Sunday, May 21, 2000

Pardon me for saying almost anything




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        Twenty-five years ago, Truby the high school wrestling coach threw a kid named McGowan out of practice. Literally. With a shove and a scream, Truby told McGowan to “get the hell out.”

        The rest of us snickered. A few days later, so did McGowan. Nobody thought anything of it. I don't remember even mentioning it to my parents.

        How might that play now? McGowan wouldn't only tell his parents. He'd tell everyone who wanted to listen. He'd be written about in the newspaper, talked about on radio, filmed for 11.

        Truby would be reprimanded, suspended or, depending on the pressure brought to bear on school officials, removed as coach. Whether that's right or wrong probably depends on your age and experiences. But here's the question:

        What do we do now? What are the rules?

        What we used to call “yelling”, we now know as “verbal abuse.” When a coach kicks an athlete out of a gym the way Truby did, he doesn't just kick the kid out of practice. He is practicing “physical abuse.”

        What was OK five years ago is definitely not OK now. If you thought it was OK last week, you'd better check. It's like a bus schedule or the price of gas. You never know.

        If you're a coach, you don't touch a kid. No Truby-like shoves, of course. But no hugs, either, unless they're initiated by the athlete. If you're a supervisor, you limit small talk with employees to good morning, good afternoon and good night.

        If you're a writer, you pick your words the way a Wallenda picks his steps. What that does for free and open discussion is basically stomp it flat. But you stay out of trouble.

        Occasionally, I'll write something I know will tweak someone, just to see who's paying attention. I keep it from being personal or malicious (I'm a sensitive tweaker) and wait for the phone to ring. It always does. These days, everyone is offended by something.

        In our effort to include everyone, we exclude anyone who doesn't agree with us. We're big on tolerance, so long as we can choose whom we tolerate.

        Political correctness has created a facade of getting along. You don't know what to say, how to say it or even if you should. So, mostly, you don't say anything. How that increases the level of understanding we claim to seek, I'm not sure.

        With over-the-top cases such as Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight or baseball player John Rocker, the remedy is obvious. It's the in-between that has me searching.

        I wrote a column the other week, suggesting semi-seriously that Rush Limbaugh be considered for the job of analyst on Monday Night Football. Limbaugh is to controversy what ham is to cheese. “He's like him or kill him,” I wrote.

        Uh-oh. Got a letter on that one. Reader was incensed I'd used the word “kill.”

        “A bit extreme in a culture where our children are expelled with no questions asked should they use words so loosely,” he wrote.

        My first reaction was to suggest the letter writer get a back rub and find a hobby. Who would take that literally? My second reaction was, what if someone did? Maybe the reader was right. Or at least, right for these times.

        That way of looking at it never occurred to me before. It will now.

        Paul Daugherty, an Enquirer sports columnist, writes a lifestyle column on Sunday. He welcomes your comments at 768-8454.