Football players, kids, this Mom all find common ground in today's language arts

January 23, 1996|By SUSAN REIMER

WHEN THEY POKE a microphone into the face of the most valuable player in Sunday's Super Bowl and ask him what he plans to do next, I expect to hear him say, "Man, I'll be hauling my [a-word] to [f-word] Disney World."

As the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers proved after winning their conference championship games, they lead the NFL in a new offensive category: undeleted expletives.

Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell revealed on live television that he told running back "Bam" Morris in the huddle to haul his "big [a-word]" across the goal line.

Dallas wide-receiver Michael Irvin defended his coach, who, he said, had taken all kinds of "[s-word]" all season.

(When asked a couple of days later if he wanted to apologize, Irvin looked into the battery of cameras facing him and repeated the expletive five times.)

And Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd asked interviewer Jim Gray for a moment to address his teammates and then exhorted them, in front of cameras he did not know were live, to win the "[f-word]" Super Bowl for owner Dan Rooney.

(That Lloyd could have used that word in the same sentence with Rooney's name proves that he has never even passed that humble and reverent man in the hall.)

Apologists for the networks and the players defended the language as the unintended result of big men, big games, big emotions and live television.

Moralists such as William Bennett suggested it was evidence of the end of civilization.

Television journalists theorized that the incidents fit neatly in a network scheme to reclaim the demographically desirable 25- to 45-year-olds who have migrated to the coarser stuff on alternative net-works and cable.

I think the fault lies with the mothers and fathers of Greg Lloyd, Neil O'Donnell and Michael Irvin. It's clear no bars of soap were ever scraped across teeth in those households.

In schools, in malls and across the dinner table, younger children are cursing more. And they are not just using George Carlin's famous seven words you can't use on TV. They use abbreviated descriptions of sexual acts and excretory functions. (You know which words I mean.)

You can blame it on movies, television, rap music and friends you don't approve of, but my guess is, despite the protestations of Michael Irvin's mother, they heard a lot of these words first at home.

I know that's how mine learned all the bad words they know.

My mother used to get out the Ivory soap for words such as "liar" and "shut up," but apparently it didn't take, because I curse like a . . . well, like a football player.

I know vulgarity can be a harmless way for a teen to demonstrate his separation from his parents, but I knew I was in trouble when, as a 2-year-old, my son stood in front of me as I nursed his sister and said, "I'm angry, dammit."

He's 11 now, and his language has not improved.

Apparently, neither has mine, because his baby sister recently warned him that if he didn't leave her alone, she was going to knock his you-know-what off. And I didn't think I used that word.

There is no way to blame this on some broader deterioration of language and civility in our society. If kids are foul-mouthed and rude, it is our fault. My fault.

And more is at stake than manners at the dinner table. Teachers and school psychologists will tell you that bad language is the first symptom of conflict and it only escalates from there.

It is one thing to shock a parent with casual profanity. It is another matter if the source of that profanity is anger, hostility or aggression. The discourse among children is not only raunchy and unimaginative, but it also has become very in-your-face, the stuff of fights.

I don't know if I can get this genie back in the bottle. My own vulgarity has become almost unconscious, and I'm sure my children would be only too happy to point up my hypocrisy if I started hauling them to the soap dish by the backs of their necks.

We have to watch our mouths and let our kids know that bad words are unacceptable. It is one thing to say it when you stub your toe. It is quite another to stand there and curse your mother out when she has denied a request.

If we wash their mouths out with soap, they will call 911, but we can still be firm and consistent. And we need to warn them that the words they are using can very easily become fighting words.

I don't blame Greg Lloyd for talking like that on national television, and I don't think the NFL should fine its players when they curse.

The league should fine their mothers.

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