Bodyguard stresses need for athletes' security
Kelly Davis thought working undercover narcotics on the west side of Chicago was high-stress employment. Then he spent four years as Dennis...
Seattle Times staff reporter
KIRKLAND — Kelly Davis thought working undercover narcotics on the west side of Chicago was high-stress employment. Then he spent four years as Dennis Rodman's bodyguard.
Then he really saw it all.
Already a police officer, Davis learned the delicate art of diffusing tension and keeping Rodman out of headlines. He learned that high-profile athletes often need to be protected from the public and themselves.
He started a business with a partner, Ed Johnson, called Overtime Inc. They've worked with Eddie Vedder and Jamie Foxx and Ludacris, among others. They cringed when they read about how Ken Hamlin landed in the hospital on Sunday night. And they believe — no, they swear — that 95 percent of these incidents can be avoided.
"It's sad," Johnson said in a phone interview from Chicago yesterday. "It's the same story, different chapter. This is exactly what we help stop. Trust me, if it worked for Dennis, it can work for anybody."
Every time there's an off-the-field incident, there's a debate about how much professional sports leagues can control their players' private lives. There are clauses in NFL contracts that stipulate no basketball and no motorcycle riding, but none that stipulate no nightclubs.
The NFL brings its rookies together for a four-day symposium before the season starts. Davis said that's not nearly long enough to teach the right behavior.
Kelly Davis spent four years keeping Dennis Rodman out of headlines. As Rodman's personal bodyguard, he employed four general rules:
1. After one sip of liquor, Rodman couldn't drive.
2. Rodman wasn't allowed to carry a weapon.
3. If somebody said something to Rodman in a nightclub, he wasn't allowed to say anything. There were two bodyguards with Rodman when he went out — one took care of Rodman, the other of any situation that came up.
4. If Rodman met a female in a nightclub, the situation was going to be monitored. To help with that, Davis insisted on having an adjoining hotel room to Rodman, and the door between the rooms had to remain unlocked.
In previous years, Ed Newman, a four-time all-pro who retired in 1985 and became a judge in Florida, donned his robe. Actors would walk through scenarios, and Newman would freeze them and explain to rookies what the legal ramifications of their decisions were.
"You can never have absolute control," Newman said in a phone interview yesterday. "Those kind of things can help. I'd like to think I reached a few people.
"But nobody can control the behavior of an individual. The league has to try to help them see that they are special people, there is a magnifying glass over their behavior and the world is watching."
Davis wonders who is watching over athletes while the world is watching them. He wonders why athletes insure their homes, their cars, their jewelry, but not their safety.
His company doesn't protect in the stereotypical sense. They aren't out to hurt people — something Johnson calls "Flintstones security" — but to provide a presence and teach athletes how to deal with the inevitable.
Before becoming Rodman's bodyguard, Davis set up guidelines, including his insistence that their hotel rooms were adjoined and the door between them was unlocked. Now that's safe sex.
"These situations are going to happen over and over again until the NBA or NFL address it," Davis said. "I hope it never comes to this, but we're getting real close. Someone is going to get killed out there. I went to NFL teams. I went to NBA teams. Everyone seems to turn a blind eye and say, 'We don't need it.' "
Well, not everyone. An NFL team Davis and Johnson didn't want to name approached them about a year and a half ago about their star receiver. There was an incident at a nightclub where a parking attendant took a beating. An NBA agent for a player on the West Coast also called after his client was at a nightclub at which there was a shooting incident.
"What are they thinking?" Johnson asks. "They both made bone-headed decisions and were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. Could these situations have been avoided? Absolutely.
"If you talk to the average citizen, they'll tell you that what I'm talking about is just common sense. My response is that common sense is not so common today."
The bottom line, Davis said, is that athletes are not conventional people. That they cannot be treated as such. He said that teams need to "reinforce, reinforce, reinforce" correct behavior, and sometimes, especially in the case of a player with a history like Hamlin, they need to "make decisions for their players."
To that end, Johnson sat down with Davis and his brother, Eric, who roomed with Hakeem Olajuwon at the University of Houston. They came up with 96 different tips for athletes, added four more and will soon publish a survival guide for athletes that focuses on life outside the game.
Without the guide, they recommend their security approach. Five Seahawks polled in the locker yesterday were not opposed to it.
Sonics guard Ray Allen also has encountered trouble. Like the time, while playing in the NBA, that he was in San Antonio on the Riverwalk with some buddies after his alma mater won the Final Four. Two guys walked past him, and one bumped into him. When Allen left the bar, the guy pushed him. They exchanged words, and the guy pulled up his shirt.
Proof, Allen said, that anything can happen.
"I didn't see whether he had a gun or a knife or anything under his shirt," Allen said. "I just walked around him and my boys were sitting there and they just said, 'We don't want any trouble.' I pushed my pride aside and just said, 'I want to live to see another day.' My family counts on me to help them and be successful, so I can't afford to be caught in a situation like that."
One rule Allen follows is to leave the club before it closes. Something Hamlin, whom Allen said he bumps into occasionally when he's out, did not do. Allen also asks friends where to go and where not to go.
Davis has his own solutions.
"We're more than happy to come out to Seattle and help the Seahawks in any capacity," he said. "This issue is not going to go away. That's the sad truth. And here's another. My system works."
Even for Dennis Rodman.
Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Times columnist Steve Kelley contributed to this report.