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A Rip Book, Keyshawn? Give Us a (Yawn) Break

THE INSIDE TRACK | SUNDAY SCENE

April 20, 1997|BILL PLASCHKE

As any Southern Californian who has spent recent years watching this marvelous football player dance through end zones and interviews can attest, Keyshawn Johnson wants to be different.

He wants to be a winner, after growing up around gang-banging losers.

He wants to be rich, after what must have seemed like a lifetime of poverty.

He wants to sparkle where others only shine.

In his much-quoted new book, he reports asking this question of a friend after his first NFL game with the New York Jets last year:

"Did I look big out there?"

Keyshawn Johnson wants to be different.

Which makes it so surprising that in "Just Give Me The Damn Ball," he fails miserably.

A publisher apparently tossed him a couple of hundred empty pages, asked him to describe an NFL rookie season through the eyes of Los Angeles street kid who became a No. 1 overall draft choice.

What wondrous things Johnson could have done with this pass, if only he hadn't dropped it.

Instead of thoughtful insights from a survivor, we get the rantings and ravings of many other sports "autobiographies" in the last 10 years--and I know, I've written some.

Instead of teachings, we get threats.

Instead of substance, there is only swagger.

Instead of Keyshawn Johnson, we get Dennis Rodman.

This isn't a book, it's a 224-page temper tantrum.

Yawn.

There is the title. This is not different. You can't turn on the TV today without hearing an athlete using bad language. Been there, heard that.

There is the print, in Mother Goose type, with letters the approximate size of coffee cups. Each page also contains phrases set in larger or darker type, to emphasize an emotion or explanation.

This is also not different. Rodman's controversial book, "Bad as I Wanna Be," was printed in similar type.

After 20 pages you wonder, is this a nonfiction work or music video screenplay? Any teacher who asks her class to read this book should be fired on the basis of typeface alone.

There are the rips. Johnson trashes everyone from Mike Garrett to Neil O'Donnell to this newspaper.

This part is good, sometimes even hilarious.

Those journalists who have criticized Johnson for writing his opinions here are the same ones who complain when an athlete says, "No comment."

We can't have it both ways. Johnson's childlike honesty is usually right on mark--yes, O'Donnell is a stiff under pressure, and Rich Kotite can't coach.

But again, none of it is different.

Or did you forget that Jim McMahon began the sports book craze 11 years ago by ripping the Chicago Bears? People have been ripping others for money since Judas.

Different?

Different would be a rookie book that could not be read in about 90 minutes.

Different would be an introspective look at life in inner-city Los Angeles and juvenile homes, instead of the few broad strokes offered in approximately one-eighth of the book.

What exactly was it like living in a car? Did he sleep in the front seat or back? Was it cold? Was he scared? Could he have helped readers understand worlds so foreign to so many?

Different would be remorse for childhood actions that included burglary and drug dealing.

There is none of that. If he says somewhere that he is sorry and that his actions should not be emulated, either I missed it or it was printed in an unrecognizable typeface.

There are only rationalizations, and with them the dangerous implications that everyone in that neighborhood does those sorts of things.

Which is precisely the stereotype that the good citizens of South-Central have spent years trying to avoid.

Different would be to admit to something more than a dropped pass.

"Key," as his friends call him, is never scared. Key is never wrong.

When Key messes up, he is human and everyone should give him a break. When others mess up, they are either idiots or racists.

Some have said that after only one NFL season, with only one NFL victory, and averaging only 1.5 yards after each catch, Johnson should not even be writing a book about his life.

Why not? Teen-age gymnasts write books. Dogs write books. Somebody gives you a bunch of money to write about your life, you're supposed to tell him you need more experience?

But from a player who tries so hard to be unique, something unique was expected. Something with the soul and heart that Keyshawn Johnson claims he possesses.

Instead, he is just like everyone else spilling his guts for a buck. Like everyone else demanding the damn ball.

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