Return to Transcripts main page


Jon Lester on World Series, Cheating Accusations; Does Hazing Go Too Far in NFL?

Aired November 1, 2013 - 22:30   ET


RACHEL NICHOLS, HOST: Hi, I'm Rachel Nichols, and welcome to UNGUARDED, a sports show that brings you the candid, human side of some of the world's most talented human beings and explores the issues that extend off the field to touch us all. Welcome.

Thanks for joining us. Whether you're a hard-core fan or just like hearing interesting things about interesting people, this is your show for compelling and unguarded interviews with some of the biggest names in sports. Like Jon Lester, ace pitcher for the newly-minted World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

Lester already had a championship ring from 2007. But this year he was just huge, the team's steady backbone who earned two of Boston's four wins. And he was kind enough to invite CNN into his home for his first sit-down since he and his teammates won the title on Wednesday night.


NICHOLS: You are now a two-time World Series champion.

JON LESTER, PITCHER, BOSTON RED SOX: I don't even think it's fully sunk in yet, you know. It's so new. I don't think it will hit home for us until next year. You know, when you get opening day and you finally get the rings in your hand and the flag goes up and all that. But to get to do it twice, very, very special. Honor to be a part of this organization.

NICHOLS: And for you, the ace of the staff, I know you grew up near Seattle and you idolized Randy Johnson. And it was a big deal that he was the ace of the staff.

LESTER: I think when you're little you don't fully understand the responsibility that comes with it, especially with this organization. You know, I know like those -- the days in spring training where you're run down and it's a long day on the field and you still have to work out. You got those young guys in the clubhouse that are watching you to see, OK, what's he going to do? Is he going to skip his workout, or is he going to -- is he going to get in there and grind it out?

NICHOLS: What made you guys come together as a team the way you have?

LESTER: Honestly, everybody says, you know, from the first day it clicked, and it really did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a good amount of guys, you know, have some type of beard or something.

NICHOLS: Well, we know you guys are a fun-loving team. Because we see the facial hair. I have to ask, you haven't gone as full lumberjack as some of your teammates.


NICHOLS: How do you decide I'm going to have the beard?

LESTER: Well, I haven't -- I haven't been doing it as long as them. I think it was September. I said you know what? Doesn't matter. Screw it. I'm doing it. And so this has been since September.

Usually I can kind of sneak around Boston and not get recognized. And now with the -- I think people just see facial hair and they automatically just go, "You've got to be a Red Sox." Even if you're not, you've got to be. And so it's been a little more difficult to go up to the local Starbucks and get your coffee in the morning than in past months. But it's been good.

NICHOLS: Can you shave now that you've won a World Series?

LESTER: I don't think so.

NICHOLS: Are you allowed to?

LESTER: I don't think so. I think -- I think old Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli would have something to say about it.

I'll tell you what. This is probably the loosest group I've ever been around. I remember '07 just very business-oriented. Show up to the field, they have the routines. They do all the routines. They go out and play.

This one it's 180 difference. I think game one we had Kenny Chesney and Kevin Millar upstairs just hanging out. They're -- Kevin's telling jokes, and half our team's up there. I'm riding a bike, you know, getting ready for the game. I'm like, man, I wish I could be in there right now.

NICHOLS: You're about to pitch.

LESTER: I'm about to pitch, and you know, these guys are in here cutting up. And it's like, all right, you know.

NICHOLS: The World Series.


NICHOLS: Nobody's like this. They're just hanging out.

LESTER: Everybody's just hanging out having a good time. And that's what makes us work.

NICHOLS: You had such a strange experience after game one of this World Series. All of a sudden everyone's talking about the resin on your glove? It looks green. And I loved your description. What did you call it, that it looked like?

LESTER: The green booger, a big green booger. Yes. Game one was so special to me. And I think our team, to go out there and kind of set the tone early and get off to a good start. And then to have that come up as a distraction. It's tough. I don't want that reputation. I don't want that to be next to my name. I want to be -- you know, when guys look across the field and they see me on the mound like hey this guy goes about it the right way.


