Cleaning Up the Language in Basketball

UT vs. BUOver the years some basketball memories fade or become blurred, but some, like painful losses, remain vividly clear.  One memory of mine comes from nearly 25 years ago and made an indelible impression on me. When I coached with the Baylor women it was long before the Final Four teams of today. At that time we were lucky to even be in the shadow of the national power Lady Longhorns of Texas in a state that has always been passionate for girls basketball. They were revered by every girl in the state, but on this day, we actually held our own in a home game that brought a huge Texas crowd in a doubleheader with the men’s programs.  With the game going back and forth in the first half, one of the UT stars, a Parade High School All-American and leader of their squad, stepped to the free throw line, obviously annoyed that the game was competitive.  As she clanked one off the rim, she turned toward a section of the arena, oblivious to the section of junior high players cheering her every move, and let out the loudest rendition of #@*^$! I’ve ever heard come out of any player. Today, I still see the stunned look on the faces of those girls!

BASKETBALL – Clean it up!

I wasn’t sure that I wanted to write about profanity, but a few weeks ago, Josh Pastner, the head coach at Memphis took a bold stand (see Memphis Freshman Dominic Woodson Suspended for . . . Cussing) and it got me thinking.  I remembered back to the Texas example and several others, thought about the strong stance that our head coach at CUW, Shawn Cassidy, takes on the issue with our players, and then tried to sort through my feeling that we still need to clean it up.  However, the issue is amazingly complicated and not as clear-cut as you might think – from the NFL proposal to penalize for racial taunts, to the hair-trigger sensitivity to how fans will confront the lifestyle of Jason Collins as he plays for the Nets, to the trash talking you can hear in any arena or gym in America, and to the examples of great coaches who use profanity in their coaching and of those who refrain.  Profanity has been a part of our game.  I don’t like it and I’d love to see it cleaned up, but in our society today, that’s going to be a ongoing battle!

LIFE – Does it matter?

In the search for wisdom, I’m exploring why the sensor inside me went off this week. While recruiting at a game, I listened to the frequent chants of curse words from a raucous student section.  As I watched 14 and 15 year-olds taunt the officials, I also noticed that their faculty supervisors ignored the behavior with a look of “there’s no way I want to try to stop this” on their faces.  Each of us has that sensor, that feeling of right and wrong, but it often varies from issue to issue and from person to person.  I haven’t always listened to my sensor.

In fact, in college I was surrounded by future pastors, teachers, business leaders, and doctors who routinely dipped into the profanity pool and now, no matter how closely I monitor my speech, those words creep into my self-talk far too often.  Most of us, even Christians, try to justify the use of those words as stress relief, or relating to our peers or our culture, as a way to emphasize our points, or like the Texas player who was probably a bit embarrassed over a mediocre performance, to cover mistakes by showing others how passionate we are.  As if dropping a bomb related to physical intimacy somehow tells people that you’re upset!  It’s interesting how so many of us cling to behaviors as some resistance to authority – possibly from parents or supervisors, or even the authority of God.  We may claim it really isn’t a sin like murder or adultery and that it’s just a bad habit or a slip of the tongue.  We may even get to the point of saying to the authority in our life “you can have everything else, but I’m going to say what I want to say.” To me that smacks of pride and arrogance for some, while for others it shows a need to feel accepted. You can do all the word study you want to find their origins, but I have a hard time understanding how curse words truly help any situation!

FAITH – What’s in your heart?

It’s not my goal to criticize those with a habit of letting choice words fly when they hang out with their friends, miss a free throw, or want to make a point. All I want to do is to challenge us to consider our word choices and habits in our speech.  As R. Eric Tippin points out in Is Swearing a Big Deal?, it’s really more about the attitude. Do you feel like using profanity is your right?  Do you feel like you can use it in one setting and not another?  And if you can, is that okay?  Do you feel any responsibility toward whoever may hear your words?   Check your sensor and then check your heart. Jesus teaches us:

” . .  . For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.”                        (Matt. 12:34b NLT)

The question is if your words reflect your heart, what’s in your heart when you drop a cuss or two?  As I wrote about last year about the Words coaches use, our words have power.  You may say it’s an individual choice to use whatever words you want, but when you use the wisdom of Jesus, it seems to me there’s only one choice – clean it up!