Did Dungy go too far in fight against foul language?

August 18, 2010
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To swear or not to swear? That has become the question. At least in National Football League circles.

Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy—the holy man of the NFL—this week came down on N.Y. Jets coach Rex Ryan for using too much foul language while handling his coaching duties. Dungy took it a step further and said he wouldn’t hire Ryan (or presumably any other coach who needs their mouths washed out with soap).

I think this is a brave battle for Dungy to fight. A wise one too. I’m not saying Jim Irsay is a saint, but I think it says a lot about him, that he specifically sought Tony Dungy, and only Tony Dungy, as his coach in 2002.

This isn’t the first go-around for the to swear or not debate.

The late all-pro defender Reggie White, another notable holy man, insisted that teammates, coaches and opponents not swear “at him.”

And it’s not the first time a coach with Indiana ties has been in the midst of this foul-mouthed controversy. No, I’m not talking about Bob Knight here, though I could be.

In this case, I’m talking about former Indiana Pacers coach Larry Brown, another legendary cusser in the professional sports ranks. National Basketball Association all-star David Robinson, who like Dungy is a devout Christian, asked, then insisted, that Brown not swear at him or in front of him. Brown coached Robinson in San Antonio from 1989-91, two seasons before he showed up in Indiana in 1993.

Just about everyone in sports it seems, has an opinion on this. Former Notre Dame and Philadelphia Eagles player Mike Golic, and now co-host of Mike and Mike radio show, said on the air today, that Dungy was out of line in asking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to take action against Ryan. Golic almost boastfully admitted on the air that he uses swear words on a relatively regular basis.

Maybe Golic was joking, but Rex’s father, former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, was not. Yesterday, the elder Ryan, himself a hot-head, basically told Dungy to stuff it.

“Well, it’s none of Dungy’s business,” Buddy Ryan said.

Except that it is. It’s everyone’s business who has a stake in the NFL—and professional sports. Unfortunately, I’m not sure those folks running those businesses realize it. Golic says cussing is simply part of sports’ culture, and it’s a culture, I think, that over time could erode the fan base.

I’m not going to argue the anti-swearing tact on moral grounds, though I could. But I will argue that allowing swearing to permeate the culture of sports is bad business.

First, the cussing took place on a nationally televised show which aired on HBO. Yes, it’s cable, but still, I’m not sure that’s the image people want their kids to see and hear—or want to see and hear themselves.

If it’s part of the culture, then it’s not confined to the locker room, out of the earshot of people who pay to watch the product. I’ve sat courtside and fieldside at more than a few sporting events and had my ears set on fire by a profanity-laced tirade. Golic this morning laughed about being caught on TV dropping the worst kind of cuss word. Again, not funny. Not from a business standpoint.

Slowly over time that sort of behavior erodes an organization’s—or an individual’s—good brand. Exhibit A; Bob Knight. I don’t want to pick on Knight, but just think of what his brand would be if not for his decades of boorish behavior. His numerous good deeds for this state now almost get overlooked in a blur of cuss words, questionable comments and childish acts.

The NFL is so incredibly cautious about protecting the brand of its “shield,” that a million different kinds of player celebrations are illegal after touchdowns. But a coach—or I suppose a player—dropping the foulest kind of cuss words like they were going out of style is just part of the culture. Eventually, fans (especially those with kids) will ask themselves if that’s the kind of culture they want to be a part of.

Yes, the NFL is the most profitable, powerful professional sports league in North America—by a wide margin. That didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of bricklaying to build that fiefdom.

Rome, after all, wasn’t built in a day.

It didn’t fall in a day, either. But fall it did.
 

