Once there was a time when the only chance fans got to check out their sporting heroes
was by attending the ballparks, stadiums and arenas where games were played.
Information about the stars came from the sports section of the daily newspaper and the
backs of baseball cards.
Fast-forward through the years, and athletes are everywhere. They're on television.
They're in magazines.
And now they're even on CDs.
More than ever, it seems that basketball stars, baseball heroes and other jocks are
stepping out of their usual arenas to moonlight in the business of making music.
Their move into the pop-music medium has been spearheaded by such sports
superstars as the Los Angeles Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal, who easily swaps a basketball
for a rapper's microphone; pitcher Jack McDowell of the Anaheim Angels, who fronts the
rock-group Stickfigure; and even such surfers as Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and Peter
King, who lay down their longboards and pick up microphone and musical instruments
for their rock band, appropriately named the Surfers.
O'Neal's musical catalog boasts four albums, including Respect, which was
released earlier this year and features such journeyman-style hip-hop tracks as
The seven-foot-plus Lakers center says that his foray into the rap game comes as an
extension of how he sees himself as an entertainer.
"I like to make people go, 'Ooh,' " O'Neal, 26, said. "I'm a performer. I'm an entertainer.
Basketball-wise, when I dunk, I want them to go, 'Yeah, Shaq!' and when I rhyme and
give them beats, I want them to go, 'Yeah, Shaq, yeah, yeah!'
"[With rap] it's the same thing," he continued. "I don't believe in pressure because my
peer group is too strong. I ain't got no yes-men in my camp, plus I'm my own worst critic. I
know music, and I know bangin' beats, and if the beats ain't bangin', you won't see my
name or hear my voice."
The Surfers seem intent on proving that it's not necessary for rock music to come
exclusively from dry land. These three world-class wave-riders released their debut LP,
Songs From the Pipe, earlier this year. Singer/guitarist King claimed that rocking
out really isn't that far removed from "shooting the curl."
"It's not any different to me. It's not like launching another career," King said. "I don't
really think of it as another career. I just think of it as a fun thing to do. I try not to think so
much about it."
The Stanford-educated McDowell, known for his intense stare and excitable nature on
the mound, finds fronting a rock band provides a chance to express emotions he is
discouraged from showing in the middle of a ball game.
"That whole baseball thing [is that] you're taught not to show your emotions, not to use
your emotions, which I've had a hard time doing anyway," McDowell said. "[Music is] just
a free flow of ideas and emotions. That's probably why I get off on it."
With prominent television endorsements for various products and movie roles, such as
his genie character in "Kazaam," O'Neal is a prime example of an athlete with the ability
to market himself as something much more than just a jock, according to San
Francisco Chronicle staff-writer Tim Keown.
"That's directly attributable to television," Keown said. "Not only are there more games on
TV for fans to become familiar with the athlete for what he actually does, with
endorsements they're able to, through television, send out a controlled image of who
they are. It's taken a lot of the mystery out of these guys. They don't have to rely on a
newspaper writer to get the right message out there, whatever it might be."
While O'Neal can rest easy, knowing his recordings are distributed by
entertainment-business conglomerate PolyGram, some athletes -- such as McDowell --
are forced to ply their trade through the more-uncertain indie-rock channels. Despite
having two albums in the can (including the 1997 release Feedbag), McDowell,
whose band features members of folk-rock unit Cracker and hard-pop group
Smithereens, said that people routinely tell him they can't find copies of his discs.
"I've put a handful of records out on independent labels, and this isn't a great time in
music history to be doing that," McDowell said as his band prepares to record a third
album. "It's extremely hard to get your stuff out there. I think if I hear, 'I looked everywhere
for your record and I can't find it,' one more time, I'm going to start smashing my guitars in
Although recently it seems there is a spate of athlete-fronted music acts, it's not the first
time that sports figures have tried to expand their fame into other realms. Frank Deford,
senior contributing-editor at Sports Illustrated, pointed out that American athletes
have been pursuing side projects for quite a while, dating to boxer John Sullivan's
appearances in vaudeville shows 100 years ago.
"There's always a sense in people that are good at one thing, that they want to try
something else," Deford said. "It's a very natural thing. It doesn't hurt anybody. Very few
of them are successful at it, God bless them. I couldn't care less if I didn't know ... Babe
Ruth made movies. It isn't like this is going to be a trend. Not that many guys are
accomplished in music ... enough to where they can make a recording and have it sell."
Ray Buchanan, defensive-back with football's Atlanta Falcons, is in an in-between
category when it comes to making music. He recorded a song with LaTocha Scott of R&B
girl-group Xscape for the recently released NFL Jams compilation. That album
paired such hip-hop and R&B acts as Boyz II Men, Foxy Brown, Faith Evans and Johnny
Gill with such football stars as receiver Andre Rison, running-back Garrison Hearst and
defensive-end Michael Strahan.
For his part, Buchanan feels that the decision by football players to chuck their helmets
and rock the mic just helps them to be more well-rounded individuals.
"I try to inspire different athletes to get involved [with the music business]," said
Buchanan, 27, who hopes to release an album of his own one day. "People want to see
what you can do besides on the field. If you have talent, why not showcase it and show
you're not just a one-dimensional person?"