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Athletes Distracting Other Athletes

Matt HaupertFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2014

Athletes Distracting Other Athletes

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Lance Stephenson made headlines in the Eastern Conference Finals for his many unsuccessful attempts at distracting LeBron James and stifling his performance. 

    Some called it bush league.

    I called it a masterpiece.

    Indeed, the art of distracting the athlete dates back almost as far as the dawn of sports themselves. Over the years, the practice has been refined to the beautiful work we see today—athletes are now better at distracting each other than ever before.

    A good distraction can turn a hero into a failure or an underdog into a champion.

    It can tarnish the reputation of both the distractor and the distracted in one fell swoop.

    And of course, distractions have that rare ability to alter fate on a daily basis.

    Today, I raise my glass not to the greatest athletes, but to the ones who continuously make them falter.

    Criticize them all you want, but the men and women that follow on this list are the ones who have provided the most entertaining, head-scratching and sometimes oddly successful distractions the sports world has seen in the past several years.

    Note: Just for the sake of fun, I've decided to stretch the definition of "athletes" to also include coaches, cheerleaders and hockey dads. You'll see what I mean.

Alex Rodriguez

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Alex Rodriguez deserves to have a great big asterisk next to his name in every record book. He is, after all, a cheater.

    No, I'm not talking about performance-enhancing drugs. Too mainstream. Everyone does those.

    I'm talking about A-Rod's hilariously juvenile habit of yelling at infielders during pop-ups to distract them from catching the ball.

    You know, shouting things like "I've got it!" and "Mine!" like that kid from your little league team who thought he could beat up anyone but nobody really liked. 

    Rodriguez apparently used this tactic in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays in 2007, causing Howie Clark to drop a pop-up and allow a run by shouting "Mine!" as he ran past en route to third base.

    The Yankees won the game, and the Blue Jays were furious. According to ESPN, A-Rod was pragmatic, and not apologetic, in his response:

    "Honestly, I couldn't care less," he said. "They have their opinions. We're looking not to be swept."

Bruce Grobbelaar

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    Defending a goal during a penalty kick in soccer requires a great deal of skill, a little bit of luck and a pinch of black magic.

    The last of these was the strategy used by eccentric Liverpool goalie Bruce Grobbelaar in the 1984 European Cup Final against Roma. Trying to hold on to a 3-2 Liverpool lead in the penalty shootout, Grobbelaar began to mysteriously wiggle his legs in the goal, apparently trying to send Francesco Graziani into a trance.

    It worked. Graziani missed badly, and Liverpool went on to win the match.

    Always remember—if you can't beat 'em, just keep wiggling your legs until they beat themselves.

JR Smith

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    He's the ultimate bad boy in the NBA. An unstoppable vigilante. A public enemy constantly on the prowl.

    Can't be trusted.

    Can't be stopped.

    Turn away for even a second and J.R. Smith will...untie your shoes?

    Indeed, this is the habit Smith has developed over the years to trick his opponents. Most recently, Smith tried it on Greg Monroe during a free throw in a game against the Pistons, but he was caught and fined $50,000.

    Of course, Smith was deeply embarrassed by his childlike act and promised never to do it again.

    ...Right?

    Yea I do it every game! RT @bwolfe_22: @TheRealJRSmith I seen you untie Dwights shoe against the rockets too! Haha didn't you?

    — JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) January 6, 2014

     Wrong.

Redskins Cheerleaders

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins sent an unusual line of defense to try to stop Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers before a game in 2008: a pack of cheerleaders.

    It's a classic diversion—send a few beautiful women over to hypnotize the guys before the game, and they'll never even make it to the field! HA!

    Roethlisberger expressed his concern over the Redskins' sinister new tactic to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

    I'm not a big fan of playing there because it is loud, they're really good at home and they try to make their cheerleaders stretch in our tunnel before we come out of the locker room. That's just not good.

    Though this sort of sounds like something out of a bad Disney movie, it is very, very real: The league even banned cheerleaders from warming up in front of opposing teams, finally taking a stance that will ensure the safety and well-being of the players at all times.

Tiger Woods

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    In a cold-blooded and selfish act, Tiger Woods apparently ruined Sergio Garcia's third round in the 2013 Player's Championship by intentionally rallying the fans to make noise and cause an insurmountable distraction during Garcia's shot.

    Well, according to Garcia, at least—as reported by Bob Harig of ESPN:

    I wouldn't say that he didn't see that I was ready, but you do have a feel when the other guy is going to hit, and right as I was in the top of my backswing, I think he must have pulled like a 5-wood or a 3-wood and obviously everybody started screaming.

    So that didn't help very much. But it was unfortunate because -- I mean I might have hit it in there if nothing happens. You never know. But if I hit a good shot there and maybe make a birdie, it gets my day started in a bit of a different way.

    Just think—if Woods hadn't pulled out that notoriously popular 5-wood, the crowd would have stayed silent and Sergio Garcia probably would have blossomed into one of the greatest golfers of all time.

