Say What? When Athletes Are Misquoted

AFP, AFP, Getty Images
AFP, AFP, Getty Images

Last summer, United States Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin and Golf Channel contributor Jim Gray engaged in a heated exchange after Pavin accused Gray of misquoting him.

Gray quoted Pavin saying he would make Tiger Woods his "captain's pick" for the U.S. team despite Woods' struggles during a chaotic 2010 season. He quoted Pavin saying, "Of course I'm going to pick him. He's the best player in the world."

Pavin denied the report and tweeted that Gray got it all wrong.

"His interpretation of what I said is incorrect," Pavin said. "There's nobody that's promised any picks right now. It would be disrespectful to everybody that's trying to make the team."

In sports journalism circles, these are what is known as fighting words.

I have suggested Pavin vs. Gray in UFC 119, the number signifying their combined weights. So far, no mixed martial arts promoters have shown interest.

According to reports from the PGA Championship, Gray was later seen pointing a finger in Pavin's face, saying "You're a liar. You're going down."

Athletes alleging they've been misquoted is a sports tradition richer than the Masters, older than the World Series. It's a game played more often than the U.S. Open (tennis and golf), the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup and the Olympics combined.

The most recent example happened when Detroit Pistons' forward Charlie Villanueva tweeted that Boston's Kevin Garnett called him a "cancer patient." Garnett, who has honed a league-wide reputation as a trash talking bully, denied Villanueva's claim. instead, Garnett said, he told Villanueva, "You are cancerous to your team and our league."

If you believe that, you also believe Garnett concluded by saying, "And, young man, you are a disappointment to your parents, your school and your church."

Tomorrow is a new day

Most often, it's reporters who are accused of misquoting athletes. In sports journalism circles, stories of reporters screwing up the facts grow in legend by the year, connecting as they do to the institutional fear we all share about looking like an idiot in print.

One such story from years long gone concerned a Denver sports writer who covered an Army-Navy game played in mud that smeared the jerseys of every player. It was only while sipping a cold one in a bar late that night, the day's work long behind him, that realization of a colossal blunder hit home.

According to the lore, the writer called his newspaper to say, "In my (story), change all the 'Army's to "Navy," and all the 'Navy's" to 'Army."

Players have long believed that the sports media practices more insidious intent, that we happily misrepresent the facts to sensationalize the events of the day in order to sell newspapers or magazines. Those resentments have been around for decades. And they have led to some of the dullest answers in the history of the English language as players try not to say anything the least bit newsworthy.

"I'm just out there trying to do my best."

"I'm just going to keep working hard."

"Tomorrow is a new day."

Or:

"We just need to take it to the next level."

"Our backs are against the wall."

"There is no tomorrow."

In a sense, social media has allowed athletes to do away with the middleman. They bypass the media filter. They post things to their own websites or pages.

They may think they're getting over on sports writers. I'm not so sure.

Cutting out the scapegoat

I think in many cases the athletes who would've blamed the media for their troubles in past years have simply lost a good excuse. Now, they're doing and saying dumb things all by themselves and they no longer can use the media as a scapegoat.

That's why we have YouTube videos of Stephon Marbury eating Vaseline and crying. Those are separate videos, though it's understandable if the former brought on the latter.

That's why we've had Cincinnati Bengals' receiver Chad Ochocinco tweeting about condoms and how that silly grand jury did former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress wrong in sentencing him for reckless operation of a firearm.

It's why leagues are enforcing Twitter limits.

Former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin was reprimanded by the NCAA for mentioning a recruit by name on his Twitter account.

Brian Ching of Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamo was fined for tweeting after a game. His message: "ref is a cheat." That cost him $50 per character.

When the Chargers fined cornerback Antonio Cromartie $2,500 for using Twitter to suggest the team hadn't made the Super Bowl in part because of the poor quality of training camp food, he didn't exactly learn to keep a lower profile.

Traded to the Jets, Cromartie showed up this summer on an episode of HBO's Hard Knocks. Asked on camera for the names and ages of his eight children (believed to be living in five states), Cromartie struggled to remember. Ridicule descended on him.

