The Sports Morality Police have pinned on their badges and are cracking down on athlete-on-athlete crime.
You know, those vicious moments where one millionaire calls another millionaire a name across the line of scrimmage in what amount to little more than a grunt.
In the NBA, these words might be a bit easier to hear – or lip-read – but even then the intent or context might not be what we assume it to be. Can players sometimes get out of hand, based on this R-rated verbal jousting? Sure.
But go ahead, try telling me you wish the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph had never had that heated exchange with the Thunder’s Kendrick Perkins. Tell me you don’t still love Z-Bo’s explanation for the whole thing:
“There’s a lot of bluffing going on on the court, that’s all,” he said. “And I don’t bluff.”
See, the Sports Morality Police instinctively overreaches. And yes, the whole Miami Dolphins fiasco with Richie Incognito as bully and Jonathan Martin as victim takes much of the blame. The NFL wants to ban the use of the N-word and other slurs and to penalize players for using them during games.
At the administrative level, this sounds like a pretty reasonable idea. But the NFL is not the biggest sport in America because people tune in to watch suits move the needle on social etiquette.
People watch for the passion, i.e., the violence, and, I hate to break this to the naïve, but some of that violence is verbal.
Now, those of you who have your own Sports Morality Police badges probably are aghast that I’m hinting at some sort of double-standard that would allow for one type of language on NFL fields and NBA courts and then holding, say, high school players or kids on a playground to a higher ideal.
Guilty as charged and I make no apology for it.
I simply can’t take the NFL seriously on anything “moral” until the league and its coaches take seriously the on-going violence against women involving NFL players.
The latest allegation is that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice rendered his fiancée unconscious during an altercation at a casino. Ravens coach John Harbaugh seems eager to turn a blind eye to this even though Rice’s arrest was based on video evidence.
You know what Harbaugh said when asked if there is a scenario that might keep Rice off the Ravens’ roster next season?
“Not that I’m aware of,” the coach told The Baltimore Sun. “I haven’t seen anything that would remotely make me think that.”
You can now penalize me the length of five football fields just for what I’m thinking.
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh, when asked in an interview about the NFL policy coming to the NBA, suggested that if the league is going to do anything it shouldn’t just ban the N-word but all slurs and curse words.
All right, but given the challenges some NBA officials have just calling the game in an equitable way – you really can get 10 to life for a hard foul on Chris Paul or Manu Ginobili – the refs now have to micro-manage trash talk?
I’m not an NBA player so I don’t purport to have all the answers here. So I asked the Grizzlies’ Courtney Lee and Mike Conley for their takes on this.
Lee said it would be great if kids never had to hear the N-word and it could be eliminated from sports. Agreed. But he also said everybody says stuff “in the heat of the moment,” adding, “The B-word is able to be said on national TV.”
Excellent point. So, where would the line be in an NBA game?
Conley says context matters, but also most players probably take a sticks-and-stones approach to being called names.
“It’s almost like you drown it out, whether it’s the N-word or other cuss words, it doesn’t matter,” Conley said. “It’s been part of our lives being on the streets playing. It’s just something you get numb to.”
Unless you’re a league suit or coach who would rather distract us from the star player and his unconscious fiancée.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.