NICHOLS: That's impactful stuff. And we're going to hear a lot more from Lester on this after the break, including his response to those who are calling him a cheater. We hope you'll stay with us.


NICHOLS: I'm Rachel Nichols. Welcome back to UNGUARDED. We want to bring you more from Jon Lester, the ace pitcher of the World Series champion Red Sox.

During game one of the series, allegations surfaced that Lester might be using an illegal substance on his glove. Now baseball officials cleared Lester immediately, identifying the substance as regular resin. But in an exclusive sit-down with CNN, Lester confided just how rocked he was by the whole controversy.


LESTER: I know I don't cheat. And, you know, that's all I can really say about it. I don't know how else to answer it. You know, there's no other way to answer it.

For something like that to come out kind of, you know, a little thorn in your side. But I know how I prepare. I know what I do. So it was sad, because it took away from game one.

NICHOLS: You had the Cardinals themselves coming out and saying, "We don't think he did anything." I mean, it really did...

LESTER: That meant a lot to me for the G.M., for Mike Matheny, for Major League baseball to come out immediately and say, "Look, this is what we think. And drop it." And that meant a lot, you know, especially with everything that was going on with game one and just kind of trying to enjoy that. That meant a lot to me to hear those guys say that.

NICHOLS: For people who don't live here, can you explain how tied this particular team has been to this particular city in this particular year after the marathon bombings? LESTER: When that happened, even the new guys that had been here, I mean, it happened in April. For a couple, well, a week, we were here for a week. And it was like immediately, those guys took ahold of Boston. Like "Hey, this is our home, too," you know. Like "why would you do that to our home?" Just things kind of snowballed from there. It was just like, hey, let's -- what else can we do to help? You know, and it just -- you could really see when this happened, the fans came to Fenway to get away.

NICHOLS: You see the amputees, the victims of the bombing out on that field before you have some of your biggest games. And they look at you guys and they say, "Win for us." What different kind of weight is that on your shoulders as an athlete to feel that?

LESTER: I wouldn't say weight, you know. I think it kind of motivates you a little bit as far as those days that you're kind of struggling. When you're walking in from the bull pen and those guys are coming by, it's like, OK, it doesn't matter. I got to find a way. You know, these guys are in wheelchairs right now. I mean, they've lived half their life walking, and all of a sudden in one day, in one second, they're in a wheelchair. And it's like I need to go out there and compete for these guys.

NICHOLS: You're used to playing for a cause, so to speak. You've got your foundation for kids with cancer.

LESTER: I fought and beat cancer. Now it's time to fight for the kids.

NICHOLS: I know that some of that was born out of your own experiences. You were diagnosed with lymphoma when you were 22 years old. You're 29 years old now. How much does it still inform every day when you walk out and you get to play the game of baseball and you get to be healthy now?

LESTER: I don't think so much anymore. I think when it hits home for me is when we have the kids that come out to the games. You get hurt, go through rehab, you come back and then you move on. And that's how I really wanted to approach it. And that helped me. That's the way that I coped with it.

NICHOLS: You won another World Series. You had two World Series. There must have been a time back then when that seemed if not impossible very far away.

LESTER: I mean, one seemed impossible at the time. Especially that year just going through all that stuff trying to get back; just trying to get back to be -- being a big leaguer was my main goal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're the world champs. And this is incredible, man.

LESTER: Obviously, everybody comes in. All 30 teams come in at spring training: "We're going to win the World Series." Well, there's only one of us that stands at the end and gets to hold that trophy up. And it's one of those deals that I don't think you could ever fully describe to somebody unless they get to do it.

NICHOLS: Already thinking to the next one?

LESTER: Not yet, no.


LESTER: Not yet. No, no, not yet. Enjoying this one, definitely.


