Rick Reilly has a weekly column, "The Life of Reilly," in Sports Illustrated. His column's always located -- guess where -- on the prominent, impossible to miss, inside back cover. I note this because Reilly's column is always the first thing I read in the magazine. Not because it's that great; Rick has good weeks and bad. I read it first because it's right there.
In this week's column headed, "It's a Whole New Ball Game," Reilly hits a subject that's the issue du jour for the sports media, post-September 11. To summarize: The media feels guilty about its past prolific use of words like "warrior," "courageous," "blitz," "war room," "field general," etc. There appears to be a collective agreement that these words are now bad. Many in the media vow to change their evil ways.
Reilly's column exhorts civilians and athletes to become better, more caring citizens in the traumatic flotsam of WTC. Many nice sentiments here. You can read it yourself -- as I mentioned, he's easy to find. However, he also touches on some silly, superficial points. He, for example, believes the word "courageous" is never again appropriate for the banal world of sport. "Let's hope the first golf commentator to call a putt courageous gets his mousse taken away for a month." A man's man like CBS's John Madden has made similar statements concerning the language of football. The phrase political correctness seems to be appearing in my lost column more and more frequently lately, rearing its opaque, squiggly little head in increasingly bizarre ways.
If the only way our society can define a hero or bravery or courage is to be a New York City policeman or fireman, well, we've done the English language and our culture an injustice. In fact, we've all had some moments, most small and not very important, of courage and bravery. A single mom raising two kids is brave, courageous, and worthy of admiration. A sick worker who goes to the job when he should be home in bed, because he knows others need him, is being, in a small, mundane way, brave. A state trooper making a "routine" traffic stop on a moonless night is routinely heroic.
But you know what, a wide receiver who goes over the middle, where people get badly hurt every Sunday, to catch a pass, he's brave too. Damn brave. Would you do it? A quarterback playing with broken ribs is brave. A hitter, any hitter, looking out at Randy Johnson, he's brave too. For that matter, so is Randy Johnson, standing 60 feet away from a potential rocket that can (and does) grotesquely injure pitchers every season. I could go on. You get the point. Everyday life is filled with small acts of courage, and so is our artificial world of sports. Our daily vernacular doesn't need to be and can't be justified against a terrorist attack.
Reilly also says he'll no longer root against New York teams. He goes so far as to say how "sweet" it would be if the Mets and Yanks could play another Subway Series! This is make-believe, sports fans. It's sports. I detest the Mets, and I'm rooting (as I always do) for whatever team they're playing. Root for the Yankees? I'd sooner give up my DirecTV. Root for them both!? Dear Lord. If it's possible to trivialize a horrible event like we've all witnessed -- if that can be done -- the national sports media, combined with the national and international hard news media (all in New York for another Subway Series), with only the best of intentions, could do it.
This national PC-ing of sports jargon, creating a new paradigm for "an attacking offense" and a "gutsy putt," is insipid. The NFL has, since its inception, smothered itself in martial music and Air Force fly-overs. Will the world be improved if John Madden calls a blitz a five-man fire drill? Will anybody be soothed if instead of calling Ed McCaffrey brave when he broke his fibula on another suicidal catch over the middle, Reilly just writes tha the was doing his job?
Not me. I'm for doing the important things. Important not being Al Michaels' choice of adjectives for tonight's game.
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