Pass the mic

Our favorite athletes get on their soap boxes and tell us what bugs them most. Illustration by Zohar Lazar

This story appears in the Aug. 8, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

"Find out who
your real friends are. Sometimes
it seems like the person you're hanging with is the right person to be around, and then all of a sudden he might change or betray you. It can be tough, but find the right people."

"I wish more people would respect the women's game as its own entity and not be so quick to pit us against the NBA. Maybe we're just different, and maybe it's just as special and valuable. We're 15 years old, and we've done a great job so far. We thought cars would fly before women dunked."

"I still don't think us [TCU] or Boise got the credit we deserved. We were both great teams despite the conference we played in. Playing in our conference, we had to work twice as hard, and there was little margin for error. If a team like Nevada wants to get to the Rose Bowl, they probably have to go undefeated for a couple of years. So maybe the BCS was fair to us in the end, but they still have to work some things out."

"I'd eliminate fouling out. You'd have to have some sort of penalty, because otherwise the game would become too aggressive; you don't want guys fouling whenever they want. I don't know if you make every foul after six worth two free throws and the fouled team gets the ball, but we could come up with something. Maybe you have a penalty box like in hockey. Or you get more free throws after a certain number of fouls. But it's crazy that a team is unable to play its best players the entire game if that's what the coach wants to do."

"I recently visited Uganda and Rwanda with several other NFL players, and I learned a lot on that trip. I encourage people to go see for themselves. I had no clue how it was going to be. From the things I had to do in preparation -- taking 10 different shots, getting malaria pills -- to getting over there and having to put on sunblock and insect repellent every morning, to the hotels we stayed at, to the food we ate, it was different. You had to be cautious about a lot of things. You learn not to take certain things for granted."

"The BCS. I hate it. I want it out of there. I'd rather see a college basketball March Madness-type format. Maybe the top 16 make it: They still play once a week, and it won't take that long. It'd be way better."

"Lyn St. James, who drove in the Indy 500, once told me that if you want to win in sports, it's very much like life. First you have to learn the rules, then you have to play by the rules. Then you have to win by their rules, and only then can you change the rules. The people who don't make it, it's because they get that order mixed up."

"I think social media is great. I think everything that's put on the Internet is fine. But I think there'll come a point where it's just too much. We all need to cool out a little bit. The other day, I'm walking out of Urth Caffe in Santa Monica and immediately I have two cameras on me, TMZing me. It's crazy. I love being in front of cameras, doing interviews, but you have to let people live their lives."

"Derrick Rose said it best in his MVP speech: 'Our days shouldn't be hard days, because we do what we love, and that's playing basketball.' However, I do look forward to a time when salaries are at least comparable to some of those in the NBA."

"We should add a five-point play: Any time you shoot from behind halfcourt, it counts for five. It's a new strategy teams could use. Now you call timeouts late in games to advance the basketball, but to try the five-point play, maybe you don't have any timeouts or you choose to take it out from behind halfcourt. I'd be interested to see the types of schemes and plays coaches draw up to get shots off from full-court or somewhere behind the half-court line. I think that will add a new spark to basketball."

"When you want me to sign something
while I'm at dinner or whatever, don't
say, 'I don't mean to bother you, but ...
can I have an autograph?' Actually, you
did mean to bother me because I
just put a piece of steak in my mouth
and I'm like, 'Mmmpphkk [food
noise], hold on.' Just say, 'Can I have
an autograph?' because you're here
while I'm eating."

"I'd like to inform the fans, or anyone looking in from the outside, about what really goes on in these negotiations. They had a fight over the CBA years ago, and past players fought for us to get the type of salary we get now. It would be an injustice to them for us to take less. It's not like players are overpaid and overrated -- to play this game is tough, one of the toughest sports in North America and maybe the world. I'd keep the season to 16 games; two more is a lot of regular-season football games, and for us to play and not get paid extra money does not make sense. The risk of injury goes up a lot. There will be more head-to-head collisions than in 16 games. Right now, we could play 18 games if you make it into the playoffs, so playing 18 games in the regular season is like playing two playoff games."

