Weird Incidents of Profanity in Sports

The sports world has always had a zero tolerance policy for breaking the rules about using expletives, swear words, and other types of foul language or gestures. For these reasons, Lee Corso is getting a finger wagged at him in the media. In the not so distant past, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan was denied acceptance by Tony Dungy for cursing violations.

While this may be a time where accountability for swearing is questioned, it is nonetheless upheld (especially by the FCC). To say the least, the Corso and Ryan incidents are hardly the first time in history that sports persons have been shamed in weird incidents.

History of swearing in sports

According to Geoffrey Hughes’ book, Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English, there are certain sports that have a long history of banning expletives from their players that goes back to the 1500’s. For example, golf, tennis, and cricket all have documents that show that foul language comes with penalties. These three sports also demand silence from the crowd. On the other hand, football, rugby, basketball, and soccer have a history of being altogether rowdy.

Despite these ranges, the sport that takes the title for being most riddled with profanity is polo. Hughes promotes the idea that it is considered the most swear word ridden sport of them all. Hughes also points out that, no matter what the sport is, there is a huge penalty for swearing in sports and it often costs the players hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Currently, the earliest online documentation of athletes penalized for using profanity comes from Hall’s Nostalgia. In their auction listings is included a “1930’s Baseball Scrapbook that belonged to Jim McNulty, President of the Northern Baseball League.” Among the 70 pages are, “letters from other umpires informing McNulty of players that were tossed for using profanity.”

Perpetuating hate language will cost you does an excellent job of tallying all of the violations that sports players and coaches have accumulated in the past 12 years. The minimum penalty has ranged from $10,000 to $75,000 and also includes suspension from upcoming games. However, the biggest fines are almost always associated with homosexual slurs.

For example, in 2011 the NBA fined Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah for using this type of derogatory language. Unlike regular profanity, fines for these types of inappropriate language start at $50,000 to $100,000. These hefty reprimands definitely assures the public that there is no tolerance for hate language in professional sports.

A one up on John McEnroe’s expletive

One of the most publicized cases of swearing has been the John McEnroe tennis incidents. The main reason that this has been focused on is due to the long history of silence and professional behavior on the tennis courts. However, in a 1987 article by Tom Mahon, this writer illustrates that the $17,500 fine that McEnroe accrued was nothing compared to the 1951 incident involving tennis star Earl Cochell.

At the U.S. Nationals, Cochell was booed by spectators. In an explosion of anger, Cochell grabbed the microphone and screamed a long list of obscenities at the entire crowd. After Cochell’s rampage on the court, he was permanently banned from the sport.

Coach Bobby Knight’s anger management irony

In the Bleacher Reports countdown of The 20 Most Foul-Mouthed Head Coaches Ever, Indianapolis University’s basketball coach Bobby Knight claims two of the top spots in the list. Noted as one of the most profanity using coaches of all times, he is only slightly outranked by Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. When asked why he used curse words, Knight explained that they are “the most expressive.”

Strangely, Knight was quoted in a 1981 Sports Illustrated article about how he grabbed a microphone and told his fans not to use profanity. His thoughts on the fans’ use of profanity was that, “It showed no bleeping class.”

Knowing when to stop using weird language

Despite the bad press that Joe Paterno is receiving as a result of the Penn State Sandusky scandal, he was well known for abhorring swearing. As he told Sports Illustrated in 1976, “You have to be flexibly inflexible, I guess.” For this reason, he installed a profanity box in his team’s training room. Only, instead of chipping in the required dime for players, he would put in a quarter.

For Paterno, not using profanity and throwing a helmet in anger are, “petty things that interfere with control in a tight situation.” In other words, Paterno felt that using anger in sports was a good way to become a bad player. However, Paterno was quick to point out that, “I am human, I say things like (swear words).”

Adding to this idea is a group of advice from The Disabled List. If you have a problem with being a part of sports and using profanity, this website gives several suggestions. Included in the list is getting help from fellow teammates and figuring out what weird things make you use profanity. As The Disabled List discusses, sports and profanity are an odd combination that could cost you up to half a million dollars and a chance to further your sports career.

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