Balls for Brains

"Hey, that's Kenny Rogers," KDFW cameraman Larry Rodriguez thought when Rogers suddenly appeared in his viewfinder. Then Rogers punked him.
Mark Graham

So the fans cheered Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers next time he took the mound after attacking two camerapersons at Ameriquest Field in Arlington on June 29. All that tells me is that fans like cowards. Somehow I'm not surprised.

Look at the video again on Channel 11's Web site (, video library, June 29, 2005, 6 p.m.). Rogers doesn't attack KDFW Fox4 cameraman Larry Rodriguez head-on. I say he sneaks up on him.

Watch the tape. It's not a fighting move. It's more like stalking a guy who's standing on a stool and then kicking it out from under him.

Rogers walks toward Rodriguez but turns his head slightly away when he gets close, as if he isn't even especially aware Rodriguez is there. I'd call it a feint. It works. Rodriguez has no warning.

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"I had no idea Kenny was present until I realized in my viewfinder, 'Hey, that's Kenny Rogers,'" Rodriguez tells me. "I heard arguing. I heard the commotion and turned to my left. When I recognized it was Kenny, I thought, 'OK, it's Kenny,' and next thing you know the camera went over."

Rodriguez and Rogers have never had a beef, according to Rodriguez. "I didn't expect anything like that from Kenny," he says. "Maybe somebody who was a face that he didn't know, a face he didn't recognize from around the ballpark, but not me."

It's cowardly. I've worked around professional photographers all my life. They're completely vulnerable when they have their faces shoved into their viewfinders, especially when they're balancing heavy equipment, especially when they have no reason to think somebody might attack them. Going after them when they don't expect it is just dirty. Rogers is a punk.

Tim Evans, an attorney representing Rogers, went back and viewed the tape I'm talking about after discussing it with me: He thinks I'm wrong and trying to read something into it that isn't there. "I've looked at the video, and there's no way Kenny Rogers is trying to sneak up on anybody," he told me over the weekend.

I asked Evans what possible warning Rodriguez could have had. He declined to speculate beyond disagreeing with my assertion that Rogers was sneaking up on his victim. That's OK. We agreed to disagree.

I say the guy's a punk--a certain kind of spoiled athlete sissy who's always had moms and dads and coaches and private cops around to finish his fights for him. I'd love to dump Kenny Rogers out on the streets of East Dallas by himself and see how long it takes for his little punk-ass act to put him in the Baylor ER.

The point is that a photographer trying to carry and protect all that equipment can't fight back. "Any type of misdirection, just taking a wrong step with the camera on your shoulder, you can injure yourself," Rodriguez tells me.

Almost every professional photographer I work with seems to develop some kind of serious back trouble eventually, especially when they enter middle age. It's an occupational hazard that even puts some of them out of the business.

Rodriguez, 45 years old and in the business 25 years, is no exception. He had to recover from a serious back injury 11 years ago, and he's worried this recent incident may have reinjured him in the same place. "Right when that camera went off, I felt that shooting pain right up the back of the neck that I felt back in '94.

"My doctor is telling me that I cannot return until the 21st, only because I'm still sore in my neck and my lower back. My wrist pain is gone, but it still tingles quite a bit. It feels like it's asleep."

I hope he sues.

What Rogers did was the same thing as me standing around the ballpark one day with my reporter's notebook in my pocket, waiting until I see Rogers in an intense conversation with a coach with his pitching hand spread out on the concrete curb of the dugout, then moseying over there real cool and stomping on his fingers as hard as I can with my heel.

Right after the incident, Channel 11 reporter Babe Laufenberg interviewed Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, who told him, "I'm upset for Kenny. Kenny's certainly not a kid of mine, but he's a member of our team, and it's like when one of your kids does something you wish they hadn't done. You get concerned. I'm concerned for Kenny. Obviously he's got some anger management issues. That's why Kenny's so competitive."

So what was the competition? How many guys can you blind-side without getting hit back? And who's ahead?