"I hope people were watching the Women's World Cup, and I hope they continue to watch soccer. I don't think there's enough fandom for soccer here because football is more exciting to U.S. fans, but hopefully this will raise the sport's profile."


"News flash: Guys wearing skinny jeans is reaching epidemic-level proportions in the U.S., and it has me rattled. If you're reading this and saying, 'Whatever, I look good in my skinny jeans,' you're wrong and you're creepy. As such, I went ahead and created LoMo's Pant Etiquette Checklist:
1) If no part of your jeans goes over your shoe,
they're way too tapered.
2) If you need a spotter to help put on and take off
your pants, you need to rethink your trouser selection.
3) If you need a tube of Vaseline to put your car keys in your
front pocket, your pants are not cool, they're way too tight!
4) Tight pants cause decreased sperm count. Google it.
5) Three words: male muffin top."

"If someone has the ability to continue playing their sport and they train with desire and commitment knowing their extra effort will pay off, I say to continue to live your profession. A lot of people said I should have hung it up years ago, but look at me now. If I had listened to them, I wouldn't be the new light heavyweight world champion. I wouldn't have broken George Foreman's age record, and I wouldn't be getting ready to defend my new title. You can only listen to yourself and your body, and only you know when it's time to step away."

"I think with President Obama, everyone is criticizing him for taking on what George Bush left him. Give him an opportunity. This is something he inherited from George Bush. I really try to stay out of politics and all of that, but to see everything happening on television with people constantly bashing him with their different opinions -- we have wars, the deficit, all of this stuff. There is so much going on right now that it's going to take him a while to turn this around. So just give him a chance."

"Swimmers are so straightforward, marching in a straight line. We all have personalities, but the rest of the swimmers are too scared to show them. I want to wake them all up. I never hide my personality on the pool deck -- I wear my grill on the medal stand and the lime-green-and-rhinestone high-tops I designed -- and I'm starting to see more swimmers share theirs."

"In our division [AL East] it's a bit unfair that our team can have a better record than the division winners in the Central and West and still not make the playoffs. I wouldn't have three divisions. I'd make two, and then each division winner would make it, then best records overall after that."

"Guys either love playing in hot weather or they don't,
but everybody hates playing in the cold. And honestly,
being in the cold, I feel like guys in domes have an advantage,
waking up every morning not worried about the climate. I wake up in Green Bay in October, November or December, and
I'm looking outside. I have to overcome that mentally. Larry
Fitzgerald and I talk about this all the time. He's catching balls in December like, 'Gimme that!' because he's in a retractable roof stadium. Me, I'm worried this ball is gonna tear my hands up."

"They say it's a great business, but I think it's not fair to us -- the players who are invested -- versus the rookies. It's lopsided. You have guys who come out of college and they don't have the stats and the numbers, but they're getting more money than guys who earned their name and their spot and played for five or six years. It's funny because a guy can play one or two years and go make $30 or $40 million. And you can have a guy like me going into my ninth year and having personal problems with pain and other things and nothing is guaranteed. I look at other sports and I envy that."

"I wish we were able to play a longer season here. Most of our year is dedicated to living abroad, and while it may be an experience of a lifetime to be able to travel and see the world, sometimes you only long to see your family. Nothing can replace the void we experience while being away for seven months at a time."

"I wish pitchers would choose either a cutter or a sinker instead of both. I'm breaking bats quite a bit."

"Technical fouls. It's hard for us just not to say anything. Especially if it's a bad call and everyone knows it's a bad call. But at the same time, I understand that we can't be disrespectful to the referees and continue to nag. Like we'll do a reaction, have a tiny little outburst and then walk away. I don't think we should get a technical for that. The referees are not perfect, and they'll make bad calls. I've seen people react to the bad call just like 'Whoa!' or something like that, which I think is normal because if the refs were in our situation, they'd do it too. But that doesn't deserve a technical."

"I don't understand one bit why it's frowned upon to celebrate with your teammates or even celebrate in a creative way, period. I understand you can't get in the end zone and break out a full Stomp the Yard scene, but when have you seen an altercation from a player celebrating after finally reaching the end zone? I mean, seriously, I guarantee if Commish Goodell scored a TD in the Super Bowl, he'd probably Michael Jackson moonwalk the entire end zone."

