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Interview With Zach Minor, Don Yaeger

Aired August 5, 2003 - 20:50   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Some people are saying that Kobe Bryant case is just an example of too much too soon. So are you just asking for trouble when you take young people and give them money and a whole lot of fame? I'm joined now from Tallahassee by "Sports Illustrated" associate editor Don Yaeger. Yaeger co-wrote the book "Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL." I'm also joined by Zach Minor, who has been an educator and motivational speaker at the rookie orientation camps for all four major leagues.
Welcome. Don, I want to get started with you. And maybe this is too broad of a question to really get a handle on, but I just want you to give us a perspective this evening about the numbers of incidents we've heard of professional athletes breaking the law or accused of breaking the law and compare that to maybe 10, 15 years ago.

DON YAEGER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": Well, in the book "Pros and Cons," we actually -- we took the opening day roster of an NFL football season of all teams in the league, and did criminal history background checks, and basically showed that about one in four of all of the players in the league that year had a serious criminal history. And, you know, and spousal abuse, domestic battery, sexual assault were among, you know, some of the most prevalent of the crimes.

So, you know, is that better or worse than it has been in the past? I think that's a real point for debate. A lot of people would argue that the truth is that the media now focuses, especially the sports media, pays little more attention, doesn't cover up the misdeeds of athletes as it might have in the past.

ZAHN: And when you looked and tried to further explore why that number was so high, one in four, what did you find? Was there any prevailing reason why you think those numbers are so high?

YAEGER: Well, actually, I think those numbers are conservative. I mean, what we found was that that was probably a low number from what the real possibilities are. But what we -- what I think you know is that if you look into the mind of an athlete, if you understand that not only as you said earlier, are you looking at young people handed enormous wealth and fame, at an age in which they're probably not prepared to handle it, but then you throw in the fact that what does it take to become a great athlete? And that is a belief that you cannot be beaten. That's what it takes -- it's that belief, it's that mind-set that I think leads so many of these people to, honestly, honestly believe that it does not matter what their act is, they won't be held accountable. ZAHN: Well, that is a question for you, Zach, as you deal with all of these rookie camps, for all these major leagues. How big of a problem is that sense of invincibility, and how do you confront that in your training?

ZACH MINOR, MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER: Well, I confront it in a number of different ways. One, we use theater and drama, dramatization as an educational tool so that the athletes can begin to visualize what some of these situations are. But even before that, I start out by talking to them and asking them about this opportunity that they have to be -- become a professional athlete, and what would you like to achieve, what would you like to do with this opportunity. And, of course, they all say, yes, I'm a good person, I want to do the right things, I want to help my family, I want to achieve financial success as well as a championship.

ZAHN: All right. But you're the guy that's paid to find the cracks in the wall and the vulnerabilities. When you hear those speeches, what is it then you're looking for that might give you some clues as to who might fall prey to some bad stuff down the road?

MINOR: What I'm looking for is the perception versus the reality. Again, as Don pointed out, there's a perception that is set up by looking at the number of young men on that particular team that had some sort of run-in with the law. But if we look at all of our inner cities, probably many of our young people, unfortunately, have had some sort of run-in with the law.

Now, is that fair to say that they're going to continue that kind of behavior? What I try to do is get them to examine some of the attitudes about some of the issues that go on, whether it be finance or sexual activity, and to look at how to begin to make better decisions so that they can protect themselves, their families, and their teams, and their futures by making better decisions. Hard to say good or bad.

ZAHN: Sure.

MINOR: But it become a better decision.

ZAHN: So, Don, in the end, how effective do you think this kind of training is, and how critical is it?

YAEGER: I think that that training is important, and I think that if there is any kind of lessening of bad behavior, it's in part because of that. But the true role playing that -- that's going to affect athletic behavior is going to be what happens in that courtroom in Eagle, Colorado, when other athletes -- and trust me, every one of them will be watching -- will see how their peer, one of the most respected men in sports, is treated by a prosecutor and by a jury. I think, you know, you can do all the preparation work in the world, but the truth is, athletes look at what happens to their peers, and that's what's going to set the standard.

ZAHN: Well, Don Yaeger, thank you for your perspective this evening. Zach Minor, thanks for dropping by in person. MINOR: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Good luck to you with your training.


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