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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

ESPN The Mag's Epic Tale About Pro Athletes Who Poop During Competition

Illustration for article titled emESPN The Mag/ems Epic Tale About Pro Athletes Who Poop During Competition

Squished between the naked bodies of athletes comes this amazing story about some of their unfortunate bouts with uncontrollable gastrointestinal eruptions. Here are some excerpts from David Fleming's story, which will be online eventually. [UPDATE: It's online.]


Julie Moss, marathoner:

Exhausted and dangerously dehydrated, Moss was losing control of her body with every step. But she trudged on, pushing herself toward ­victory. The legs went first. A quarter mile after passing the Sizzler, Moss wobbled, then her knees buckled inward and she telescoped to the ground like a dynamited building. The moment she hit the pavement, her bowels cut loose, emptying against her will. The torrent breached her dainty, light-blue running shorts and moved down her legs, where the hot, acidic fecal matter stung her skin and the putrid stench tattooed the inside of her nostrils.
Overwhelmed by the feeling of helplessness, Moss sat on the road for more than two minutes. She was panicked, embarrassed, horrified. And yet, in some inexplicable, scatological way, she felt transformed. As she explains it now, "What you're weighing, looking at the bathroom and the finish line, is: Can I ask more of myself, can I give more, can I suffer more? That's what sports is. How fine of an edge are you willing to dance on? What kind of a mess can you live with? But you learn the answers only if you're willing to go beyond your limits to that Star Trekkie place, where, you know, no man has ever gone before."


Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, the New Orleans Saints:

SOME OF OUR greatest champions have danced on the edge that Moss tumbled over. In the 1997 NBA Finals, a severe stomach flu forced Michael Jordan to play through ­extreme bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. His 38 points (with multiple grimaces) led the Bulls to a pivotal Game 5 win against Utah. At Wimbledon in 2001, Serena Williams was suffering from a stomach virus and ran off the court during her quarter-final match with Jennifer Capriati in the decisive third set, after pleading with the chair ump for a timeout. "I can't hold this," Serena cried. And this summer, some of the New ­Orleans Saints began referring to their championship tilt with the Colts as the Super Bowel because of the unpleasant events that transpired before kickoff. "An NFL pregame locker room can be the most god-awful scene you will ever see or smell," says former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Browns. "We are moments away from the Super Bowl, the highlight of our athletic lives, and pretty much everyone is in the bathroom just absolutely blowing up the stalls."

Paula Radcliffe, marathoner:

The British distance runner and Nike spokesperson was four miles from winning the 2005 ­London Marathon when she stopped suddenly and darted to the side of the course. Radcliffe had been losing time for several miles because of gastrointestinal disturbances—the kind that, according to one study, affect 83% of marathoners and that are usually preceded by gaseous outbursts that runners call walkie-talkies.

Radcliffe's solution? She simply placed one hand on a metal crowd barricade for balance, used the other to curtain her shorts to the side and perched, precariously, over her shoes. Then, as they say in England, she proceeded to "have a poo" right there on the street and in broad daylight, within two feet of a startled spectator. "I didn't really want to resort to that in front of hundreds of thousands of people," she says, ­unfazed. "But when I'm racing, I'm totally focused on winning the race and running as fast as possible. I thought, I just need to go and I'll be fine."


And poor, poor Robbie Tobeck, Seattle Seahawks center; also, Matt Hasselbeck:

Meet Robbie Tobeck, the other 0.1%. The former NFL center, who retired in 2006, spent 13 seasons in the league, the final seven as a cornerstone of the Seattle Seahawks offensive line. In 2001, Tobeck and the Seahawks traveled to Washington to face the Redskins. Late in the week, he had come down with a ­wicked, explosive stomach virus; by game day he had lost 10 pounds, as well as a roommate, after guard Steve Hutchinson was mercifully allowed to seek shelter away from the sounds and smells emanating from Tobeck.

"I had pretty much blocked this whole awful experience out of my mind until you called, so thanks," says Tobeck, who co-owns an insurance company in Bellevue, Wash., and hosts his own outdoor radio show on Seattle's ESPN 710AM. "This stuff happens way more than ­people realize. Every time you hear a player got ‘snot bubbled,' you have to know the same thing happens on the other end, too. You just get hit so hard, you lose your control for a minute."

The Seahawks were a precarious 3–3, so after a three-word pep talk from coach Mike ­Holmgren—"Tough it out"—Tobeck downed all the Imodium he could find and willed himself onto the field. There, trainers stashed spare pants and a bucket for Tobeck to poop in behind the team bench. He made it through his first snap to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and was holding off 335-pound defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson when running back Shaun Alexander ran into him from behind. In Tobeck's delicate condition, that was enough to cause him to ­Jackson Pollock his pregame meal all over the back of his uniform. And yes, Tobeck still calls it the worst moment of his career, even worse than suffering two Super Bowl defeats. "When you're trying to push every last bit of your ability out of your body, stuff's gonna happen," he says. "It's not a badge of honor. In football, you're just ­expected to go beyond your limits. I was lying on the ground, thinking, What do I do now? Then I was like, ‘Heck, it's only ­Hasselbeck—I'll stay in the game.' "

The next play called for a shotgun snap, but crowd noise at FedEx Field forced Hasselbeck to snuggle up nice and tight under center. The epic mushroom cloud of funk had set in with ­Tobeck's linemates and even with the Redskins—on his return trip to DC two years later, Tobeck found a bag of Depend adult diapers in his locker—but at the time, Hasselbeck didn't fully grasp the ­origin or the extent of the situation until a few minutes later, when a bug-eyed trainer ran up to him near the Seahawks' bench.
"Hey," the guy yelled into Hasselbeck's ear. "I'd stop licking my hands if I were you!"


And there's more. So either go out and (gasp) buy ESPN The Magazine or wait until it pops online soon-ish.

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