Jocks Rapping, Rocking In Their Spare Time

Young professional athletes recording albums include basketball's Shaquille O'Neal, baseball's Jack McDowell.

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


Supaman" (RealAudio excerpt).

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

the road."

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?"