Pro Sports and Civility -- Is Anyone Listening?

by Ken Briggs

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In the wake of the Tucson shootings, the airwaves are crackling this week with appeals for more decency in public talk.

Somehow the New York Jets weren't tuned in. In advance of their show-down National Football League game against the New England Patriots, the Jets have actually ramped up hostility against their opponents.

The coach, Rex Ryan, has been firing barbs against star Patriot quarterback, Tom Brady, and Antonio Cromartie, a Jet cornerback, turned that up a notch by calling Brady an epithet that refers to the far end of the digestive track.

Athletes generally learn to suppress their verbal instincts or to couch their hatreds in terms that sound downright polite. But anyone close to the playing field is well aware of the barrage of insults, invectives and obscenities that are spewed during games, from all directions, including fans.

The defense of such coarseness and profanity is that it's a healthy outlet for players and fans and, as entertainment, stands apart from everyday life, thus should be taken too seriously.

Sports aren't removed, however. Tens of millions of Americans follow their teams with a loyalty unknown in their politics and young people are prone to take cues for their behavior from their warrior heroes. In teaching civility, therefore, sports belongs in the forefront of our attention. Not all athletes stoke animosity, of course, but the general impression is that bad-mouthing has been getting worse.

How about making sure that big-time sports gets the memo about acting respectfully. Someone tell the Jets that this kind of hate-mongering can lead to trouble.

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