"You get more out of your coaches and your players if you build them up. Look at Ray Lewis, that's what he does. He's a leader, and that's what leadership is. You have to push guys. You have to challenge them to bring out the best, and you've got to compete. There's conflict involved, but it should be coming from a good place."

"Being labeled a cheater is difficult. It's happened to everyone in racing at some point, but real racers know that there's a difference between all-out cheating, pushing the envelope and just a simple parts failure. The hard part is defending it or trying to explain it to someone not familiar with racing. I'm on the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. There's a big vetting process that goes with that. I had to be on a 30-minute phone call about every bad thing I've done in my life, and they really wanted to talk about those times that our team had been caught cheating. 'Why were you fined these points and this money? You guys were cheating.' And I'm like, 'No, you don't understand.' This is auto racing. The guys at the shop build the most trick thing they can and bring it to the racetrack. I hop in and drive it, and if you run well and some part falls off or the postrace height measurements aren't right, then it looks like we were cheating, but it's just part of the sport. It's a 3,400-pound race car going 200 mph for three hours. A lot can happen. We had a bolt come loose on an oil tank cover at Las Vegas in '08, and we were fined (and a lot of people kicked us while we were down). But it's not as simple as you cheat or don't. Accidents happen. But that doesn't make it any easier to explain to the White House if they don't know much about racing. And it sure doesn't make it easier when a sponsor doesn't understand that I had no clue the right rear corner was 1/16th of an inch too low or that the oil cooler lid had fallen off. The truth is that you kind of want to be fined every now and then. That doesn't mean you're a cheater. It means your team and your car are pushing the limits as far as they can looking for speed. As a driver, you gotta love that."

"In the words of Peter Griffin, 'You wanna know what really grinds my gears?' Arguing with umpires. Not once have I ever seen an umpire change a strike to a ball because the hitter disagreed. I understand that it's frustrating and that oftentimes one pitch changes the entire complexion of the at-bat, but how does it help you? Arguing is somewhat part of the game, and I kind of enjoy it at times, but every pitch is disputed. As a pitcher, we have rules about pace of game and all that jazz, so why aren't hitters held to the same rules? If I have to hear a batter say that a pitch was three inches off two pitches after swinging at a ball in the dirt, I'm gonna shave my mustache!"

"I can't stand people I don't know touching me. It makes me uncomfortable. Wouldn't it be weird if I just ran up and touched them? I don't mind high fives, but don't come up to me and act like you're posting up on me and stuff like that. Here's what I want: Be yourself, but don't touch me physically. There's nothing wrong with just talking."

"NFL players help raise millions of dollars per year toward a multitude of charities that, in these tough financial times, can use every dollar they get. Yet when the average person picks up his daily newspaper in the morning, the first thing he reads is that 'Johnny Football' was caught speeding last night in his red Ferrari and was arrested for avoiding police, violating traffic stops and endangering his community. Sadly, it often paints a picture to fans that NFL players are reckless and lack character and good judgment. Maybe it's just easier to believe that NFL athletes are all villains because they feel a player's fame and fortune is undeserved. And these rare acts of buffoonery oftentimes seem to be glorified by the media, when on the other hand you have many players taking the time -- which they have very little of during the season -- to make school visits that address the positive effects of staying in school and applying themselves to achieve success. Some also hold motivational camps for kids (and even adults) to share testimony of faith and hardship. The media need to highlight these positive NFL role models."

"As a defenseman, I would change the rule to no-touch icing. It's one of those things that's still a little bit dangerous. Icing's just a risky play. They should make some kind of a rule that once the players are nowhere near touching it, then just blow the whistle and forget about the race."

"If you want to see the true transformation of an athlete, take a look at his rookie card. More often than not, you'll see a sloppy jersey, generic socks, off-color cleats and/or baggy pants. It takes some rookies just as long to learn how to dress properly as it does to learn an offense."

"I can't stand it when people leave their fingernail clippings on the floor or on a table. Just thinking about the sight of them makes me nauseous. I suggest we bring this matter into our educational systems. I'd like to see schools push the importance of fingernail-clipping disposal. It's a lesson we should start teaching at a young age."