NICHOLS: Lester told me he sees a mirror in the way the Red Sox went from worst in their division last year to World Series winners this year. He said they identified the tumors, they healed, they rebuilt themselves stronger and into champions.

And I want to talk about that and a lot more with our excellent panel today. I'm joined by former NFL star running back Tiki Barber and TV host Steve Wilkos.

Now Tiki, most people probably expect you to be here. You are an athlete.

But Steve, you work in a different field. But that is the idea with our panels on UNGUARDED. We want to mix people from different backgrounds who can bring a broader perspective into our discussions about sports.

And Steve, you're a former police officer. You've been in the military. And I want to ask you a little bit about the shows that you do on cheating and wrongdoing. And reflecting on this Lester piece that you just saw, have we become so jaded in the world of sports and seeing so much cheating all the time, that even when a guy is cleared of any wrongdoing there's so much skepticism among the media and among fans that he must have cheated somehow?

STEVE WILKOS, TV HOST: Well, when they were talking about it, I said can you imagine if they got called in the World Series with some kind of -- and got thrown out of the game? I mean, it's maybe even worse than steroid, you know, being accused of that. And I said nobody during the game ever complained or said I want to see the ball. So I certainly didn't think that he was cheating.

And I watched, you know, the whole World Series. So I just can't imagine anybody would take that kind of risk at such a high stage.

NICHOLS: Is it too dominant a story line in sports now that we just jump to that no matter what?

TIKI BARBER, FORMER NFL PLAYER: We can never know. We can only take him at his word. He says it was resin. We've got to believe it was.

It's the same question you ask about David Ortiz. Is David Ortiz on steroids to be able to do what he's doing at this age and being so clutch and striking the ball. You take him at his word. And you can dig an fight and bring down a great story. But it's ultimately not worth it, I think.

NICHOLS: And there were great story lines. I know you're a Yankees fan.


NICHOLS: So it might be hard to admit this. But great story lines on the Red Sox this year. And the team chemistry was such a big part of that.

BARBER: It's all chemistry. And I think it starts with the top. When they brought John Farrell back, I think he set an expectation but then let his locker room kind of control what was going on. And you hear John talking about that in that piece. And we were loose. We weren't business-like, like they were in '07. They had fun at what they were doing and let -- I think let themselves police the problems that would arise. And it turned out to be a fabulous season for them.

NICHOLS: And chemistry comes into play in so many respects. We talk about sports being a metaphor for life and teams and things like that. Police forces or whether the situations you deal with on your show. How much is that -- it's so nebulous, chemistry, but how much is it really a factor?

WILKOS: Well, I think it's a big factor. Because I think when you love what you do and you love your job, you perform better. And I try to be good to everybody that works for me, because it's a great atmosphere, and the show's better when everybody's happy and pulling together.

And I think that's the problem with the Red Sox last year. I don't think anybody really enjoyed coming to the ballpark and playing. I love Bobby Valentine, but I don't think he did a great job.

BARBER: It's also about trust, right? Because you've got to get...

WILKOS: Somebody's got your back.

BARBER: Exactly. You got to know that you can depend on that person. If they do it consistently, if they do it on a daily basis, then you don't really worry about the things that come up that may be detrimental. Right? You believe that they'll find a way to get it done. And that's what it felt like with this Boston team. They didn't hit well, but they hit when they needed to.

NICHOLS: At the right time.

WILKOS: Exactly. Some clutch hitting.

NICHOLS: Yes. And I will say, if you really wanted chemistry at your workplace you should grow a beard, I think.

WILKOS: I'd look like the guests on "Springer" if I grew a beard. So I don't think that's going to happen.

NICHOLS: I mean, we talked about the beards so much. Because they do -- they look like mountain men out there. And apparently, they're not allowed to cut them, which is what they heard there.

BARBER: Until the parade, right?

