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Dan Shaughnessy

A pressing matter

Ochocinco grabbed my attention with his hug-the-reporters suggestion

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 4, 2011

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Group hug.

I still can’t get my arms around it.

The inimitable Chad Ochocinco, a man destined to make us forget about Bill Lee, Oil Can Boyd, Shaquille O’Neal, and every other free spirit who played for one of our teams, concluded his first Foxborough media session Saturday by suggesting a group hug involving himself and the assembled reporters.

“Before I go,’’ Ochocinco said after a mass interview on the side of the Gillette practice field, “I don’t know you guys - can I get a group hug, really quickly?’’

“It was like this uncomfortable moment,’’ said the Globe’s Monique Walker, who was standing on the outside of the circle of reporters. “He went in for a group hug and waited for a return. He leaned in and tapped someone on the shoulder. He’s a big hugger.’’

Wow. This is a first. The last time I saw an athlete approach me with open arms was when Mo Vaughn came after me while swearing and holding a Louisville Slugger. It was not a tender moment. Mo was not looking for a hug. He was talking about slander and libel, using words I never heard in the Bible. Thankfully, he smashed the bat into a locker instead of the side of my head.

Was Rick Pitino looking for a group hug when he stood at the podium and said, “The negativity in this town sucks’’?

Pitino’s term for sports talk radio was “the fellowship of the miserable.’’

Now there’s a group that could use a group hug.

Manny Ramirez was famous for his hugs. Babe Ruth, too. But the sluggers weren’t likely to hug reporters.

Ted Williams hated the press when he played. Ted could make the word “writer’’ sound like a four-letter word. In the presence of baseball scribes, he was known to start sniffing the air and say, “Something stinks in here.’’ Before his last game, Ted paid homage to the fans but said he couldn’t get past things written by “the knights of the keyboard.’’

The late, great Will McDonough would not have been in favor of the group hug. Willie made history when he decked Patriots defensive back Raymond Clayborn in the team’s locker room in 1979. McDonough and Clayborn eventually made peace, but never advanced to the hugging stage.

Same goes for Jim Rice and former Globe baseball reporter Steve Fainaru. I was in the Sox clubhouse in Oakland when Fainaru decided to confront Rice after some grumbling near the star’s locker. Rice pounced and ripped the shirt off Fainaru’s back. No hug. Rice went on to the Hall of Fame, while Fainaru won a Pulitzer Prize for the Washington Post.

Our own Bud Collins probably wishes former Sox manager Pinky Higgins was a hugger. Higgins once smashed Bud’s face into a plate of beef Stroganoff.

I’ve never been hugged by a Boston pro athlete, although Larry Bird once offered to pay my airfare if I’d return home from a West Coast trip six days early. Maybe Carl Everett had a hug in mind when he said, “Everybody from the Globe get the [expletive] away from me,’’ then mentioned something about a “curly-haired boyfriend.’’

I ran the prospect of group hugs with the media past a few of the Red Sox before last night’s game with the Indians.

“Ocho knew that was going to make headlines,’’ said Kevin Youkilis, a lifelong Cincinnati Bengals fan. “He is a smart man. He knows what he’s doing. I don’t do hugs.’’

What about Dustin Pedroia? He seems like a huggable guy.

“No, I’m good,’’ said Pedroia. “Personal space, you know?’’

“Hugs?’’ said an amazed Jonathan Papelbon, a.k.a. Cinco Ocho. “Are you kidding me? Some of you guys around here don’t use deodorant. You guys smell. I’m dead serious.’’

Still, with Ochocinco in town, there is a chance that ballplayer/media hugs might become all the rage. Did you get a load of the happy talk Tuesday afternoon when Albert Haynesworth and Erik Bedard granted their first interviews simultaneously - Haynesworth after practice in Foxborough, Bedard at Fenway before the Sox game against the Indians?

Both players had been ripped to shreds before getting to town (“preemptive attacks on some of our players before they ever put a uniform on,’’ said Theo Epstein), and the public relations departments of the Patriots and Sox handled the sessions with great care. Haynesworth is said to be a guy who strikes fear in the hearts of his teammates. Bedard is on record as a certified media hater on a par with Nomar Garciaparra.

Both interviews went off without a hitch. For the most part, it was slow-pitch softball. The new players in town went all Mark McGwire on us (not here to talk about the past), assumed responsibility for nothing, and pledged to start fresh.

It’s apparent that Boston is the place where everybody wants to play. We are a bridge over troubled waters. Fenway is every ballplayer’s favorite park. Bill Belichick is every gridder’s dream coach.

I’m OK, you’re OK. Hakuna matata.

Almost makes me want to hug somebody.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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