Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Profanity and The Why: Questions from USC Quarterback, Caleb Williams

In athletics, we talk about "the why" a lot. Athletic directors emphasize the importance of this question. Coaches: Why do you coach? Athletes: Why do you compete? Why do you play the sport that you do? Why participate on your high school team? Why are you a member of a club team? And a recent choice by USC quarterback, Caleb Williams has prompted me to again ask about "the why."

I will admit, I have grown weary of talking about "the why." It feels idealistic and at times, a near platitude. It sounds great on paper but the day to day grind and lived reality is light years from "the why." And still, I recognize it's worth asking.

As a high school teacher, at times I dread walking through the student center. It opens my ears to complaints about my fellow teachers (and me) and gripes about grades. I hear claims of what is or isn't fair. While it's fun to hear the sound of laughter and a good joke, too often I hear profanity, cuss words and foul language.

Before I entered the belly of the beast on a Friday after school, I braced myself. In less than two minutes I saw a freshman boy walking toward me with his friends. He locked eyes with the two girls right in front of me and then said "F*** you. F*** you, *itches" His message wasn't super charged. He didn't even look intimidating or angry. But he offered the king of swear words loudly and clearly for these girls and others to hear.

I stopped. Suddenly, everyone saw me. I looked at this boy, turned to the girl, and returned my gaze to him as I uttered my disapproval. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! What is going on here? We don't use words like that."

He immediately apologized to me. I said, "I'm not the one you should apologize too. Nor should we be using language like that."

Upset and disappointed by these students, I turned to a coworker to share what happened. Equally shocked, he said "Why would you say that? Why is that necessary?" My colleague wasn't asking this question about my comments. No. He was asking me why a freshman would say that to another freshman in this time and space. 

"I wish that had been my response," I said. "That is the perfect question. Why would you say that?" Explain to me the "why" behind that," I added.

At times, rather than telling a young person, what not to do, why not ask them "Why?" In this instance, if I was there again I would say "Why drop an "F" bomb on a classmate, two times on a nice Friday afternoon? Why use profanity for everyone around you to hear?"

Hours later, I learned that Trojan QB1, Caleb Williams painted the full word "F*** ND on his fingernails before the USC vs. Notre Dame game on November 27, 2022. My response was prompted by what I learned earlier in the day. "Why? Why are you seeking attention in this way? Why would you do that?" I asked.

According to Fansided, "Williams paints his nails for every game, a tradition going back to his debut season with Oklahoma."

He had a similar message for UCLA before that rivalry game.

I have no idea how demonstrating that type of profanity honors the game, your own team or your rival. I would argue that message goes against what sport is and should be.

In the article "What is Sport? What Should it Be?" Daniel Dombrowski writes, 

Why has the competitive aspect of sports become subject to such critcism? Much criticism is rooted less in competition itself than in the way in which competition has become debased in contemporary culture. 
The literal meaning of the word "competition" comes from the Latin competitionem, which surprisingly means to strive with someone else, rather than against someone else. The word would be "anti-petition" if it meant to struggle against someone else. But this is not a word we use. The upshot of competition is that a sporting event without an opponent is no sporting event at all. The competitors are in effect, asking each other the question "Which of us is better at a certain activity?" Think of how boxers congratulate each other immediately after a bout. This is competition in the best sense of the term.
Putting down one's opponent. Demeaning a rival by the use of profanity for fans to see is anti-peition. It is a debasement of competition and a distraction. As far as I'm concerned a waste of time. 

After seeing Williams' stellar performance in the 38-27 win over the Irish, I found him to be a worthy candidate of the 2002 Heisman. After seeing this small, yet disrespectful hype move, I just shook my head and thought "really? You are at the top of your game, and this how your name and image goes viral? Why?"

True champions elevate the game. They make their teammates AND their rivals better. They teach younger athletes how to compete and comport oneself. That's why we look to them, follow them and become their fans. 

There it is..."the why." 

Photo Credits
The F Word

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