NICHOLS: So that's going to be an interesting season next season with twice as much beard. But I mean, did you do that on any of your teams? Not the beards, but was there any sort of...

BARBER: We never did. Maybe, you know, silly things. Plaxico Burress once wanted me to grow the George Jefferson, you know, because I don't have it up here. I'm sure you might be a little.

WILKOS: I'm the same way.

BARBER: But not really, you know. I think the dynamic is different in baseball because it's every day. You're traveling across the country, and you're on these extended road trips, whereas in my sport in football, it's -- you know, you're gone eight days out of the year. That's it. And you're around each other in training camp, but it's a different kind of closeness that I think exists on baseball teams.

NICHOLS: All right, breaking news, more razors in NFL locker rooms. That is what we have learned on this segment.

All right. Enough of baseball. When we return, we're going to shift the conversation to bullying and the NFL, and whether the league has a real issue on its hands. Stay with us. We will be right back.


NICHOLS: Welcome back to UNGUARDED.

Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin abruptly left the team earlier this week. Since then, some sources have told "The Miami Herald" that Martin was being essentially bullied by his teammates. Other sources have indicated Martin might have some personal emotional issues at play, as well. And the full story still developing.

But regardless, this is not the first time we've seen concern with what NFL players like to call hazing and when it might go far. I'm here with NFL star Tiki Barber and TV host Steve Wilkos.

We were just talking earlier about the chemistry issues with the Red Sox, how great it was in the clubhouse in the World Series. What about when things start to careen in the other reaction? So Tiki, let's start with just your reaction to this story.

BARBER: I think it's part of sports. I think it's part of the football culture. You kind of initiate new folks, new players. And Jonathan Martin is in his second year. But you initiate them into football. They kind of have to earn respect. Now, he -- I think we have to be careful with using the term bullying. You would -- that would imply that he was a defenseless person, that he couldn't fight back. I think he can. I think there's probably something else going on here that's only exacerbated by his teammates getting on him for whatever reason. And guys are going to do that.

To me the most important thing is that a veteran leader in that locker room takes control of that situation. It can come down from on high, from the coaching staff or the organization. But it's better if it comes from internally.

NICHOLS: Well, you do a lot of shows on bullying. This is a big topic of conversation in your line of work. Can you be 6'5" and bullied?

WILKOS: Well, I was a little surprised at the reaction from it. Because -- and immediately I thought maybe he had mental health issues. Because when we do topics on bullying, it's usually with teenagers. And I got to imagine, Tiki would know far more about this than me.

But through high school locker rooms, college locker rooms, I've got to imagine he went through this all through -- all the way up. And to be now you're in the pros and to have this happen you storm off, I was a little surprised by that reaction.

NICHOLS: But there is hazing, as you said.

BARBER: Sure, there is. There's tons of hazing. It happens all the time. Guys get their hairs cut. They're forced to pay for dinner.

NICHOLS: We got to show the Giants, your former team. We've got to show the Giants video, right? Prince Amukamara thrown into the cold tub. A lot of criticism nationally for that. I mean, should NFL locker rooms be cutting down on that a little bit, whether it's a player or not?

BARBER: I think this stuff, it's obviously existed forever. The difference is social media makes it much more known. Profound.

WILKOS: Are you ever going to change it?

BARBER: Exactly.

WILKOS: In the marines you haze. You know, police officers in the male locker room, you have, you know, tons of stuff going on that people would be shocked like how you talk to each other and how you get on each other. So I don't think it's -- you've got to remember, most of these guys are 20-year-old guys filled with testosterone. I don't think you're going to change the culture very much.

NICHOLS: Right. I do want to stick with the Dolphins a little bit and talk about what happened with Mike Pouncey. He was served with papers last weekend while he was playing the Patriots. We have to make the point that he was not expected to be charged with anything but could be a material witness in the Aaron Hernandez case.

How much of guns and the NFL do you see being a pervasive problem?