Of course, he couldn't say HBO misquoted him.

A few days later, he did say an HBO producer ordered a second take of the segment and asked him to pause more between each name. Network spokesmen deny the claim.

No one in sports (other than the media) has been accused of playing as fast and loose with the facts as boxing promoter Bob Arum, but I've always had a soft spot for the guy.

When he was making a name as a promoter in the 1970s, Arum was talking up one of his fighters in advance of a bout. A sports writer from Newsday called him on it, saying, "Bob, yesterday you said he was a bum."

Answered Arum, "Yesterday I was lying. Today I'm telling the truth."

It was pure promoter speak. Boxing journalist/historian Tom Hauser says, "That quote has haunted him ever since."

Could've been worse.

At least Arum didn't say, "I was misquoted."

Here are some of the various ways athletes have been misquoted...

He really was misquoted, they ran a retraction, but still...

After the signing of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade was quoted saying:

"We're going to be wearing a bullseye. But that's what you play for. If we lose a couple in a row this season, it will be like the World Trade (Center) is coming down again."

NBA FanHouse issued a retraction citing a transcription error. The correct quote:

"We're going to be wearing a bullseye. But that's what you play for. We enjoy the bullseye. Plus, there's going to be times when we lose 2-3 games in a row, and it seems like the world has crashed down. You all are going to make it seem like the World Trade is coming down again, but it's not going to be nothing but a couple basketball games."

Invoking 9/11 is never good. But that "transcription error" hardly seems like a typo.

He was misquoted and when he finds the guy who signed off on the manuscript, watch out.

Charles Barkley briefly considered fighting the release of the book Outrageous, saying he was misquoted.

By himself.

Well, actually by the co-author of his autobiography.

In the book, all Barkley did was trash 76ers owner Harold Katz and claim that his own grandmother could score more points in a game than Manute Bol.

According to the AP account, Jeff Newman, Simon & Shuster's sports-books director, said he was sure co-author Roy S. Johnson had tape-recorded Barkley's remarks for the book.

Barkley's grandmother never refuted the claim.

Since we're still friends I won't claim you misquoted me but, dude, you're killing me.

Roger Clemens, the seven-time Cy Young winner, arraigned earlier this year on perjury charges, said he never used HGH or steroids despite the testimony of former Yankees' teammate Andy Pettitte saying Clemens told him he used HGH.

Clemens said he told Pettitte of a TV show he saw about three older men regaining their quality of life through HGH use. Clemens said Pettitte may have "misheard" him.

Next, Clemens will have to talk to Pettitte about the Miracle Ear infomercial he watched just the other night.

He meant to say that Chiefs veterans often flew in nuns on the road for spiritual enrichment.

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was quoted in ESPN the Magazine describing how Chiefs veterans paid for women to fly into town to spend time with players during a 2007 trip to San Diego.

Bowe said he was misquoted. ESPN The Magazine said it had a tape of the interview.

When Bowe met reporters to say he was misquoted, someone asked, "What about the actual interview? Did you actually talk to the guy?"

Bowe's answer: "I really can't remember, man. That's why I'm still stuck in a daze."

I'll say.

You just can't trust these co-authors.

In his book, Terrell Owens described his comeback from a 2004 leg fracture as, "If you'll forgive me for saying so...nothing short of heroic."

During a book tour stop in Dallas, Owens said co-author Jason Rosenhaus was responsible for that choice of words.

Totally believable.

Owens would've no doubt preferred "nothing short of incredibly heroic."

The New Age misquote: the mis-tweet.

Boston Celtics' great Paul Pierce's Twitter account insinuated a sweep of the Orlando Magic after a Game 2 win -- "Anybody got a BROOM?"

Pierce's representatives quickly denied the post was his. Athlete Interactive, which handles digital media for players, supported the claim that Pierce's account was hacked in four separate tweets.

In the meantime, Pierce said in a TV interview, "We're coming home to close it out."

Just checking? Can we quote you on that?

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.