Hey, watch your $*#&^ language

Posted 3/1/19

A mea culpa wasn’t what I expected to hear when I switched on the TV.

It was a few Aprils ago and I wanted to catch a few holes of The Masters, which, if you’re familiar with it, is the most …

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Hey, watch your $*#&^ language

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A mea culpa wasn’t what I expected to hear when I switched on the TV.

It was a few Aprils ago and I wanted to catch a few holes of The Masters, which, if you’re familiar with it, is the most sanitized sports broadcast in the universe. Not two seconds after powering up my remote, though, I heard this from commentator Ian Baker-Finch: “For any of you that may have heard something offensive on 13, we apologize.”

Curious to know who the culprit was, I didn’t have to wait long. Moments later the cameras showed Tiger Woods – in the woods – off the 13th fairway.

Was there any doubt? Tiger, of course, is known for his bombs – his long, towering drives from the tee and the f-word he favors when his shots go awry. He’s drained some of golf’s most memorable putts. But because his entry in a televised golf event guarantees the cameras will be trained on his every swing, Woods has been caught dropping plenty of profanity, even in the sterile world of Augusta National.

Sportsmanlike or not, there must be something in the water that makes the athletic airwaves so crowded with curse words. You might remember Bryan Price, the former manager of baseball’s Cincinnati Reds, unloaded on a newspaper reporter — yeah, we newspaper folks are good at p*$%&# people off — mixing in a total of 77 f-bombs in a 5 minute, 34-second tirade that included a total of 91 obscenities. Price threw in nearly a dozen vulgar references to another f-word — feces — for good measure. (If you’re scoring at home, that total included two for bovine, one for equine.)

Turns out, though, that Price’s expletive ratio of one curse word every 3.7 seconds doesn’t even lead the major leagues. That honor belongs to former Kansas City Royals’ manager Hal McRae, who somehow managed to exhale 32 expletives in a 1 minute, 25-second tirade (against reporters…sigh) in 1993.

I watched it on You Tube again not long ago. Somewhere in my attic the corners of all my old McRae baseball cards curled.

Cursing is as common as sweat in sports. Athletes and coaches in the heat of battle obviously feel they should be given a pass every now and then if they pepper their comments with salty phrases, and sometimes they apologize. Price eventually took to Twitter to ask forgiveness for his “wholly inappropriate language,” but by then I’d gotten to thinking about an encounter with expletives years back, an incident from probably a dozen years ago at bowling alley arcade during a birthday party one of my children was attending. I was helping one of my sons get change for video games and one youngster, probably 12 or 13 years old and not a part of the party, was holding court with a couple of friends showing off his limited command of the King’s English and his mastery of profanity. Every fourth or fifth word out of his mouth was an f-bomb.

He wasn’t mad. And he wasn’t some inebriated fan sitting behind us at a hockey game. He was just a kid at an arcade who felt the need to prominently feature the f-word at least once, and sometimes three or four times, in every sentence,

“Hey,” I said, irritated after hearing the 17th f-bomb. “Do you mind watching your language?”

I braced myself for an f-word in his response. He didn’t disappoint.

“It’s a free country,” he said.

It wasn’t the f-bomb I expected, but it had about the same impact. A hint: don’t ever tell me “It’s a free country,” especially if you’re sassy brat who doesn’t know a report card from a republic and wouldn’t know liberty if it was an app on your iPhone. “Free country” remarks from nitwits making excuses for stupidity have made my blood boil ever since my then-pregnant wife, Lee Ann, went into the women’s restroom of a prominent Sanford non-smoking eatery years ago to find a woman standing at a sink, puffing away, creating a thick cloud of blue second-hand smoke for all who entered. Lee Ann said something to her about flouting the law and health concerns. The woman cursed at her and said: “It’s a free country.”

In my mind, if you’re smoking in a non-smoking restaurant, you’d better be on fire. And if you’re a juvenile delinquent dropping f-bombs around little kids, you need your mouth washed out with soap.

“Yeah, it is a free country,” I said to the kid in response, not really thinking about whether the Constitution guaranteed him the right to use the f-word over and over in full earshot of about 40 pre-adolescents. “But there are children around here. Do you have to talk like that?”

“Pfffttt,” he said, turning on his heels.

I’ve wondered for years if I could have responded in a better fashion, but I’ve also kept in mind that when it comes to the tongue, I’m not totally innocent. I was about that boy’s age when my mom overheard me say “damn,” which back then was a really bad word.

Mom slapped the $#&^ out of me. I deserved it.

Unfortunately, I’ve said worse since.

Times may have indeed changed. You hear much worse language on network television today than you ever could have imagined 30 years ago. And there are more and more of those for whom dropping casual f-bombs in normal conversation is, like Tiger, par for the course. (Tiger recovered from his wayward drive, by the way, to birdie that hole.)

But for Tiger, and Bryan Price, and for that kid in the arcade and for me, the question is still a legitimate one: do we really have to talk like that?


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