WILKOS: Well, I was a policeman. I got to say, now that I'm not a policeman, I'm relieved that I don't have to carry a gun anymore. I'm not a big fan of guns.

You see on the news as we're walking in here, there's a big shooting at LAX. So I think guns in general are a big problem in our country.

And in the NFL, in baseball, hockey, it's everywhere. It's not just NFL. And I don't understand the need for everybody to be carrying weapons, especially -- you know, I'm a big guy. Most people don't give me a hard time. But I don't put myself in positions either where I need to pull a gun out...

BARBER: I think there's alternatives, too. If you feel unsafe, there's an alternative to carrying a gun.

NICHOLS: Did you carry a gun when you played in the league?

BARBER: Not a chance. I would hire an off-duty police officer or retired police officer to go around with me if I was every going somewhere where I felt threatened.

Now, I can understand from some of the cultures that these young men come from where they believe it's necessary. And we cannot forget what happened to Sean Taylor, the Washington Redskins safety who was killed in a home invasion. He got shot. And a lot of people at that time said if he would have had a gun he would have been safer. Maybe. But it probably would have been two fatalities at that point.

So you have to be careful when you talk about gun safety. It gets political. It also gets cultural. I think the most important thing is that guys need to be smart with it and be aware when they have weapons that can cause harm.

NICHOLS: All right. That is going to have to be the last word here. But thanks so much to you both for joining us.

And we want you to stay with us.

After the break we're going to be joined by "Bleacher Reports s" NFL expert Mike Freeman. He will have four things that you have to know heading into this weekend's game. Hi, Mike. We'll be right back.


NICHOLS: Welcome back to UNGUARDED. And welcome to "Bleacher Report's" Mike Freeman. It is nice to have you here.

MIKE FREEMAN, "BLEACHER REPORT": Thank you. Good to be here. NICHOLS: All right. You're going to tell me four things I need to know going into this weekend's game. So the game, your best four, come on.

FREEMAN: I'll give you starting with these guys, the Dallas Cowboys. The feuding cowboys.

Dez Bryant last week gets into a bunch of arguments with his teammates on the sideline. Spoke to Terrell Owens, who's been in a few arguments himself on the sidelines. He said he supported Dez. He said Dez will be fine. The Cowboys will be fine. I want it see how these guys perform after that crazy week.

NICHOLS: We will all have our popcorn ready, as Terrell would say.

What about Greg Schiano of the Bucs. The word embattled be an understatement for him right now.

FREEMAN: Yes, we all know he's in trouble. But from what I'm hearing from league sources, he could be even more trouble. If they go to Seattle this week and get blown out which is very possible. He could be fired this year instead of after the season.

NICHOLS: Mid-season.

FREEMAN: Mid-season, it could happen.

NICHOLS: Excellent. Wow, all right. Aaron Rodgers is not going to get fired any time soon. We can pretty much count on that. What have you got on him?

FREEMAN: Eric Rogers has really worked his way into the MVP race. Some of the throws he's making are incredible. Playing Chicago. He's expecting to do well. And if he does well, he's right there. I think he's got the lead, actually.

NICHOLS: All right, Golden Tate (ph) mentioned Seattle. What have you got for me on Mr. Tate?

FREEMAN: Golden Tate celebrates before he gets into the end zone. The NFL does not like that. This off-season they're going to examine taking away a score.


FREEMAN: ... before -- if you do that before you go into the end zone, touchdown gone. .

NICHOLS: You have gotten serious.

FREEMAN: Yes, that's serious. And I don't see the NFL doing it. That just seems too crazy, but the NFL might. They're thinking about it.

NICHOLS: Wow. That is big time. All right. Well, thank you very much. Great to have you in studio. Please come back.

And that is our show tonight. You can join our conversation. You can follow me on twitter, like us on Facebook or visit us on the web at

Be sure to join us again next right back here on this show where the end of the game is just the start of the story. Good night.