    Oh, what could have been.

Classless Hockey Dad

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    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    None of the girls on the ice were doing anything distracting during a girls' high school hockey game between Winthrop High School and Medway/Ashland High School in March 2012.

    Unfortunately for the players, the same could not be said for all of the parents in the stands.

    One girl's father made the brilliant decision to bring a laser pointer to the game and use it to distract the opposing team. Supporting his daughter on Winthrop, Joseph Cordes flashed the laser pointer in the Medway/Ashland's goalie's eyes, which temporarily blinded her and paved the way for two goals to score.

    Apparently, a little unsportsmanlike conduct by a grown man goes a long way.

    Winthrop won, 3-1, and the Medway/Ashland goalie's father pressed charges.

    Oh, to go back to the days when parents had to teach lessons in character and maturity to their children, and not the other way around.

Women's Tennis Players

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    The infamous tennis grunt is more than just an instinctual release of passion and tension.

    The grunt is, in fact, a carefully thought-out, diligently practiced technique used frequently among the women's tennis circuit as a form of distraction.

    The grunting epidemic has gotten so out of hand that the Women's Tennis Association is now planning to monitor noise level during matches as a way of regulating volume of the grunts. According to Tim Newcomb of Time, these grunts "have been measured at 101 decibels — on par with a chainsaw or a motorcycle, and a level at which sustained exposure can cause hearing loss."

    Personally, I think grunt volume should be celebrated rather than discouraged. Imagine if a 100-decibel grunt was revered as highly as a 100 mph fastball. Players could even have a repertoire of different grunts, perhaps suddenly using a 50-decibel "changeup" grunt to throw off opponents.

    If grunt regulation does become a fixture in professional tennis, imagine the feeling of getting called for excessive grunt volume after winning a point, costing you a victory.

    Do you think the play would be reviewable?

Sean Avery

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    Sean Avery became legendary for his uncanny ability to distract an opposing team's goalie—so legendary, in fact, that his antics led the NHL to make an amendment to their official rulebook.

    In a game against the New Jersey Devils in 2008, Avery got creative. Trying to distract goalie Martin Brodeur, he skated up to the net and began to wildly flail his arms and his stick as if he were casting some sort of incantation.

    Like a bully on a playground, Avery waved and poked and prodded and bothered and made himself look like an idiot, and then, not much later, he scored a goal.

    Following this game, however, Avery would have to find a new method of getting into the goalie's head. Stu Hackel of The New York Times reported the very next day that the NHL had released a statement with a new rule, effective immediately:

    National Hockey League Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell today issued the following advisory on the interpretation of Rule 75 – Unsportsmanlike Conduct: “An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty (Rule 75) will be interpreted and applied, effective immediately, to a situation when an offensive player positions himself facing the opposition goaltender and engages in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender’s face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender as opposed to positioning himself to try to make a play.

    Well, if you fall short of getting your name in the record books, might as well see if you can make a mark on the rule books.

Frank Vogel

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    There are few things funnier than a grown man in a suit screaming in another guy's ear in an attempt to distract him.

    This was the fascinating sight that NBA fans across the country got to witness when Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel screamed in the ear of Shane Battier as he launched a three-point attempt in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals—but alas, to no avail.

    I only wish the series had gone a full seven games so we could all see what other fancy coaching tricks Vogel has up his sleeve.

    Perhaps he would go with the old J.R. Smith shoelace technique.

    Maybe he'd try a little Liverpool leg wiggling.

    Or maybe he'd just bench Roy Hibbert and chalk up a victory.

Lance Stephenson

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    Nobody has gotten more attention for his hilariously weird distraction techniques in the past few weeks than the always entertaining Lance Stephenson.

    After spending the entire series trying to get in LeBron's head to throw him off his game, Stephenson made an unorthodox move by ever so gently blowing in his ear while playing defense. The image of Stephenson with dagger eyes and puckered lips is disturbing, to say the least, and became a viral sensation on the Internet, inspiring a plethora of great memes.

    Look closely at the video above, and you can pretty clearly see exactly what each is thinking:

    Lance: Watch out, LeBron. The air I breathe has been granted to me by a great warlock. It will poison your ear, and your very being will crumble to the ground. Beware, my friend. I am your master now.

    LeBron: ...God, you're an idiot.

Special Recognition: Jack Blankenship

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    Though he is not an athlete (or coach or cheerleader or creepy hockey dad), former University of Alabama student and superfan Jack Blankenship deserves mention on any list covering the topic of distraction.

    In 2012, Blankenship famously made a giant cutout of his head making a weird face and started holding it up at Alabama basketball games to distract opposing players from making free throws.

    Blankenship and his face became Internet sensations and launched Blankenship to a bit of sudden fame. He managed to capitalize on this, landing an internship with Late Night with Jimmy Fallon this past winter.

    Though it appears the future is only getting brighter for the young man, he has already carved his name on the list of the greatest distractions in the history of sports.

     

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