I spoke last week with Dallas Morning News photographer Brad Loper, who confirmed he was the person referred to rather elliptically by Morning News columnist Gerry Fraley recently when Fraley wrote, "The Rangers cannot again look the other way, as they did during spring training when Rogers fired baseballs at photographers."  

Rogers threw a baseball at Loper, a veteran sports shooter at the News, while Loper had his face in the camera photographing someone else. When I spoke with Loper, he minimized the incident somewhat and said he thought if Kenny Rogers had wanted to hit him with that ball, he would have, instead of whacking it off a wall nearby.

But, yeah. Rogers, a professional pitcher, threw a ball at or toward a photographer who wasn't watching him.

I've never covered sports, but I have covered a lot of crime in my life, and I'm telling you: I think I smell something familiar here. This isn't immaturity. An immature guy with anger management issues runs straight at the person he's mad at and roars and waves his arms and maybe pops him in the head. This is a bad guy. Bad guys are never up for a fair fight in the first place. That's why they call it crime.

Rogers attacked two photographers that day at the ballpark. According to an Associated Press story, Rogers also shoved David Mammeli of Fox Sports Net Southwest, telling him, "I told you to get those cameras out of my face." Mammeli told me ruefully he couldn't comment on the matter at all. He didn't mention this, but Fox Sports has an exclusive cable contract with the ball team, which they probably don't want to endanger.

The criminal defense lawyers I spoke with agreed that the two attacks almost certainly constitute two different crimes. Peter Lesser, who doesn't represent anyone in this case, said the attack on Mammeli probably would be charged as a Class C misdemeanor--a ticket in the mail, basically--because no injury was involved.

The attack on Rodriguez--though probably not a felony because no weapon was used--could be treated as falling in a range of more serious misdemeanors that involve bodily injury, Lesser said. "If you hit somebody and you cause pain, any type of bodily injury, a black and blue mark, that's bodily injury."

David Finn, a former family court judge, also not involved in this case, said the attack probably would not rise to the level of a felony. "For a felony, you would need to have serious bodily injury or a deadly weapon."

But Finn said it wasn't his impression that juries will wink at this. "People are tired of hot-headed people injuring other people," he said.

Christy Gilfour, spokeswoman for the Arlington Police Department, explained to me in some detail the steps the Arlington PD is going through to decide what if any charges to press in this case. It does seem as if a lot of time has passed--going on a couple of weeks since the incident--but it also sounds as if they're going at this the right way. They're waiting for things like raw videotape to be released by other TV stations whose cameras recorded it.

Rodriguez told me he still needed to go in and sign a sworn statement. It makes sense for Arlington to make sure it has all of its ducks in a row, especially since Rogers will be able to come back at them with a lot of high-priced legal talent.

I tried unsuccessfully to reach the Rangers. They never even called back. They don't talk to media they don't like. What a hillbilly outfit.

I watched Rogers' apology on television in which he said, "The incident was completely out of character." And, of course, the first thing I thought was, "No, punk, the very important fact here is that the incident was completely in your character." That he fails to recognize this important but simple fact is, for me, proof that the apology, however sincere, was empty. He has no idea what's wrong.

He also said, for example, that he had failed to control his emotions that day. I disagree. I think he had splendid control, especially when he was doing that little sidestep sneak on Rodriguez. At least when he's out to punk somebody, the man moves like a hunter.

Maybe you're wondering what Rogers' real motive was. I'm actually not. A career of reporting on and writing books about crime has caused me to lose interest in the motives of criminals. Most of them have too many short circuits in their heads to be capable of coherent motives. If they had motives, they wouldn't be criminals.

All I know is that this guy needs to be tried for what he did. It wasn't minor. It wasn't a goof. He's not a little kid who lost control. From what I saw on the tapes, he's a grown-up bastard who likes to hurt people. I know that type. Cops know that type.  

Next time Kenny Rogers pitched a game after the attacks, the fans cheered him, according to the reports I saw. So we're a debased society, and sports and entertainment are all a big amoral video game. So what else is new?

Put the punk on trial.

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