For athletes, `I didn't knowingly' excuse has positively failed believability test


September 09, 2005|By Rick Maese

ANOTHER innocent athlete was suspended last week. His only crime was a protein shake and maybe some weightlifting supplements. Once again, they somehow mistook this for steroids.

Though he was suspended for four games, we know better. We know that he's innocent because he said so. In fact, his defense hinges on the same three magical words that tip off all innocent professional athletes: "I didn't knowingly ... "

I admit that I didn't initially like this little phrase. It really irked me that Barry Bonds thought we would believe he didn't know what he was putting into his body. Rarely do I look in my cabinets and accidentally grab my "cream" instead of the flaxseed oil.

Barry should've copyrighted that little three-word nugget. Predictably, I got even more upset when every other accused athlete starting singing the same excuse.

"I didn't knowingly ... " they all told us.

It bothered me that I'd flip on the television and my ESPN would look like C-SPAN, full of political doublespeak that requires a specially licensed translator. These non-denial denials should come with FAQs.

Q: Did Gary Sheffield really just say he took steroids?

A: No, he simply said that if, in fact, a banned substance is found in his body, he may or may not have put it there, but certainly he wasn't aware that it arrived there in the first place, and you should probably contact his lawyer if you have any other questions.

It's saying yes by saying no. It's pleading the Fifth Amendment but including a little eye-wink and elbow nudge.

It bothered me, but that's before I learned that you can take this little phrase outside the sports world and use it to improve your own life.

It's true. Give it a try. Here's a few examples from the moron's guide to "I didn't knowingly ... ," as authored by Bonds. (Asked whether he indeed contributed to this guide, Bonds said, "No, not knowingly.")

1. Sleep in an extra half-hour. Then watch an extra 30 minutes of Cold Pizza. Do not wear a wristwatch to the office, though. When your boss questions you, stare at your naked wrist and explain that actually you aren't knowingly late. He'll understand.

2. Stop paying attention when you drive and try to focus on your cell phone conversation. When the police officer points out the three red lights and the injured poodle, just explain that you were busy talking to your buddy about the Orioles' wild-card chances and you certainly didn't knowingly violate any traffic laws.

3. Your wife or girlfriend - possibly both? - wants to make dinner plans for Sunday ... at the same time as the Colts-Ravens game. You need to tune her out. We're sure she'll understand when you explain later that you didn't knowingly blow off cocktails with Aunt Rose.

4. At that appointment next week, the doctor is going to say the same stuff again - about the cholesterol and the butter and the cheesecake. Don't sweat it. As long as you explain that you aren't knowingly poisoning your body, I'm pretty sure it doesn't count.

5. So you have a wedding anniversary approaching? No worries - ignore it. Unknowingly arrange a poker game instead of making dinner reservations. (Void this advice if in the past 10 years you actually remembered your anniversary.)

6. Next time you confess your sins, you absolutely must mention the injured poodle, the extra dessert and scamming your chronic tardiness to work. But just to clarify and to point out that you're not exactly a felon, tag onto the end that you didn't knowingly do any of the misdeeds. Forgiveness works for the ignorant just as well as the enlightened, as we're all learning.

"I didn't knowingly ... " is a sports cliche that not only lacks meaning, but also completely dodges the question. We've been waiting a month to hear Rafael Palmeiro's side of the story. He's eager to tell us the truth, we hear. About half as eager as we are to dismiss it as fiction. Palmeiro's story has as much build-up as a Star Wars movie - though I'm guessing it's not quite as believable.

(Sorry, Raffy. I didn't knowingly just make a joke at your expense.)

The superstars can drop the new cliche, but it's also trickled down to the also-rans. The latest case is a backup offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs named John Welbourn. The NFL suspended him last week after denying his appeal. (Welbourn passed a polygraph test but failed the league's drug test.)

The news hit and we didn't even raise an eyebrow. That's what it's come to. We almost expect there to be a new steroid user exposed every few days.

And I used to think that prisons housed the largest group of men who are overly eager to proclaim their innocence.

Contact Rick Maese at

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