The Five Biggest Lies in Seattle Sports
Fibbing is a part of American sports. Athletes usually lose an inch or two in height. Coaches are less informed about the extent of a player’s injury. Contract negotiations are always shrouded in secrecy.
However, there is a difference between being less than completely honest and lying of the bald-faced variety. The first can be removed. The latter will earn consideration for this list of the five biggest lies in Seattle sports history.
Case in point: Slick Rick.
Lie: “The 49th did not contact me about this job.” Rick Neuheisel, Washington coach, on KJR-AM, Feb. 10, 2003.
Fact: Neuheisel was in San Francisco the other day, interviewing 49ers owner Jed York, GM Terry Donahue and Bill Walsh.
Type of lie: Bald face.
Embarrassment Level: High.
Rick Neuheisel’s relationship with the truth has always been complicated, but that’s only because he was constantly deceiving it. In early February 2003, Neuheisel, the University of Washington football coach, was rumored as a possible candidate for the 49ers’ coaching job. On Sunday, when Neuheisel was supposed to be vacationing in Idaho, he showed up at the San Francisco airport where he was spotted by John Levesque, a sports columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. They were on the same flight to Seattle.
Neuheisel denied to Levesque that he was there to talk to the 49ers, said he didn’t know that much about the job, and produced a golf ball as proof of the actual reason for his visit. The column on the meeting accepted Neuheisel’s denial, but made it quite clear that Levesque thought Neuheisel was trying to hide the truth (obviously enough).
Well, Neuheisel spent Monday denying any interview took place and reaffirming his long-term commitment to Washington. The school even sent out a press release, and that afternoon Neuheisel insisted, “I’m not lying about it,” in a live radio interview with Mike Gastineau.
Except Neuheisel is lying about it. On Wednesday, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published a column in which Levesque explained that he overheard Neuheisel on the phone in the airport lobby describing what happened in the interview with the 49ers. Late Wednesday, Neuheisel admitted his lie, going on the radio to apologize for not being more honest, which is an absolutely ridiculous way to admit a lie.
Neuheisel was not fired for the incident, but when the NCAA investigated his involvement in a March Madness betting ring a few months later, Neuheisel’s deception about the 49ers job was one of the reasons cited for his dismissal. Turns out there’s something worse than lying: Continuing to lie when you’ve already faced the fact that you’re lying.
Case: Oklahoma Bull.
Lie: “It is our desire that the Sonics and Storm build on their great legacies in the Greater Seattle area.” Clay Bennett, new owner of the Sonics, July 18, 2006.
In fact: “We didn’t buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we were hoping to come here. We know it’s a little tougher financially here in Oklahoma City, but we think it’s great for the community, and if we could break even, we’d be thrilled.” Aubrey McClendon, Sonics, owner, August 13, 2007.
Type of lie: Totally shameless.
Embarrassment Level: Absolutely none.
The only reason this isn’t the biggest lie in Seattle sports history is that no one believed Bennett when he swore up and down that he wanted to keep the team in the city after buying it. He was at the forefront of an investment group in a city that wanted its NBA team.
Now, it’s possible the Sonics could have stayed in town if taxpayers had been willing to build Bennett’s proposed half-billion dollar facility — in Renton, by the way — but that’s not what the new owners wanted really like McClendon. revealed in a moment of honesty with a journalist. NBA commissioner David Stern fined McClendon $250,000 for the comment, but stood by as McClendon and his co-owners pulled the team out of town less than a year later.
Case: Yeah, right.
The lie: In June 2003, Mariners reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki suffered broken ribs when he tripped on a flight of stairs and fell on the suitcase he was carrying.
Fact: Unclear as there are a number of different accounts, most of them involving alcohol, wrestling, and a rumor that pinpoints the location as the street outside the Fort St. restaurant. George in the Seattle International District. However, the one thing everyone agreed on was that it was more than a step, a loss of balance and a suitcase that led to Sasaki’s rib damage.
Lie Type: Extremely understandable.
Level of discomfort: Minimal.
What makes Sasaki’s story so funny is that it’s unbelievable, boring, and completely impossible. No one at any point believed it was the full story, but no one really cared that much. Well, maybe the Mariners. They were paying him $8 million that season, but “Kaz Sasaki’s Suitcase” remains one of the biggest names on a fantasy baseball team.
Case: Foot in mouth.
Lie: Running back Rashaan Shehee missed the University of Washington game against Stanford on October 5, 1996, due to a foot injury suffered during practice five days earlier.
Fact: Shehee injured her leg last weekend when she jumped from a second-story balcony of a Lake City apartment, fleeing a party after being shot.
Type of lie: Red herring.
Discomfort level: moderate.
Trainers are usually less than honest about injuries, but most trainers are smart enough to keep things vague enough that they can’t be called out for an outright lie. Not Jim Lambright, though. Then, in his fourth year leading the Huskies, Lambright picked a complete fib to explain how his running back hurt his heel. Two footnotes to this. First, the only reason Lambright could hide Shehee’s injury was because UW football practices were closed to reporters. He had to open the practices to the public after it was revealed that Lambright lied about Shehee’s injury. Then in 1998, linebacker Lester Towns was limited for the entire season by a foot injury that was officially attributed to a 45-pound weight loss on his leg. However, Towns suffered the injury playing basketball, which Lambright forbade his players to do, so Towns came up with a more sympathetic cause for the injury.
Case in point: Al Martin’s Tangled Webs.
Lie: “For some reason, probably because I was young and dumb, I decided to do a head-on stop on Leroy Hoard. I hit him, or rather he hit me. Remember those big tree trunk legs that Hoard had? That’s what hit me.” Al Martin, Mariners outfielder, May 2001.
Fact: Martin did not play football for USC as he had claimed. USC did not face Hoard’s Michigan team in 1986, which was the year Martin mentioned for the game. In fact, there is no record of Martin ever playing college football, as he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the eighth round out of high school.
Lie Type: Puffery.
Embarrassment Level: High.
Of all the lies on the list, this is the hardest to explain. Martin wasn’t just a major league baseball player, but a pretty good one, and he’s getting laid like a young kid with a girlfriend he didn’t want his parents to know about. In fact, the lie went back years, listed in the media guide of not only the Mariners, but also the Padres — for whom he played in 2000 — and the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom he began his major league career.
It should be noted that this was neither the biggest nor the worst lie that Martin told. In 2000, he was arrested in Arizona after an argument with Shawn Haggerty-Martin, then his wife. According to the police report on the incident, Haggerty-Martin told officers the argument started because “she was sick and tired of Al not divorcing the other woman.” Yes. It was another Mrs. Martin.
According to Nevada records, Martin and Haggerty were married on Dec. 11, 1998. However, Martin was previously married to Catherine Carita Young in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 1991. The two were not divorced before Martin’s second marriage . The 2000 altercation resulted in Martin pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence. It’s an extremely sad story about the women in Martin’s life. “I think his heart is in the right place, but I wish it was for one person instead of four or five,” Shawn Haggerty-Martin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a week after his arrest.
As my mother used to say, “All we have is our word.”