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Miami Dolphins Controversy; Interview with Tiger Woods

Aired November 8, 2013 - 22:30   ET


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST: Hi. I'm Rachel Nichols.

And welcome to UNGUARDED -- a sports show that explores the issues that extend off the field to touch us all.

This week, we'll bring you some fascinating perspectives on the Miami Dolphins.

And I'll also be talking to Tiger Woods in a rare, candid interview.



NICHOLS: Thank for joining us.

This week, I traveled to Turkey for an unusual sit down with Tiger Woods. We'll bring that to you just a bit later.

But, first, the ongoing controversy with the Miami Dolphins.

Last week, second year tackle Jonathan Martin left the team, saying he'd been harassed by veteran teammate Richie Incognito. Most of the rest of the Dolphins players have backed Incognito. But Martin's camp has since released racist and curse-filled text messages and voice mails Martin received, as well as some threats by other members of the team.

Let's bring in the, who covered the Dolphins for nearly a decade and he's joining us now from Florida.

So, Jeff, you've been reporting on the story since the moment it started developing. There are so many twists and turns here, so many layers. But when we look at the big picture, what is this really about?

JEFF DARLINGTON, NFL NETWORK: Well, Rachel, as we begin to peel back those layers I think we're going to learn more and more. And character development I think is something that's going to be very crucial to this entire situation. Superficially speaking at this point, we know Richie Incognito is well-liked by his teammates, but clearly has a very distinct history about his past. We also know, he has told me in the past that he has sought counseling. He takes medication to try to curb some of his anger management issues.

We know less, though, about Jonathan Martin at this point. He we know he is the son of Harvard graduates. That he went to Stanford. But we don't know everything yet about Martin.

And then, in all of this -- we also have an organization that put these two people together on the same field. They spent plenty of time both in the locker room and away from the locker room. And that is just another dynamic, Rachel, in this entire complex just sophisticated, crazy story.

NICHOLS: How much is this shedding light on the fact this may be an issue in sports and the NFL more than we think and that guys are getting hurt?

DARLINGTON: That's going to be the challenge of the NFL as it begins this investigation into the Dolphins situation. When they come into the Dolphins locker room, if they do indeed decide and determine that there is an issue with the culture in there, it's going to be difficult for them to present punishment without going into 31 other locker rooms to find out whether this is institutional within the Miami locker room or whether this is a league-wide problem. That's the question that the NFL is ultimately going to have to answer. And it's not an easy one at all, Rachel.

NICHOLS: All right. Jeff, we're going to have to end of that note. Thank you so much.

And now joining me to take this conversation a little bit further I'd like to introduce you guys to our eclectic panel.

Like to welcome NBA legend, Julius Erving, who has just written his autobiography, "Dr. J"; actor from "CSI: New York" and "Covert Affairs", Hill Harper, also an author of recently published "Letters to An Incarcerated Brother"; and former pro-wrestler and current fitness guru, Diamond Dallas Page.

Gentlemen, we have brought you guys together from wildly different backgrounds to take advantage of your wide perspective on these issues.

And I just want to get right into this Jonathan Martin Dolphins issue. This was handled in such a public, ugly way. I want you guys to take a few steps back and tell me how you would have handled it from one side or the other.

What do you think?

DIAMOND DALLAS PAGE, FORMER PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER: Well, we had wrestler's court. If someone stepped out of line, we put them out in front of everybody and we work his way through whatever his issues were. And, you know, it's something that we kept to ourselves. Would never have taken it out like that. JULIUS ERVING, NBA HALL OF FAMER: Yes, I think in basketball 12 players versus 50 or more, the captain can take care of it. The coach can take care of it.

With football, it's a little different. They have multiple captains. They have offensive team, defensive team. Sometimes they don't even know each other or talk to each other.

When two guys can't get it done, one usually has to go or both have to go. But it's something that should be regulated in a locker room, in private, by the leaders of the team.

HILL HARPER, ACTOR: I think about it from just the employment side of the ball. This is his job. This is everybody's job. They're working there, they're playing a sport but they're doing it to feed their family and take care of their family.

So, whenever something becomes bullying or even hazing -- I did a story about Robert Champion down at Florida A&M who was killed, a member of the band who was killed through a hazing incident. Sometimes, the group mentality can get out of hand and it's hard to know the truth.

But at the end of the day, these guys -- we have to figure out a way to make sure that they can do their job. A professional environment is a professional environment. These are professional football players. They should act accordingly.

