What’s the difference between a reason and an excuse?
There are a few ways to answer this question. For instance: a reason explains what happened while an excuse explains why you shouldn’t be held responsible. Put another way, a reason offers an explanation, while an excuse requests a dispensation. Or here’s another approach: a reason derives its power from the person offering it, while an excuse relies on the willingness of the listener to believe it.
A lawyer might define a reason as a plausible explanation and an excuse as providing plausible deniability. In other words, while an excuse usually cannot be proven to be demonstrably untrue, it’s a lot closer to being false that it is truthful.
It’s generally accepted that it takes a strong individual to admit that he or she has made a mistake and accept the consequences. So why is it that excuses seem to be so prevalent among a group that is specifically lauded for its physical and/or mental strength – namely, elite athletes?
Sports fans may marvel at the bevy of excuses often presented by athletes in order to get out of his or her responsibilities or to attempt to explain away a transgression. And some of these excuses require levels of creativity that may often exceed the person’s athletic prowess.
It’s important to keep in mind that excuses usually aren’t outright lies. For instance, NBA player Monta Ellis claimed he was injured in a pickup game when in reality he hurt himself while riding a moped. And relief pitcher Dan Miceli said that the stitches in his hand stemmed from a knife fight at a bar, when they were really the result of a fistfight with his brother.
No, these excuses are so unorthodox and far-fetched that you’re left to wonder why the athlete ever wasted the mental energy coming up with them in the first place. For any athletes reading this now, here’s a litmus test: if the tale you spin won’t be believed by someone outside your entourage or inner circle, then it’s probably an excuse that won’t hold water.
Now, sit back and enjoy the 15 most outlandish and perplexing athlete excuses of all time.
15. Ndamukong Suh – defensive tackle, Detroit Lions
Sure, it’s chilly in Green Bay. But rarely do NFL players blame old man winter for their idiotic decisions. Last month, Suh stepped backward onto the ankle of Aaron Rodgers while the Packers’ quarterback was lying on the ground. He claimed that his feet were so numb that he couldn’t feel the difference between the turf and a body part. The move initially earned the fifth-year veteran a suspension for Detroit’s playoff game against Dallas. But Suh’s excuse at the appeal hearing apparently worked well enough for his suspension to be lifted in lieu of a $70,000 fine.
14. Roger Clemens – pitcher, New York Yankees
Though a baseball and a bat are both integral parts of America’s pastime, the two objects aren’t usually confused. But apparently that’s what happened to “the Rocket” in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series. When Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza demolished his bat on a fastball in the first inning, the barrel of the bat flew to Clemens’ left. The hurler ran over toward first base as Piazza ran the play out (it ended up being a foul ball). But inexplicably, Clemens picked up the bat piece and flung it into the path of Piazza. Because Clemens had beaned Piazza in the head earlier that season, both dugouts emptied in anticipation of a fight (which didn’t happen). Clemens later said he thought he was picking up the ball.
13. Pete Rose – manager, Cincinnati Reds
Baseball fans are familiar with Rose’s lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for placing bets on games while he was the Reds’ skipper. In 2004, Rose wrote a book about his actions and finally acknowledged betting on baseball. But in My Prison Without Bars, Rose also points to a condition called Oppositional Defiant Disorder that he claimed he suffered from while playing and managing. He says the condition caused much of his obstinacy and refusal to admit wrongdoing. Here’s the problem: the medical community classifies ODD as a childhood disease – not a condition experienced by adults who simply act like children.
12. Richard Gasquet – French professional tennis player
Some of the most creative excuses proffered by athletes come after they test positive for drugs or similar banned substances. That’s what happened to Gasquet in 2009 in Miami when he was suspended for having illegal substances in his system. But Gasquet insisted that he never snorted any “white powder” – instead, he placed the blame on a girl he kissed at a nightclub. The Frenchman told a tribunal that the lady had been doing illegal substances that night, and that he must have accidentally ingested some from her. Quit laughing, the tribunal bought his excuse and lifted the suspension.
11. Ross Rebagliati – Canadian snowboarder
The first year that snowboarding was admitted into the Winter Olympics was in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. But the sport got off to an inauspicious beginning when its first gold medalist tested positive for marijuana, thereby reinforcing the snowboarder stereotype. Rebagliati won the giant slalom competition but had to give up his medal after the drug test. But he insisted that he hadn’t smoked up, and that the positive test was the result of… secondhand pot smoke. Here’s the kicker, Rebagliati got his medal back because marijuana wasn’t technically a banned substance at the time.
10. Justin Gatlin – American sprinter
If you’ve followed sports scandals, you may be familiar with an anabolic steroid called tetrahydrogestrinone, which is better known as “the clear.” Athletes used to topically apply it in order to get an edge before it was banned several years ago. Gatlin, who was the defending Olympic champion in the 100 meters, tested positive for the substance in 2006 and received a four-year ban from track and field events – despite his coach’s assertion that a massage therapist applied the drug to the sprinter’s body without Gatlin’s knowledge.