"It's crucial to pick women who complement us and understand our quirks (don't front, 'cause we all got 'em). Whether you're a neat freak or have an addiction to strip clubs, the more a woman understands you as a person, the better off you'll both be in the relationship. As pro athletes and men in general, we need women who add to the family wealth rather than subtract from it. Getting married shouldn't be her life mission, and if so, refer to a famous Kanye West song. Substance first! Now, to find this type of woman, you may have to lower your expectations in the looks department because the ones with degrees may not have the Coke bottle shape. Face it, everyone has shortcomings. That's why you gotta be more than fast to play in the NFL and do more than be tall to be an NBA baller. So if you find that one, make her your franchise player ASAP."

"I don't really like starting lineups. I don't know why we just can't walk out onto the court and play. It would save a lot of time, and it would also save the team a lot of money because they always have to turn the lights on and off for it. Think about it. We have to listen to intros of the same players for 82 games. Let's just walk out onto the court, because everyone already knows who's going to start."

"I'm no big fan of taxes (and who is, really?), but I think we need to change the way we tax ourselves. We should tax more for the things people use to discourage their use and have those who use them the most pay the most. No one is a huge fan of the price of gas except for the gas companies. No politician is going to stand up and say how we need to increase its price, but let's take a look at the positive side of an increased gas tax. More money will be raised to take care of the roads, and in direct proportion it will be paid by the people who use the roads the most. The money that would have been spent on roads from other budgets can go to schools or help lower our ever-increasing national debt. Who hates sitting in traffic? More expensive gas will encourage more carpooling and more public transportation usage. People will begin to drive more economical cars or drive less, which means less traffic for those who hate waiting and the added benefit to our environment. Lifestyles will have to change but for the good of our country."

"Get rid of the DH. I think having the pitchers hit is important; they're on the field, so they need to get in the batter's box and hit."

"We're seeing too many hopes about one girl doing a double. All these people are like, 'Why aren't these girls doing another 360?' I think women as a whole tend to think about situations more and weigh the risks and the rewards. Women are how much more likely to blow out their knees than men? We're supposed to hit these same jumps when our bodies are built completely different and our muscle mass is different than men's? You have a lot of people expecting us to perform the same way. We're trying! But it's never going to be equal."

"You love sports, but you probably don't know why you love sports. You think, I grew up watching sports and they're entertaining, but you don't understand there's a fundamental core value attached to sports. It's the excitement of never knowing what's going to happen next, whether or not Kobe is going to hit 40 points or beat the Heat or if LeBron is going to miss a shot at the buzzer. There's a story arc that starts at the first buzzer and ends at the last. Any team can win on any given Sunday. That's what makes sports so incredible -- and it's missing from action sports. Most action sports contests don't crescendo to a single moment. Shaun White might win a contest with his first run, but we have to sit through two more runs to see where everyone shakes out behind him. Instead, action sports rely on someone innovating in a big way -- like Travis Pastrana throwing a double backflip or Torstein Horgmo landing a triple cork -- because they don't have that traditional what-will-happen-next, down-to-the-wire aspect. But Street League has it all: trick-by-trick scoring that's easy to understand, high stakes and an arc that comes down to whether or not the final trick is made -- and that gives us the potential to tap into a bigger audience. Street League will be hands-down the most exciting action sport you've ever seen. It's the best skateboarders in the world doing stuff that five years ago would have been considered impossible. And you're watching a true sports story unfold right before your eyes. When you see how rootworthy skateboarding is, you'll become a fan just like you are of basketball and football. You just have to give it a try."

"The All-Star Weekend should be in LA or Hawaii every year. The NFL gets to go to Hawaii, so we should too."

"I am dreading London next summer. I love the Olympics, but I feel like crying every time someone mentions it. I want softball back, but realistically -- and we need to be real -- until there is IOC change, it's not going to happen. The question now is, 'Well, we eliminated them, so do we want to say we were wrong and get them back?' But they should be admitting, 'We were wrong and we made a mistake, so let's fix it.'"