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  • Respectable
    Dungy is 100% correct. There is no place for swearing. PERIOD. These same foul mouthed people would be livid if a cop, doctor, merchant, teacher of their kids, etc. would speak to them in the same manner. These ill minded inmature ego skum of society need more than their mouths washed out. Flogging comes to mind. If they are not grown up enough to act like an adult, they should not be paid the money they are paid, given the position they seem to esteem themselves in...They are just punks
  • It's not funny from any standpoint
    mind you, I'm no saint and when it comes to swearing, I could make a sailor blush; But, the main thing to consider here is the trickle down theory. If it's alright for the big boys to do it the the kids can do it too. I don't think we want to see that at any level wether it's good for business or not. It's all about what we are teaching the youth today... what is acceptable and what is not. Several of us a few years ago were successful in getting our high school head football coached fired... for many reasons, but a big one was his foul mouth on the sidelines and off the field in front of the kids.
  • Need More Tony Dungys out there!
    We need more people of high profile to speak out against the lack of civility and self-discipline, and provide good role models, but not just in the NFL ...thank you Tony!
  • Proper Language
    While we are at it, let's go after the sports casters and advertisers to get them to speak proper English. For example, running has a g at the end of it which is rarely heard any more. If we are truly interested in stetting the right example for our youth, swearing is a part of the problem, but the English language is rapidly evolving to the NASCAR dialect, which has almost universally been picked up by all sports announcers. I know that there are letters in certain words which are silent, but the "g" ind a word ending in "ing" is not one of them. Setting a good example by speaking correctly would go a long way in raising educational/speaking standards in this country.
  • Way to go Tony!
    I have always told my kids and the young people I work with that swearing tells everyone in earshot of you that you have a limited vocabulary â?? why would anyone want to do that? We all let things slip, now and then, but trying to limit and eliminate swearing is a good goal for a human being to have. If anyone of us were on TV and our 87 year old father or our 10 year old son heard us swear, I would hope we would be embarrassed â?? so why let anyone else hear you either. Good for Dungy.
  • Tone It Down
    Dungy's main point was for Ryan to just tone it down because of kids watching HBO, then advocated for the commissioner to get involved. Somehow the story now is Dungy wants swearing banned which is not the case. He only stated that he'd prefer not to hire someone with that language. As far as the headline of this article, you can never go to far when fighting bad language. It's working out well for the Colts...the winning-est NFL team since 1999 and a model franchise.
  • Ridiculous
    Football, as much or more than any other sport, is a simulated war. The adrenaline and physical danger of even a practice session is more than most of us will ever experience. And most men (and women) with a few notable and applause-worthy exceptions, are much more likely to us profanity in adrenaline-laced situations. These men do not exist to teach your children how to speak properly--they are there to play football. If you don't want to hear profanity don't watch HBO.
  • not just HBO
    The problem is, J.O., the use of profanity is not just on HBO. It's at a lot of ball parks, stadiums and arenas and is permeating other streams of modern culture. I give you the example of "$#*! My Dad Says" TV show airing this fall on CBS. You also seem to take up the Charles Barkley mantra that these pro athletes and coaches are not in place to be role models. All I'm saying is that it would be better for their business if they were role models. In the final analysis, that's they're choice to be role models or not. But it's the consumers choice to continue to consume the product, or as you suggest, tune out.
  • Assumptions
    Nice article. You wisely argue the 'brand/business' side of the argument versus the moral side of the argument. A moral argument really can't be won.

    My problem though is with you assuming that cussing = bad business. Why do you make this assumption? You never give any empirical data to support this assumption. It looks to me like you are assuming the audience has the same morality as you do and thus there would be no reason to explain why cussing is bad for business.

    You do mention something about children, as if everyone is sitting court side with young children and can hear the swear words said on a basketball court. I think you are grossly over stating the exposure that the general public has to what supposedly is a semi-private exchange between players or coaches and players.

    At it's roots, this argument is extremely similar to the marriage debate raging in this country right now which is basically a group of individuals attempting to impose their morality (and honestly their spiritually) on the rest of us through legislation and ultimately law.

    The vast majority of people do not take too kindly to people who try to impose a personal belief on those around them and the person forcing the issue should, in my opinion, take a step back and evaluate what the true reason is for his actions. Just as Dungy should really take a step back and re-evaluate his position and be honest with what his true intentions are. If his intentions are truly for the good of the business then I think some explanation needs to be made as to why Dungy's course of action will benefit (or really, why inaction would harm) the business of sports.
    • Little League World Series
      All this discussion reminds me of the Little League World Series three years ago when some of the little tykes were outfitted with live mics. That is, until one of the little Tanner Boyle-wannabes let out an explicit-laced tirade in the dugout that would have burned the ears off Rex Ryan himself. The mics were promptly turned off (for good). Ahh, I bet a clip like that would make Rex (and Buddy) proud of the example they've set. I'm not sure anyone would applaud that behavior in their child. So why is it OK for Rex to do it, but not your own kid?
    • Jim
      You remind me of the little kid standing in front of an adult and saying "you can't tell me what to do!" All I can say is, Jim, it's a good thing you aren't making the rules or anything goes.

      You opened the marriage argument door. First of all, it is not a group of people trying to impose their morality on anyone. It is, in fact, quite the other way around. We have a minority group that wants to force their morality into our laws and traditions that have been in existence for centuries.

      For all are free to live their lives as they choose. The sanctity of marriage, on the otherhand, was established by God. The rules of marriage between a man and a woman have been part of our laws and our traditions for thousands of years.

      If people want to live as two husbands, then fine, but don't ask to change our Godly heritage to fit your lifestyle. Find another solution and leave what God put in place as an established tradition alone.

