f There was an article I read at a sports website that mentioned famous athletes who stutter. I knew a few of the names: such as former Celtic and current television announcer Bill Walton, videogame demigod Bo Jackson, Denver Nugget forward/asshole Kenyon Martin, San Diego Charger running back Darren Sproles--but two jumped off the list that I never imagined: the exiled Johnny Damon and greatest golfer of all-time Tiger Woods.
(side note: Johnny Damon is not a backstabber or a traitor. He took the money just like any of us would have. So let it go.) Anyway...
Johnny D surprised me, but after reading that article and hearing more about how his stuttering held him back when he was in the minor leagues and was afraid of talking to the media only to seek therapy and gain self-confidence as he rose to the majors with Kansas City, it makes more sense. As I hear him speak in interviews I can tell that he is picking and choosing his words. People often think that Damon sounds like an moron while speaking to the media, but from my perspective and experience it really just seems like he is avoiding words he thinks he will have trouble on. And I don't blame him. I can't imagine having to go through that every night after a game or during a live press conference. I've come a long way, but not that far. Luckily for me, unless my 40-yard-dash time mysteriously drops under 4.5 seconds, I won't have to.
Tiger Woods, on the other hand, I REALLY had no idea. He was quoted in the article as saying something along the lines of "I stuttered when I was younger so I went to a special school where they taught me to speak the right way." If only it was that easy for all of us. I'm guessing that Big Tig had normal childhood dysfluencies that many children have and simply grew out of it with the help of early intervention, but who knows.
As people who stutter, we are often told about famous actors, athletes, politicians, and historical figures who have dealt with stuttering problems themselves in an attempt to inspire us to work past it and become successful, meaningful contributors to society. Names off the top of my head include Walton, Winston Churchill, Jack Welch, Charles Darwin, Moses, James Earl Jones, and to a much, much lesser extent, Stuttering John from The Howard Stern Show. I have been trying to think how these celebrities and quasi-celebrities have really gotten over the fear of speaking and how they conquer their stuttering in such a high-profile career (granted, Stuttering John has made his career out of his stuttering, but that's not the point).
Last night at the NSA Stuttering Support Group meeting, Dr. Melnick, a stuttering SLP named Steve, and I had a discussion about these famous people who supposedly stutter and why we have never really heard them have any difficulty on television, in movies, or on the red carpet. Steve's theory was that they are always playing a character, not themselves. For example, almost any time I change my voice, whether I'm singing in the car, whispering, talking in an accent, yelling, or performing one of my abominable impressions of Stewie Griffin, my stuttering almost always goes away. I imagine "L-L-L-L-Luke I am y-y-y-your f-f-f-ather" would not be in the pantheon of memorable movie lines if Jones stuttered all the way through it. The same goes for Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Samual L. Jackson, and any other stuttering actor.
If anything, I think the lesson to learn from these famous people who stutter is that stuttering is no excuse to not follow your dreams. The way to transcend stuttering is to find something in your life that means more to you than the way you speak. I know that I chose my career based on my stuttering, and while I know it will be rewarding in the long run I often wonder what it would be like if I had chosen something else, particularly sports management. Considering my favorite days of the year are in order: 1) the NFL Draft weekend 2) the NBA Draft 3) the NBA trade deadline 4) the MLB trade deadline and 5) the day free agency starts in any sport, sports management should have been a perfect fit for me. While at UMass I thought about getting into it but I thought that if I stuttered I wouldn't be able to make phone calls to teams trying to get rid of Brian Scalabrine's absurd contract, negotiate with Drew Rosenhaus, or just generally project the confidence I would need to be successful in that kind of job. In hindsight I sometimes wish I had gone down that path. At least when I am working as an SLP somewhere in a couple years I can encourage young kids to follow their passion. Not to say I won't enjoy my career (though I've already had my fill of graduate school), but potentially working for a professional sports team would be something special. I guess I'll just have to live vicariously through NBA Live 2006. With my New Orleans Hornets I just completed a blockbuster trade for Darko (see left; I figured people would recognize Damon, Tiger, and Vader, but Darko isn't any good so people don't know him.) Anyway, I'm turning Darko into a star, something Pistons GM Joe Dumars couldn't do, so maybe there is still hope for me afterall.