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Ending the curse

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–“Schools try hard to foil fans’ curses,” a recent USA Today headline stated atop an article on efforts at several colleges to dissuade sports patrons from using profanity at games.

According to the report, a growing number of America’s institutions of higher learning have become concerned about the frequent use of vulgar words and phrases by fans at sporting events, most of which is directed at referees as well as at opposing teams and their fans.

Many of the concerned schools are utilizing public service campaigns to try to persuade fans to police their own language. However, at least two schools have taken more stringent steps in an effort to stop foul language at sports venues.

Boston University outlawed cursing from its hockey arena in 2006. An effort to enforce the ban resulted in the revocation of 20 students’ ticket privileges. Similarly, the University of Florida adopted a code of conduct for its fans in 2002. As a result, a few fans have been ejected.

Even schools that have not adopted a hard line against profanity have taken proactive steps to curtail cursing. Louisiana State University’s band recently changed its routine to keep fans from chanting vulgar words to a couple of its songs. Likewise, Virginia Tech has stopped its band from playing a song to which fans yelled profane chants.

Any effort to clean up the behavior of fans likewise should extend to the coaches and players. If you have been anywhere near a football sideline recently, you likely heard language that would make the devil proud.

How bad is the language among coaches and players in football? It is so bad that both head coaches of the teams in the Super Bowl earlier this year made headlines because neither uses foul language. Their behavior was such an anomaly that it was considered newsworthy.

Sports events are not isolated aspects of culture; rather, they are part and parcel of culture. As such, the good, the bad and the ugly are concentrated and on display each time fans gather in a stadium to cheer, or curse as the case may be, their team to victory.

If you think about it, a sporting event is really nothing more than a microcosm of culture. You have laws which are the rules of the game. There are the enforcers of the laws, the referees. You also have unwritten rules of good conduct, which is sportsmanship. And, of course, there is competition which is an inescapable reality in every culture.

As American culture has become more crass, so has American sport. While the rule of law has yet to be subverted in sports or culture, many people seek to get around the rules anyway they can. Some even live by the “it’s only wrong if you get caught” adage. “Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” has become “disregard everyone and do what you want, when you want, because you want to.”

Winning on the scoreboard is no longer enough. Competition has ceased to be about becoming one’s best. I recently attended a pee-wee football game that took three overtimes to decide a winner. The coaches were not content to send the little guys home with a tie; no, somebody had to win.

American sports are merely a reflection of a culture that has become increasingly calloused and coarse. And sadly, the profanity used in sports stadiums can be heard when walking in a mall or turning on the television.

Perhaps the effort by colleges to clean up the behavior of fans at sporting events will serve as a tipping point for sports as well as culture. One can hope it will be met with compliance and success. Until it does, many American sports fans can revel in the fact they are, to sum up hockey great Gordie Howe, bilingual. They know English and profanity.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs