"I will say this loud and very clear and I say it to those who have bowled against me in the past, those I will play in the future and to the fans watching. I am a respectful, honourable and honest bowler and person. If you beat me, you did it because you were better than me on the day and the same goes if I beat you. Simple as that."
When Jason Belmonte's water bottle first became the center of controversy back in March in his televised match with Brad Angelo, I didn't know what to think. Here I'd been writing posts of glowing praise not only of Belmo's awesome bowling talent and skill but also of his sterling sportsmanship as a competitor and gracious affability as a human being, and then along came this unfortunate incident that, to the superficial eye, cast doubt on Belmo's character being all it was cracked up to be. After all, it would be pretty underhanded of him to deliberately crinkle his water bottle to distract Angelo, and it would downright mendacious of him to lie repeatedly about it afterward.
But when I examined and reexamined the video of the incident, listened to and read what both Belmo and Angelo had to say on the matter, and weighed all of that against my observations of Belmo's actions and character ever since he came to my attention several years before, I came to the tentative conclusion that Belmo was speaking the truth when he insisted that he hadn't purposely crinkled his bottle to distract Angelo, and I felt sad that a good many people in the bowling forums I frequented were accusing Belmo of cheating and denigrating his character.
I also took strong exception to Jason Thomas' article that appeared to me to effusively praise Angelo for standing up to Belmo the way he did on the telecast and to indirectly chastise Belmo and to cast aspersions on his character for defending himself and criticizing the PBA's handling of the incident.
Then along came the more recent incident with Sean Rash, and I was left wondering if I'd been too quick to jump on Belmo's bandwagon. After all, you'd think that after the incident with Angelo and all the controversy it stirred up and the upset it caused Belmo, the last thing in the world he would even think of doing is going near a water bottle when his opponent was up on the approach.
I subsequently posted an entry to my blog about this, and Belmo read it that same day and sent me a private message denying that he had deliberately sought to distract Rash and explaining exactly what happened. I then watched the only video available at the time over and over and came to the conclusion that Belmo's denial and explanation seemed credible after all. Later, another video came out that showed a little more of what happened, and it too appeared to me to support Belmo's comments to me.
Well, today Belmo released a lengthy public statement (click here to read it) on both "Bottlegate" incidents. In it, he denies, as he did to me, that he deliberately tried to distract either Angelo or Rash, insists that he has tremendous respect for the sport of bowling and for the PBA and that he would do nothing to tarnish either one, states that a person's character and integrity is of vital importance to him and that he resents the aspersions that have been cast on his by people too quick to jump to the worst possible conclusions about these bottle incidents, and explains exactly what happened with Sean Rash and how he feels about it and Rash's reaction.
Here are some of the highlights of Belmo's statement:
"Over the last few months my credibility as a bowler, as a person and as a friend has been cast over a shadow of doubt. I have been labeled a cheat, a child, and much worse things by fans, and other pros. Even worse, pros that I considered friends.For what? Because I drink water out of a bottle? Don’t all athletes during pressure filled situations?I said sorry to Angelo during and after our match at the Dick Weber Playoffs last season. I felt like the timing in which the bottle popped was extremely unfortunate. It caught him and even though I didn’t agree with how he reacted, I did the right thing and told him it was accidental, that I felt horrible about it and in no way did I intend to put him off. This incident was then blown out of the water by certain staff at the PBA, blasted all over Facebook and PBA.com, with poorly chosen headlines and edited YouTube clips to not only cause doubt over my intentions while bowling against Angelo but also to cause doubt over who I am as a person. To say after that incident I was upset was an understatement. I hate that it happened and I thought I made that clear by how apologetic I was on the day and in interviews there after that show.Fast forward to June for the PBA Summer Series, one of the last matches of the summer series ended up with Sean Rash and I being the last bowlers left standing. Like I had for every single other frame of every other match I start my pre-shot routine by taking a drink from the water bottle given to me by the TV crew on the set.On one of the closing shots of our match, while Rash was preparing, I had searched for my bottle that had fallen under my seat. I picked my bottle up off the floor. I held it by the bottle cap waiting for him to complete the shot. It popped in my hand, well before I was ever thinking about opening it. Not in his 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th step, but before he had even taken a single step on the approach. I didn’t hold the bottle on the sides, pressing it in, trying to pop it during his approach. I simply was waiting. He pulled back, set himself again and bowled a great shot. When it struck, the verbal abuse started and his language with children present and the fact that it was on TV was appalling. He claimed in his rant, between the cursing, that what I do with the bottle I do to everyone else on tour and that he took it upon himself to express that for everyone...I have spent my entire career labeled a cheat because of the technique I have developed. I have spent years proving that I only beat you on the lanes because I was better than you on the day, not because I am breaking rules or trying to put people off...I am completely insulted and disappointed by Rash and his actions. I am embarrassed and feel so stupid that I once not only called him a friend but when Rash was away from his family and friends in foreign lands across the world it was I who was there for him...This blatant verbal abuse and disrespect is not what the PBA deserves from one of it’s current and for sure future stars, nor do I deserve it as a player or as a human being."
In addition to Belmonte's passionate statement, a new video clip of the Rash incident was released today that shows more of the entire incident and from a different camera angle than before. I hope you'll read Belmonte's statement in full, check out the video below, and tell me what you think. I plan to post my take on these most recent revelations tomorrow.