Bullets make you braver, as do too many drinks, and both can make a smart man stupid," wrote Miami Herald wunderkind sports columnist Dan Le Batard in a July 30 column about the proliferation of gun-toting athletes. "Doesn't help that many athletes already feel invincible."
Of course, athletes aren't the only ones who've been known to overindulge in the dangerous brew of arrogance and alcohol. According to an incident report filed by City of Miami police, days after penning that vaguely moralistic piece about muscle-headed irresponsibility, Le Batard himself went out on the town, tossed back several drinks, butted heads with a couple of cops, and found himself in jail.
The August 4 incident report describes a night of 100-proof hijinks: The trouble began when Le Batard got into an argument about seating at Johnny Rockets in Coconut Grove. The restaurant's manager told the 26-year-old columnist to leave, as did an off-duty Miami police officer who was working at the establishment as a security guard. According to the incident report, Le Batard "returned twice," whereupon the guard radioed his on-duty brethren for backup. Upon reaching the scene, Ofcr. Alfredo Alvarez, who eventually wrote the incident report, told Le Batard to leave the restaurant. "At this time Alvarez noticed a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage about defendant's breath," the officer noted in his report. "Defendant had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes. Defendant started to yell at the employees (of the restaurant). Defendant then began to yell at these officers."
Apparently, when Le Batard refused to relent even as a crowd began to gather, he was arrested. When informed that he was being charged with disorderly intoxication, the columnist is said to have been less than cooperative. He refused to give his name and opined that "all cops are on power trips," Alvarez reported.
Le Batard, whose arraignment is scheduled for September 14, says he wasn't intoxicated on the night he was arrested. In fact, he says, he hadn't touched a drop of alcohol all night. Shortly before the arrest, he had been at home conducting a two-hour phone interview with the mother of Miami boxer Juan Arroyo. "I have eleven independent witnesses, including two police officers and the woman I was interviewing that evening, who can testify that I didn't have anything to drink that evening," says a bemused Le Batard. "I may have done something stupid in speaking back to a belligerent police officer, but I did absolutely nothing wrong. I don't appreciate being talked to that way by anybody."
On the advice of his attorney, the columnist, who says he had never been arrested before the Johnny Rockets brouhaha, declines to comment further about the altercation.
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Needless to say, the incident was the talk of the Herald newsroom, where Le Batard has been a fast-rising star. He began working for the paper while an undergraduate at the University of Miami and was hired full-time five years ago, after graduation. He took over a general-assignment sports column from former Herald sportswriter S.L. Price when Price jumped to Sports Illustrated. (Le Batard says he, too, was recently wooed by the magazine, which offered him an annual salary of $120,000. But he turned down the offer to remain at the Herald, where he now rakes in a salary rumored among Herald denizens to exceed $70,000. Le Batard wouldn't confirm the figure, remarking, "Let's just say my salary isn't even two-thirds of [Sports Illustrated's offer].")
One element of the post-arrest tongue-wagging at the Herald was a debate about whether the affair should be chronicled in Miami's Only Daily. At least one reporter did some groundwork on a story, but the idea was soon nixed. "With people who are public or semi-public figures, I think there are intersecting lines of prominence and severity of offense," explains Herald executive editor Doug Clifton. "The greater the prominence, the lower the severity needed to qualify as reportable news. Dan is a columnist, but I don't think his name is on the lips of everybody in town. And the thing is really a pissant arrest. I think it would be different if it were me: I would think my name is less known than Dan's but I have great responsibility for the news content. If I were arrested on disorderly conduct charges, I would insist we write about it."
Le Batard says he had planned to write about the occurrence himself, feeling that the confrontation with police and his involuntary tour of the hoosegow would make good column fodder. But as he explains, "The idea was shot down because I had an unfair advantage over other people who had been arrested."
Elaborates Doug Clifton: "It would be your classic one-sided story. We thought that would be unfair to the policeman and to the whole process. I think that comes under the heading of abusing the special access journalists have to their medium." That said, Clifton adds that once the case is adjudicated, Le Batard might be free to "write a column musing about what it's like to be on the other end of an angry policeman.