      And stop your cussing........
    • Go Ahead
      Accepting cussing in what is supposed to be, not just be a sports setting, but a professional setting, allows for all sorts of immoral, and at times, unlawful practices to occur such as verbal and physical abuse. Asking to be spoken to in a respectful manner is really not a lot to ask for.
      • Everyone Put On Your Big Girl Panties
        This is a free country. People are allowed to say whatever they want. Even when they sound stupid. Tony Dungy should step away from being the morals police. Most of what he does is great, but this is one of the most stupid 'issues' ever foisted. I have a far bigger problem with those who believe it is their business to tell anyone else what they can or cannot say.
      • Give me a break
        "First, the cussing took place on a nationally televised show which aired on HBO. Yes, itâ??s cable, but still, Iâ??m not sure thatâ??s the image people want their kids to see and hearâ??or want to see and hear themselves."

        If parent's are letting their kids watch HBO at 10:00pm, then that is the bigger issue.

        It's training camp in the NFL with a bunch of juiced up 300 pound men and a 400 pound coach. What do you expect to see? Ballroom dancing with boys wearing pretty outfits and talking all prim and proper? Give me a break.
      • Tivo?
        Ever heard of Tivo or a DVR? Let along YouTube. The time the show is airing has little effect on viewership today. What do I expect from a multi-billion dollar operation like the NFL? I expect better than this.
      • Cool Chick
        You say that swearing is going to allow for all kinds of unlawful things to occur... Have you been keeping up with sports news the past 2 decades? No amount of 'swear police' is going to cut down on the unlawful stuff that occurs at the professional sports level.

        I'm pretty sure swearing is WAY down the "why they abuse women, dogs, and themselves" correlation list.

        Frilly Lace summed it up - the bigger problem by far is Dungy's attitude that he is going to clean up the NFL and tell everyone what they can and cannot say.

        Oh and berwickguy - the nice people in the white coats are saying computer time is over.
        • Motivation
          This goes beyond swearing - it has to do with finding a way to motivate high caliber athletes. I have no doubt that anyone over the age of 12 can sometimes have a "colorful" vocabulary, let alone a group of men who have survived the rigors of football from youth programs to high school to college and the NFL. What bothers me is that we have a good ol' boy network of over-paid gym teachers who find ways to network their way into coaching positions at the high school, college and professional levels who have absolutely no motivational training and no idea what they are doing beyond their own blustery ego when it comes to finding a way to mentally prepare athletes to perform at their best.

          Players at very competitive levels don't typically need someone constantly yelling a string of profanity (often with the effect of singling out a particular player for ridicule). Players at those very competitive levels want playing time. There's nothing a coach could possibly say to a player that is more effective than "if you play better you'll be able to get in the game for more downs." Beyond that, it's instruction on technique, encouragement to be aggressive and hustle. There may be some small group of players who are best motivated by being yelled at - it may be that yelling/profanity is the ONLY thing that some people respond to and its the only way for a coach to find something inside that player that will inspire getting outstanding performance - unfortunately, as much as people think of football players as the typical "dumb jock" there are very few who respond in any positive way to yelling and profanity. This is not a "one size fits all" proposition, people are all motivated in different ways. A truly successful coach, like Coach Dungy, will figure out what it takes to motivate players without profanity or yelling. With a very few exceptions, most of the yelling is by people who don't know how to LISTEN to their players, and figure out how to deliver the right message to each player without employing a small minded, "one size fits all - these players are stupid jocks anyway" mentality that employs yelling as a means of motivating by ridicule and intimidation.

          Again, I think most coaches who find they have to yell and use profanity are guys got their jobs through a "good ol' boy" network - and their brand of bullying is simply another version of hazing that really doesn't need to be there to inspire outstanding performance.


        • JIM
          Jimmy Boy, typical liberal loon that backs away from a point made that he can't address.

          So sad.........
        • Ryan a flash in the pan
          Rex Ryan is a fad. He'll be yesterday's news in 2 years when it's proven his team can't win more than 9 games in a season. He'd do well to listen to a guy like Tony Dungy, who has proven staying power in this league. If Ryan wants to be taken seriously in this league, he needs to stop acting like a circus side show.
        • Hypocrite
          Dungy is a holier than thou hypocrite. This is the same guy who "counseled" Mike Vick and rallied teams to give the felonious dog torturer a second chance. So Tony you would hire a person who drowns dogs but wouldn't hire someone who cusses? Interesting. Tony also worked for Bill Polian for several years, talk about foul mouthed. And Tony didn't you quit football to spend more time with the family after your son's suicide? How much time do you spend at home with the book tours, TV time, and "counseling?

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