9. Brian Cushing – linebacker, Houston Texans
Even though Cushing tested positive for a banned fertility drug in September of 2009, he went on to play the entire season and earn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. But after the season, he was suspended by the league for the first four games of 2010. At his appeals hearing in August, Cushing and the Texans claimed that he suffered from a unique condition: overtrained athlete syndrome, which allegedly caused hormonal spikes and the subsequent false positive. Never mind that the medical community has never heard of “OAS” before – which may be why the NFL upheld the suspension.
8. Michael Vick – quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
Vick’s inclusion on this list has nothing to do with dogfighting. No, this concerned the seizure of Vick’s water bottle at a Miami airport in January of 2007 after Transportation Security Administration agents discovered a secret compartment in the container. Because they smelled an odor that resembled marijuana, they confiscated the bottle and allowed Vick to board his plane (though no drugs were ever found). Two months later, Vick claimed that the compartment in the bottle wasn’t for drugs – but for storing his jewelry so it wouldn’t get stolen.
7. North Korea’s women’s soccer team
The lone multi-player entry on this list comes as the result of a statement following the North Koreans’ 2-0 loss in the first round of the Women’s World Cup in 2011 in Germany. Coach Kim Kwang-min told the press after the game that the North Korean players faded in the second half because – wait for it – they had been struck by lightning at a training match in Pyongyang the month before. Critics were skeptical of the claim, which came from a representative of a nation whose Supreme Leader was reported to have made 11 holes-in-one during a single round of golf in the early 1990s.
6. Sammy Sosa – outfielder, Chicago Cubs
Sure, Slammin’ Sammy could have made the list for allegedly missing a game after sneezing too hard or suddenly forgetting English during his PED hearing. But the Chicago slugger’s best excuse came after he was busted for using a corked bat in a June 2003 game. Even though the Dominican admitted using the bat, he argued that he accidentally grabbed the corked bat on his way to the plate after it was inexplicably placed in the bat rack (he uses it for batting practice to impress kids). Sosa received an eight-game suspension.
5. Jameis Winston – quarterback, Florida State Seminoles
Since Winston is reportedly declaring for the 2015 NFL Draft, he’s going to have to come up with some better excuses for his behavior. This past spring, Winston walked into a Tallahassee supermarket and ordered some crawfish and crab legs from the deli – then simply walked out of the store without paying for them. When deputies caught up with him later, he told them that he simply “forgot.” In a statement the following day, Winston called the theft an “unfortunate incident” attributed to “youthful ignorance.” He was given a civil citation.
4. Barry Bonds – outfielder, San Francisco Giants
The connection between the all-time home run leader and performance-enhancing substances is well-documented. But according to Bonds, it was all a huge misunderstanding. His perjury trial in March of 2011 was the first time he admitted publicly that he took steroids – but Bonds then proceeded to claim that he was misled by his trainer into believing that it was flax seed oil. His story didn’t fly, Bonds was convicted on a charge of obstructing justice, though he didn’t serve any prison time.
3. Adri van der Poel – Dutch cyclist
Who? Cynics might call van der Poel the godfather of doping in professional cycling because he tested positive for a banned substance over three decades ago. Back in 1983, van der Poel won a race in Germany but was subsequently accused of ingesting strychnine, a poison which was used as a stimulant in small doses back in the day. Van der Poel denied the charge with an incredibly creative excuse: he had consumed too much of his father-in-law’s pigeon pie that consisted of former racing pigeons which had been doped with the poison (you’re still trying to wrap your head around pigeon pie, aren’t you?).
2. LaShawn Merritt – American track-and-field runner
Merritt’s story is similar to that of Justin Gatlin’s above: defending Olympic champion tests positive for a banned substance. But Merritt, the 400-meter gold medalist in Beijing, was found to have dehydroepiandrosterone in his system the following year. Though he admitted to taking the drug, Merritt said that he didn’t do it to enhance performance – on the track anyway. The substance was attributed to an over-the-counter male-enhancement pill which Merritt used. Racing officials took pity on Merritt and suspended him for only 21 months instead of giving him the maximum two year penalty.
1. Tyler Hamilton – American cyclist
Though the transgression wasn’t unusual, the explanation for it is truly unique. When officials tested Hamilton in 2004, they found red blood cells in his system that didn’t belong to him; which suggested the common practice of getting blood transfusions to increase oxygen in the cells and boost performance during a race. But Hamilton had a good reason for the test result: chimerism. It’s a phenomenon where a twin in the mother’s womb vanishes but leaves some of its cells in the surviving sibling; therefore, Hamilton claimed that the red blood cells belonged to his never-born twin and not him. Though the condition exists, it’s extremely rare – and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency found Hamilton guilty of doping and suspended him for two years (in 2011, Hamilton admitted to doping during his career).
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