NICHOLS: In the aftermath of this, though, especially when it first was coming out you had reactions on both sides. You had some people saying I would have handled it by going up and punching that guy. And then you had other people saying the team should have handled it, and he should have stepped out or stepped back.

What would be your instinct?

HARPER: You can't handle it by punching a guy because that's illegal, right? So, think about this -- just because it's football, you do your job, right? So do you want to lose your job by handling anytime the wrong way? No.

PAGE: It's not checkers, you know? You're out there and you're beating the hell out of each other. They're trying to toughen you up especially if you're on the line. So, I think there's -- I'm not saying the hazing part, whenever, but those two guys hit they should have taken it off and done it on their own.

It's -- they're two men. They're two big men who can handle themselves.

ERVING: I think when the facts come out, nothing will be reported that hasn't been done before somewhere. It's just been handled differently. This time, it is being handled differently. I'm pretty much waiting for the story to die.

NICHOLS: You're done with this. ERVING: I'm waiting for it to die. It's gone on too long.

NICHOLS: All right. Well, we're going to have to stop our discussion right there but we will pick up right where we left off after this break.

And we'll also bring you my interview with Tiger Woods.

Stay with us.


NICHOLS: I'm Rachel Nichols. And welcome back to UNGUARDED.

I'm here with Julius Erving, Hill Harper, and Diamond Dallas Page.

And in just a bit, we'll have my Tiger Woods interview.

But, first, we're going to continue the conversation about what's happening in Miami.

Jonathan Martin's emotional distress reportedly became so severe he checked himself into a hospital after leaving the Dolphins last we're week.

Here's Bears receiver Brandon Marshall who had his own mental health issues when playing in Miami.


BRANDON MARSHALL, CHICAGO BEARS WIDE RECIEVER: Isn't that an isolated incident? It's unfortunately the culture of the NFL.

Take a little boy and a little girl. The little boy falls down, the first thing we say as parent is get up, shake it off, you'll be OK. No, don't cry.

When a little girl falls down, what do we say? It's going to be OK. We validate their feelings.

So, right there from that moment, we're teaching our men, you know, to mask their feelings, don't show their emotions. And it's that times 100 with football players. Can't show that you're hurt, can't show any pain.

That's what we have to change.


NICHOLS: All right. So what's your guys' take on what Brandon's saying there?

PAGE: In my world, you never wanted to act like you were hurt. And I might be out there selling my arm because that's what the guy just did to me but my back is killing me. I got to keep moving on. I'm sure you played many times hurt, right?

ERVING: If it didn't hurt, you weren't doing it right.

NICHOLS: Was there a difference between physical and emotional distress?

ERVING: Of course, there is. But I'd just like to speak to the evolution of sports. This is what it's come to now. You know what I mean? There was a time a guy gets hurt, he loses his place in the lineup, he might not get back in.

PAGE: Right.

ERVING: That's your job. So, a lot of guys mask the pain and played hurt and played pretty well, you know? So, it's something that you can do. But everybody's not willing to do it.

HARPER: I mean, at the end of the day we can talk about what an individual athlete or what the mindset should be or how they should approach it. At the end of the day, there are folks who are making money off putting people on a field with virtually no regard in some cases for their health or well-being unless they are at the top of the food chain on the team.

And in this case, what's interesting and what no one's talking about to me is how valuable is Jonathan Martin to the Dolphins versus Richie Incognito? In other words, which player is actually more valuable? That's who's going to get treated better.

At the end of the day, that's who the team will rally around. Who can help me win right now?

NICHOLS: All good points in a situation it seems will be continuing to unfold in the coming weeks.

But let's switch gears from the NFL for a moment. Tiger Woods is one of the most famous athletes but most elusive. He rarely sits for interviews. And after the scandal that rocked his personal life four years ago, he closed ranks even further. Yet, we were able to track him down this week in Turkey of all places. It just took a lot of, well, unusual travel to do it.


NICHOLS: So when I agreed to meet Tiger Woods in Istanbul, I pictured the beautiful city, the mosque, the spice market. I did not picture being up in one of these.

And again, where Tiger is, is not so easy to get to.

(voice-over): So, Tiger is actually down on the Bosphorus Bridge that spans the river but it also connects the continent of Europe to the continent of Asia.

Tiger is actually hitting a golf ball out of Asia and into Europe. (on camera): So, that was interesting. I know that you've hit long drives before, but from one continent to the other has to be new, right?

TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: That's definitely new. And that was the tightest fairway I've ever had to hit into.

NICHOLS: Right? There's cars coming the other direction.

WOODS: There's cars coming the other direction. So if I lose it right with a left to right wind, there's a windshield that could potentially be damaged.

NICHOLS: But all safe.

WOODS: All safe.

NICHOLS: On the western front.


NICHOLS: That's good.

All right. So, you've had a fantastic year. You arrive here to play this tournament, ranked number one in the world. You've won more tournaments than anybody else.

What has been the most gratifying part of getting back up to this level again?

WOODS: I think it's going through and battling the injuries they had -- and to now finally come out on the other side where I feel more consistent.

I've won eight times in the last two years. So I'm very, very, very proud of that.

NICHOLS: I mean, this wasn't easy. There were good times, bad times, very bad times. What did you learn about yourself in that climb back up?

WOODS: First, it comes got to get healthy first. I couldn't practice unless I got healthy. In order to play tournament golf, you got to be able to practice.

NICHOLS: And the mental side of it?

WOODS: The mental side comes from just I think reps. It took me a little bit but over the last couple of years, especially this year, it sort of felt that I didn't have to go to the range and say I have 10 thoughts I need to work on. It's just warm up go play.

NICHOLS: Did you ever think I might not get back there? Was it ever that hard for you?

WOODS: No, if I could get healthy I knew I could get back. But I had to get healthy first.

NICHOLS: You're almost 38 years old. Getting healthy is not as easy as it was 10 years ago, right?

WOODS: Correct. But the thing is, a lot of golfers peak in their 30s, which is very different. The mental maturity thought takes to play this game at a high level, you start eliminating mistakes as you get older. You might not bomb it as far, you might not do all the other things, but your strategic awareness improves. You understand how to attack the golf course.

And I think that's why you see so many great players like for instance Hogan won most of the majors at my age and older.

NICHOLS: As well as you've played, you're the guy who puts so much weight on the Majors earlier in your career. So, you've had these great wins all over the world. And yet when there are those big moments on the weekends of the biggest tournaments, you haven't been able to pull through.

What's that juxtaposition like for you?

WOODS: Well, it was frustrating because I had a chance this year in two of the major championships right there. So, I've been there with chances to win on the weekend. I just haven't done it yet.

NICHOLS: So, as that stretch gets longer and longer without a Major, what's that pressure like as it builds and builds?

WOODS: Well, for me I look at it the fact that it takes a career. For Jack, it took him until he was 46.

It takes a long time to win a lot of major championships. And you're going to have your years where you play really well, you may clip two or three out of there, and then you're going to have years where you just don't win anything but you're there.

You know, quite frankly, over the last, well, since '08 I've been there with a chance to win in about half of them. Just haven't seemed to have won one.


NICHOLS: After the break, we'll hear Tiger explain why his girlfriend, Olympic gold medalist, Lindsey Vonn, thinks he's a nerd.


WOODS: My teammates used to call me Urkel back in college.


WOODS: Yes, I do have that little nerdy side of me.


NICHOLS: We'll be right back.


NICHOLS: Welcome back to UNGUARDED. I'm Rachel Nichols.

We have more of my rare sit down with Tiger Woods. And, yes, I asked about his girlfriend, Olympic gold medalist, Lindsey Vonn and the one thing more important to him than golf, being a father.



NICHOLS: There's so much scrutiny on everything you do. Most recent controversy in golf was whether rules violations you had earlier in the year added up to some sort of intentional cheating and a columnist retracted that. But what does it feel like to be under everyone's microscope all the time?

WOODS: Well, I think it's the nature of the new media that we're in, because it's 24-hour news cycle. Everyone has to be able to talk, everyone has outlets via blogs. The Internet has changed everything in how our sport is looked upon.

NICHOLS: How do you keep it fun, then, with all of that on top of you all the time?

WOODS: For me, it's easy. It's practice. I love the practice. I love to go out there and play at home. I'm (INAUDIBLE). Just hang out with my boys.

NICHOLS: I know your kids are getting old enough now to watch the game, know what you're doing. Charlie, your 4-year-old, you told me he's starting to ask you a little bit more about your results and your swing and things like that.

WOODS: It was pretty neat for him to be at Akron when I won this year.

SPORTS ANCHOR: Just amazing.

