Thursday, June 5, 2008
And Toward Me He Charged: Charles Haley's Bananas
Being a sports reporter is, at times, an absolutely horrible job. Sure you get to watch games, travel and interact with athletes, but there is a horrendous downside. (Which is pretty much everything else.) And this is never more disturbingly clear than when a reporter has their first (or 50th) awful experience with a half-naked, exhausted athlete. Sometimes they'll be openly dismissive, sometimes they'll yell, and sometimes, well, they'll fart in your face. Most of these stories never end up in the newspaper the next day. So now, Deadspin proudly presents "The Dark Side of the Locker Room" where current and former sports writers can share some of their most distressing interactions.
Today's submission comes courtesy of Mike Fisher, who writes about the Mavericks, the Cowboys, the Dallas sports scene and whatever he damn-well pleases at DallasBasketball.com.
Charles Haley spent a decade trying to kill me, in spirit and ultimately in body, which is more than I can say for all these other "Dark Side'' sportswriting pussies' encounters. I first encountered Haley in 1988, when I was new on the San Francisco 49ers beat. First day: I saw him grab his manhood with his fist, shake his Dark Sith in the direction of a hapless young female reporter (her crime? Femaleness, and maybe haplessness) and scream/bellow, like Brando up the stairs, that the "fuckin' bitch was staring at my cock! Get that bitch outta here! She's a fuckin' perv! She wants my fuckin' cock!''
Ensuing Chapters of Charles: I saw the first-hand evidence of the All-Pro pass-rusher using his Lil' Haley to water the hand-crafted wood floors in the office belonging to team president Carmen Policy. (A versatile body part, that thingee.) I learned that Charles attempted to strangle coach George Seifert during a film session. I learned that one of the great Ronnie Lott's official jobs was to keep Charles tamed. And I learned something that still disturbs me: On my final 49ers experience with Haley at the Pro Bowl in Honolulu, when I was on a team bus one seat ahead of his, eavesdropping as he plotted to arrange from the 49ers' front seven to be a "Soul Patrol.'' Meaning, he wanted to orchestrate the departure of his white teammates. (Joking, you say? OK. But will you at least trade me bus seats next time?)
In 1990, I moved to Dallas to cover the Cowboys. Haley would be nothing but a nightmarish memory, somebody else's problem, a guy I was pretty sure skipped taking his medicine. (For two full years!) I would be free to empathize ... from a distance.
And then, in '92, Charles Haley came to Dallas.I was the first and only reporter to greet him at his locker.
We were one-on-one. The tension built. No media members wanted any part of it. Charles got revved up, opening by braying something about what an asshole I was in San Francisco (he was/is right. ... but how'd he know?), and he was hooting something about how Aikman couldn't carry Montana's jockstrap and I was writing it all down.
And Haley barks, "Hey, motherfucker, I didn't say you could write this down, motherfucker! DO YOU HEAR ME, MOTHERFUCKER?''
The verbal barrage continued. I kept writing. A notepad full of "motherfuckers.''
I did not opt to reason with a man who would, a few weeks later, find a huge bushel of bananas in his locker, a jokey gift from defensive-line mates who admired his ... um ... Neanderthalic approach to life. I absorbed the MFs, and somehow located, deep in my fashionable cargo pants, the resolve to say:
"Charles, you keep talking. Please. Say anything you want to me. Call me anything you want. And you know what? I'm going to write down every word. And if my editors allow it, this interview, word-for-word, is going to be in the gah-damn newspaper tomorrow morning. Go.''
He kept motherfuckering me. I kept writing. Now, I was nervous ... but it wasn't that hard to take notes: How hard is it to simply scribble "MF'' over and over?
It is a credit to my employer at the time, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, that the piece really did run. As a straight news story, with no embellishment and no judgment. Just my questions and his answers, jagged but pure, all serving as Charles Haley's introduction to his new community. Welcome to Dallas, motherfucker.
Why did I go through with it? Three reasons:
1) The result was a revealing story that offered great insight into the star the Cowboys had just acquired.
2) Hey, I promised him!
3) Critics of the media often come at us because we "buy ink by the barrel,'' and all that shit. But actually, in any battle between "the jocks vs. the media,'' the geeks with pencils don't usually win. So when truth is on our side — plus, you mentioned my mom, you prick! — we can't be blamed for swinging that truth like it's a medieval flail.
Chucky & Me spent the rest of his playing career in an unholy truce. Meaning, I think I went seven years without every even venturing near another Cowboy D-linemen. But then, around 2000 or so, I inadvertently encountered Charles Haley ... and it was a near-death experience.
I was at a local saloon called Humperdink's on a "date'' (probable sportswriter translation: She Was A Prostitute) when Charles and I exchanged icy glances from across the room.
And toward me he charged.
What was in my mind? "Soul Patrol'' ... "bananas.'' ... "no meds.'' ... "bananas.'' ... "motherfucker.'' ... "bananas.'' ... I knew that people had died in a puddle of their own urine, but reflecting on Carmen Policy's floor, I pondered whether I would be a victim of a first: "Death-by-drowning-in-somebody-else's urine.'' ...
And toward me he charged. ...
What was in his mind (besides dementia)? In a literal flash — bright lights and beer pitchers and prostitute screams and a mushroom cloud of four huge bodies swooping over my booth — I and the entire saloon found out what a Grinch is capable of when he has a heart two sizes too small and the benefit of NFL weight-training.
The menacing Haley, fueled by liquor and anger at being pestered for 10 years by some pencil-wielding motherfucker, had lunged toward me, up and into my booth, only to be intercepted by his evening escorts, Leon Lett, Erik Williams and Michael Irvin.
Lett (6-7, 280) and Williams (6-5, 330) are two of the largest athletes in Dallas Cowboys history. Irvin is the franchise's all-time sweetest talker. Good for me. Leon and Erik wrestled Charles away, while Michael, I assume, sang him a lullaby while plucking a thorn from his paw.
This is the art form at which I've bumbled around for 28 years and which has afforded me the ability to put no children through college. Newspapers, books, radio, TV and now the internet. I'm a hack-of-all-trades. Writing can be blogging and blogging can be writing and the only big difference is locker-room access. Which has its less-than-omnipotent value.
Is it an "absolutely horrible job''? Nah. Is it one big Axe commercial that makes horned-up vixens take off their wet blouses when in the alluring midst of me 'cause they mistake me for a drunken NFL quarterback? Nah.
But when I'm old(er) and gray(er), one of the skillion tales I'll be able to tell the kids that I'm "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.'' Or at least I'll inform them that I persuaded the apologetic saloon manager to put my charges on Haley's tab.