Speech-Language Pathology/Stuttering/Famous People Who Stutter/Athletes

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Some stutterers compensate for their speech difficulties by excelling at non-verbal activities, such as sports. But you'll see that top athletes must do more than score points in a game.

Bob Love, Basketball Player[edit]

Bob Love (1942- ) was a three-time NCAA All-Star and led the Chicago Bulls in scoring for seven consecutive seasons. Reporters rarely interviewed him. "I would score 45 points, go into the locker room, and all the reporters would come down," Love recalls. "Everybody would pass me by."

Love retired in 1977. Because of his stuttering he went from one dead-end job to another. The low point was in 1985, at the age of 42, when a restaurant hired Love as a $4.45/hour busboy. Love had tried speech therapy twice before without success. He tried again. After a year of stuttering therapy, Love began public speaking. As a boy, he had a dream of standing on a podium, speaking to thousands of people. Love gave motivational speeches to churches, high school students, and other groups. He's now director of community relations and spokesman for the Bulls. "It's hard to believe I make a living speaking. It's a dream come true. I held onto my dreams, and I tell kids they have to hold on to theirs."[1]

Bill Walton, Basketball Player[edit]

Bill Walton (1952- ) led UCLA to two NCAA titles, and the Portland Trailblazers and Boston Celtics to NBA championships. His stuttering was so severe that he couldn't say simple phrases like "thank you."

Today, Walton has overcome his stuttering and works as a sports commentator for NBC Sports.

As Walton was battling stuttering through childhood, college, and his professional career, he used basketball as a sanctuary, a place where he didn't have to think about his speech. The challenges in his personal life pushed him to become one of the best players on the court.

Amazingly, on the court, he could not only play ball, he could speak, too. Or at least yell. "I never had any trouble yelling at the refs," Walton said. "In the heat of the game…when it was just totally spontaneous, I could get out there and really scream and yell at the refs. But it was only in basketball, and it was only at the refs."

When each game ended, Walton stuttered again.

"During college, the teasing was tough," he said. "I had a speech class one year, and they laughed me out of the class." It didn't matter to his classmates that he was the college basketball Player of the Year. "I was trying to make it in school, and they just laughed me out of the class."

At awards ceremonies and media events, Walton shied away from microphones. He even had other people speak on his behalf. "When I had to actually formulate words and make a statement, I could not do it at all," he recalls.

In the NBA, he faced some of the toughest and most legendary players in the history of the game. Playing basketball with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry Bird (no relation to stutterer Larry Burd) came naturally. Speaking, still, did not.

After he retired from basketball, the sanctuary was gone. The hiding place that had protected him for 28 years could shelter him no longer. But his love for the game helped him with stuttering.

According to Walton, long-time friend and Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Glickman pulled him aside at a social event and said, "You've got to learn how to talk."

"He gave me some very basic tips, and I applied those tips to the learning techniques I learned from my coach at UCLA John Wooden about how to develop as a basketball player," Walton explained. "I thought about fundamentals and how to start with the basics like the ability to mechanically duplicate moves on the basketball court. And I just applied that to speaking."

So Walton learned to speak, just as he had learned basketball years before. Not only did he stop stuttering, he found a way back—through sports commentating—to the game he loved so much.

When he began broadcasting for NBC Sports, all of his fears resurfaced. Off the court, he was still afraid to talk. He describes his first broadcast as "painful" but knows now that the worst is over. "I used to be really embarrassed about stuttering. But now I realize that it's something that is a part of me…something that I have to deal with and work on every day. If I don't work on it, I'm not going to be able to do my job. It's always a challenge," Walton said. He doesn't mind the challenge—that's what makes him strive to do his best.

Walton challenges others to get on top of stuttering too. "It's important to know that help is out there. The ability to learn how to talk is easily the greatest thing I've ever done. Winning two NCAA championships and two NBA titles was nice, but I knew it was going to happen. But learning how to speak has given me a whole new life. I have been set free."[2]

Other Athletes[edit]

Other athletes who stutter include Olympic diver and gay advocate Greg Louganis (1960- ).[3]; golfer Ken Venturi (1931- ), who won 1961 U.S. Open, and is now a commentator for CBS Sports.[4]; and Swedish Golfer Sophie Gustafson (1973- ), who doesn't stutter when singing karaoke.

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson (1961- ) ran the fastest 100-meters ever, but then tested positive for steroids. "He speaks with a heavy Jamaican accent made at times incomprehensible by a stutter."[5]

Jake Steinfeld, bodybuilder and television fitness trainer.[6]

Baseball pitcher Tommy John (1943- ) was a four-time All-Star, and was the winning pitcher in two World Series games.[7]

When Ty Cobb (1886-1961) retired from baseball in 1928 he was the holder of ninety major league records and he received the most votes of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, in 1936.[8]

Baseball and football pro Bo Jackson (1962- ) wrote:

My teachers thought I couldn't read. I could read, but I'd never read aloud because I stuttered. The other kids would laugh at me, and I became a recluse. I was angry at myself and at them, and it often resulted in my beating someone up after school. I had to live with it for eight or nine years, but I finally decided to pay it no attention and forced myself to do everything from reading in class to making speeches. Eventually, I learned to relax and take my time.[9]

  1. ^ Lawrence, M. "A Man of Many Words." Sports Illustrated, v79, n18, November 1, 1993, p.91.
  2. ^ Reprinted with permission from the Stuttering Foundation of America newsletter, Spring/Summer 1996.
  3. ^ Louganis, G., Marcus, E. Breaking The Surface. New York: Random House, 1995.
  4. ^ Venturi, Ken. Stuttering Foundation of America newsletter, 1994.
  5. ^ Kram, Mark. "Ben Still Needs To Run," Outside, Vol. 23, no. 12, December 1998.
  6. ^ New York Daily News, November 12, 1997
  7. ^ Gathman, Bob. "Tommy John," The Speak Easy Newsletter, 18:1 (Spring 1998).
  8. ^ Stump, Al. Cobb: A Biography.
  9. ^ Ghostwriter, 1993 (PBS drama series focused on illiteracy).