WOODS: It was the first time that he's ever actually seen me win a golf tournament. So it was a different scenery because he's been out on the golf course with me, but he's never seen people following me playing. It was a little bit shocking to him but he also loved it at the same time.

NICHOLS: Tell me something that your kids know about you that nobody else knows. Do you yell the loudest at the soccer games? Are you the one who hogs the guacamole? I know being a dad is so much a big part of who you are right now.

WOODS: I don't yell at them when they play T-ball or soccer. I just watch, support. I've been -- lately, the watermelon guy. So they need a little bit of sugar, getting a little tired, they'll come over and, hey, do you have the watermelon? But other than that, I just watch. And to me, that's just a thrill.

NICHOLS: I do have to ask you about the other member of your gallery lately, your girlfriend Lindsey Vonn. Lindsey is a world- class competitive athlete. She's an Olympic gold medalist.

How does being with her make you a better golfer?

WOODS: It's two totally different training regimens. You look at some of the guys on the tour, I mean, they've got huge guts and can't breathe when they go up to the tee boxes but they can still win golf tournaments. In her sport, if she's not feeling close to 100 percent, you're not going to win.

NICHOLS: I believe when someone asked to describe you, she said he's funny and a little bit dorky. Is that fair?

WOODS: I guess so.

My teammates used to call me Urkel back in college.


WOODS: I do have a little nerdy side of me. That's probably why I got into Stanford. I like to have fun. I enjoy life and very competitive. I think that's one of the reasons why we get along so well.


NICHOLS: Well, nerd power clearly working for Tiger there. And, hey, we also saw the Stanford football team dress its nerds after their big win over Oregon last night.

So, maybe we just all need to find some Urkel glasses, gentlemen. We'll be fine.

We will have more on Tiger coming up next, including some thoughts from my all-star panel here of Dr. J, Hill Harper, and Diamond Dallas Page.

Don't go away.


NICHOLS: I'm joined again by Julius Erving, Hill Harper and Diamond Dallas Page.

That's just fun to say, by the way.


NICHOLS: Gentlemen, you saw my interview with Tiger Woods. He is ranked the number one golfer in the world.

He's really come back in the last four years from his injuries, his personal scandal, everyone wants to know is how come he hasn't won any majors? Is that fair because hey he's a superstar or do we set the bar too high for these guys?

PAGE: I think he set the bar at a whole different level. So, people are always expecting him to come back from that. I think he's number one in the world he's on his way to that. But he has to work so much harder because he's created this image.

ERVING: Well, you take what Jack Nicklaus had to say. He's going to blow my record to smithereens. Since he hasn't gotten to 18, the rest of the world were saying Jack he's supposed to have it done by now.

But Tiger's 37. You know, the legends tour starts at 50. He's got years to win a couple of tournaments on that big stage. I think he's well equipped to do it because I think he's in better condition now than he certainly was at any time in the last four years and he's in a lot greater condition than 99 percent of the other players who play on tour.

So, the conditioning is going to be one of the keys.

NICHOLS: Yes. And with the Tiger story we've seen the public at least try to use sports as a way to redeem character. They sit there and look at Tiger and say, OK, he had these character issues and maybe if he can win on the course, people will get back in his camp.

But, Hill, I was interested in the story you told us in the green room about sports as a way to reveal character.

HARPER: I think without question, the way someone plays sports shows something about inherently who they are, you know? For instance, the way someone plays basketball. And Dr. J I'm sure could speak to this. If you are the type of person are you a ball hog and it's all about you and you need to score or you distribute the ball, it's about actually winning.

You know, someone asked me about playing basketball with the president.

NICHOLS: I love how you just dropped that in by the way. We should say you went to Harvard with the president.

HARPER: Right, went to Harvard. And we played actually a basketball game at a prison. We had outreach.

And my latest book is called "Letters to An Incarcerated Brother", and it's about motivation for incarcerated individuals and their families, et cetera. And we did an outreach when we were back in law school to a prison. Five of us went out there including our current president to play.

And it was about team. It was about actually reaching out. And you can use sports to actually do good things and to work together and teamwork and character. And I think the way someone plays speaks more about their character than virtually anything else.

NICHOLS: Sports, leadership, character -- all issues we have been talking about quite a bit this week.

Thank you, gentlemen, very much. It has been great to have you here. I really appreciate it. I hope you'll come back.

And I hope you guys will continue to join us and our conversation online. You can follow me on Twitter, like us on Facebook or visit us on the web at

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