'roid rage, the enhanced feelings of aggression and anger associated with steroid abuse --
CLEMENS: (Slamming water bottle on table). Look, I might have been a little geeked up, but I have never taken steroids or performance-enhancing --
WAXMAN: Mr. Clemens, please allow me to finish speaking. And please understand, steroids are not our concern here. Let me ask: When you saw the barrel of Mr. Piazza's bat tumbling toward you, did you wait for it to reach the mound? Or did you go after it?
CLEMENS: Go after it?
WAXMAN: Did you charge the bat handle?
CLEMENS: I fielded the bat handle. The same way I would field an infield dribbler.
WAXMAN: No hesitation?
CLEMENS: None. None whatsoever.
WAXMAN: And did you bend your knees? Move your feet? Eyeball the shard all the way into your hands?
CLEMENS: Yes. I did. All three. That's the only way I know how to play.
WAXMAN: Mr. Clemens, how would you describe your throw?
CLEMENS: Sir, I threw that handle as hard as I could. Hell, I wish I could've gotten more on it.
WAXMAN: As hard as you could. Sounds like hustle to me.
WAXMAN: Mr. Clemens, I would like to thank you personally, and on behalf of this committee, for setting such a fine example for both your athletic peers and the millions of impressionable children watching at home, without whom none of us would have a reason to be here, or to continue living in the first place.
CLEMENS: Well, I appreciate that. Very much.
WAXMAN: Mr. Clemens, you are truly a role model for us all. We are adjorned.
Read the original article at ESPN.com