Friday, August 20, 2010

HBO provides some "Hard Knocks" for crappy parents, analysts

Rex Ryan likes to swear.

He does it with a cheeky smile on his face, using the F-word like a painter uses a brush, with confidence and flair. He is an auteur of cursing, and, thanks to HBO's reality series "Hard Knocks," which follows around a new NFL team every year as it prepares for the upcoming season, the unsuspecting ears of the nation have been hit with a barrage of Rex Ryan's creative use of the English language.

Let me make this clear: I love to swear. It's cathartic, it's fun, it makes me feel good. Swearing is, in my humble opinion, the only way for normal people to stay sane. Someone cuts you off in traffic? "!@%&; you!" ... Your favorite sports team gives up a goal? "Aw, come the !#%& on!" ... Your other favorite sports team gets hijacked and moved to Oklahoma City? "@$%! off, rednecks!"

See? Catharsis.

My mom doesn't believe in swearing, so she's invented her own secret gibberish language to be able to swear without actually saying any swear words, which I still think totally counts. Even without saying real words, my mom is using the same theories put in place by the great swearers of our time (Scarface, 13-year-old kids on Xbox Live, etc.) to maintain composure in an increasingly-effed-up world. Swearing is a release.

So for an NFL coach to swear, someone who faces high-pressure, high-stakes situations under a constant microscope from 24-hour news networks and increasingly-impatient ownership, surrounded by horde of insubordinate, prima donna athletes making millions of dollars (and babies), makes a lot of sense sometimes. We know people swear, we know coaches swear, so where in the !%$# has the sudden outcry against Rex Ryan's colorful vocabulary come from?

Tony Dungy, one of the "distinguished emissaries" of the NFL, has become somewhat of a holy figure within the league thanks to his soft voice and public Christianity. Dungy, who helped the Indianapolis Colts win the Super Bowl as a head coach, is a man who's leveraged his media platform into a preacher's podium to admonish the wrongs of the NFL and its players. He's tutored Michael Vick back from the depths of prison, he's worked with Ben Roethlisberger after Big Ben was suspended by the NFL for six games for sexual abuse. He's basically sent out by the NFL to clean up messes (like the Wolf in "Pulp Fiction"), and deserves all the credit and respect in the world for taking on that charge to help athletes find the right path. But for Dungy to publically come out against Rex Ryan's use of "foul" language is so absurdly hypocritical that it, well, almost makes you want to swear.

The NFL is a league built around violence. Players have to wear pads because they hit each other so hard and so often that their bones and bodies couldn't handle the punishment without space age padding wrapped around every square inch of their bodies. Fights break out in training camp, like the one LeGarrette Blount just participated in, with such regularity that sports anchors laughingly shout "Training camp's kicked off!" while the NFL coaches shrug them off. Training camp fights are celebrated, not admonished in some holier-than-thou outcry for the protection of our morality and values, because it shows the tenacity and competitiveness that helps teams win championships. Ask any coach in the league what they want out of their offensive line. Ask any coach in the league what adjective he hopes describes his defense. Nasty, tenacious, aggressive. The sport is violent, and that's why people watch it. People like big hits, they like concussions, they like when the smelling salts come out. It's the same reason why Mixed Martial Arts is pushing boxing into oblivion. Something MORE violent? Americans are saying, "Yes please!" That doesn't make it right, the moral argument is one that isn't really for me to discuss, it's just the truth, the sport is violent and celebrated because of that. But, of course, people are okay with it. Tony Dungy built a career around a it. But swearing on an HBO documentary series about that violent sport isn't okay.

Even more important than the violent aspect of it ... ATHLETES SWEAR. Anyone who's ever been to a professional sporting event or watched one on TV has seen, heard (and re-seen and re-heard when the replays show it in slow motion) athletes swearing! Coaches swearing! Owners swearing! Fans swearing! EVERYBODY SWEARS at sporting events. Morality arguments aside, that's just the way it is. If ESPN can mic-up a coach and jokingly say, "That was the one clip we had that we could air!", the culture of swearing is clearly a part of sports. So much is on the line for these people, so much is on the line for the fans, that, sometimes, people just let the expletives fly. Sure, athletes and coaches are supposed to be role models blah blah blah, but it always comes down to the parents. Parents are the real role models (or should be), parents are the ones who should establish the rules, and if a child is incapable of handling a swear word without immediately turning into Howard Stern, that's a reflection on the parents. And, if a parent is incapable of protecting his/her children from Rex Ryan's mouth on an adult TV show on an adult TV network, they clearly haven't read the Comcast instruction manual.

Mike Greenberg, of ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning," launched into his own sermon Friday morning about how Rex Ryan isn't being a good representative of the "NFL shield." Greenberg thinks that, because Ryan's swearing is now featured on a private, adult cable television show, intended for adults, slapped with a "TV-MA" warning, and blatantly designed to show the underbelly of the NFL that isn't always shown on ESPN's made-for-TV, cupcake broadcasts, that Ryan somehow isn't living up to the standards of the league. The same league that purports violence, slaps light fines and suspensions on players who abuse illegal steroids and their wives, and employs convicted drug dealers and killers. Despite all of that, Greenberg said, because of Rex Ryan's swearing, he couldn't show it to his kids even though he wanted to, and other parents were e-mailing in to echo his sentiments.

Okay, wow, where to start ...

Parents are okay showing their kids the hyper-violent side of the NFL, watching Antonio Cromartie labor over the names and ages of his eight kids (from seven mothers ... no joke), players literally fighting over "respect" like prison inmates, and the ruthless side of the NFL as injured players are cut the day after picking up brutal injuries, BUT they can't handle the F-word?! Are you serious? Tony Dungy's okay building a career off of other peoples' violence, but he's not okay with a fellow coach swearing? Let's step down from the pedestal, people.

There's a lot of grey area in this topic, what role the media plays in making athletes and coaches role models, what responsibility parents have for their kids, what responsibility other fans have to make the environment safe and friendly for children as well. There's a lot of grey area and, when it comes down to it, making sporting events accessible for kids should be a goal of every organization across the world. And, in fairness, it IS a goal for every organization! That's why we have mascots and family days and ice cream and bobbleheads (oh my). It's how you build loyalty and legacy fans. It's how you get more money out of families for generations! Owners and organizations understand that and do everything in their power to exploit the "family" experience. But do you then dilute the experience for adults so that kids can participate too? Or do you just tell your kids, "Hey, some people are going to swear during this game, I just don't want you using those words, okay?" Do you censor yourself, your coaches, your athletes from being emotional and expressive? Do you realize that all of this overblown nonsense is happening on HBO and that nothing on that channel is intended for your 12-year-old Pop Warner quarterback?

Maybe it's time to clean up our priorities, not our mouths.

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