As I walked the sidelines of a professional football game, my ears were filled with a barrage of profanity the likes of which I’d never heard. There’s no use repeating the language here because no newspaper in the country would print it.
It was a side of pro football I’d never experienced. We all know the game - tough, physical, even brutal. You can see that from anywhere in the stadium.
But the verbal exchange on the field can be vile, crude and gross. Does that reflect the nature of the sport or the extreme combativeness of its players? Probably both. I found it somewhere between funny and intimidating.
That sideline experience came to mind this week as I read about a proposal by the National Football League to crack down on profanity and slurs - especially use of the N-word - next season. Consequences could be a 15-yard penalty, ejection from the game or maybe a fine.
The proposal is made all the more strange because there’s already Rule 12 on player conduct, which includes a section prohibiting unsportsmanlike conduct. It’s just not enforced - at least the part about cussing.
If you don't take it from me, you can believe Dale Orem, who started working NFL games as an official in 1980 and continued until 2001. He spent the last few years reviewing disputed plays on TV monitors high above the field. Profanity and racial epithets have been in the game forever, he told me, not defending the practice.
So why is the NFL all of a sudden focused on player protocol?
The answer is fairly obvious. The Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal – Richie Incognito vs. Jonathan Martin – shocked the NFL. Workplace harassment and intimidation are intolerable, especially within a multibillion-dollar enterprise.
Then came the announcement from Southeastern Conference defensive star Michael Sam that he is gay and hopes to be a high draft choice. His decision to jump out of the closet as he potentially enters an NFL locker room forced the league to be proactive.