Setting a good example

Published 8:17 am Saturday, December 14, 2019

If you’ve watched your favorite NFL or NCAA teams compete, you’ve seen the close-up footage of a head coach or player in a frustrated tirade using explicit language on the sidelines.

It seems all the most successful coaches are unashamed and forward with their use of profanity.

We’ve all seen legendary coach Bob Knight throw chairs in a foul-mouthed fit courtside. Many have read Coach Nick Saban’s lips as he emphatically calls the referee things that would make a sailor blush.

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While I neither approve of it, nor am I entertained by it, I realize they are adults and, sometimes, they seem to forget the fact that millions of young athletes and aspiring coaches are watching them, desiring to emulate them.

It’s no excuse, but I realize they are ‘in the moment’ and ‘emotionally charged.’

But should common, shameless use of profanity be accepted in high school athletics?

If you’ve attended high school sporting events or practices in the last few years, you’ve likely witnessed it there, too. Profanity seems to be used commonly and consistently on the leadership levels of high school athletics. I recognize times have tilted and morals have moved, but truth is constant.

Plain and simply put — it should not be happening.

I must admit, as a community leader, I cringe when I hear it. I’m not here to throw stones. We’ve all let our emotions get the best of us. But should parents and school staff be OK with this behavior?

I realize it’s been culturally accepted by many adults, but speaking profanity so confidently while addressing kids? I just don’t get it.

I often wonder where the Christian outcry is, but when even those in the faith community are freely using it, how can there be an outcry?

I initially thought I was alone in my disregard for it, but with a little research, I discovered I wasn’t. I may just be the only one locally willing to speak out on it, but I’d like to pose a question:

If profanity is not acceptable language in the high school classroom, why is it OK for high school coaches to use it?

If the math teacher doesn’t allow students to openly use it, why should the basketball coach allow it? If a student shouldn’t dare address their English teacher as a $#@*, why should a coach address a student as such and not be reprimanded?

Some have said ‘the classroom is about education,’ but most coaches still say things like, “we are training these young men (or ladies) to be leaders — not just on the field—but off the field.”

Is that just ‘coach-speech,’ or are we truly concerned with making our players positive community contributors?

If we are, shouldn’t we concern ourselves with being positive role models in the way we communicate?

I’ve heard the excuses. I’ve even had this very conversation after a football practice on the middle school level. As a parent, I asked, “Is it necessary to use that kind of language? Don’t you realize you are addressing seventh and eighth graders?”

“Well,” the former coach replied, “I’m just trying to motivate them, and sometimes my emotions come out in the form of profanity.”

Come on. If it’s not possible to motivate a player without calling the opposing team a bunch of #$%&, then we are some poor motivators.

Furthermore, shouldn’t we be teaching high school students to learn to control their actions and language when they are ‘emotionally charged,’ instead of constantly losing ours in front of them? Lack of self-control will bring a myriad of future challenges “off the field.”

I realize it happens. We are all human. No one is here to cast stones. We all are guilty of saying things we shouldn’t in emotional moments. But we can’t just be OK with it. The thing is, we still need to consider the ears around us, and it should be corrected when it happens. It cannot become commonplace or acceptable language in the halls of our high schools. It displays a lack of respect for others, a lapse in education, and weakness to an otherwise strong school system, to say the least.

Randy Roberts, a history professor at Purdue University, pointed to everything from wars to Supreme Court rulings to the Richard Nixon tapes to an easing of movie ratings for the increased acceptance of cursing in society.

“There was profanity in sports, but not like it is today,” he said. “Suddenly, you can do anything; you can say anything, and it begins in elementary school.”

The fact is you don’t have to be tasteless to be a successful coach. You can be a passionate educator and motivator without the embarrassing, explicit prose. Gus Malzahn, head football coach of Auburn University, started coaching in 1994 at an Arkansas high school. That’s when he made the decision to institute a curse-free culture among his staff. His rule has remained intact, even at the NCAA level.

“I started looking at coaching as ministry and that’s really when things started changing for me… I understood I’ve got great influence with my players, and I’m just trying to be the example I need to be.” He continued, “That’s when everything changed for me and that’s what I tried to do and what I still try to do to this day… Understand that, as a coach, we have a big responsibility to be examples for our players and that’s really my number one responsibility at the end of the day.”

Similarly, Nebraska’s coach Scott Frost takes the no-cussing approach. Frost says the colorful language will only set the team and players back, instead of motivating them.

“We’re not going to cuss at kids,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. And I also don’t want to make kids afraid to make a great play. If someone misses a tackle or drops a ball, they don’t need to be yelled at. They need to be taught the right way to do it, so it doesn’t happen again.”

Frost continued, ‘Once you take away that fear of what might happen if you make a bad play, it really frees you up to make great plays. I want our team to always play with a desire to excel and no fear of failure.”

If these guys are realizing this at the college level and changing the culture, shouldn’t we do the same at the high school level?

I love our town. I love and support the athletic programs when I can. Successful teams have a way of uniting a town that seemingly nothing else can.

But a team cannot be considered successful only by looking at the win column, nor by only considering revenue generated.

A high school athletic program will be determined successful by evaluating the players once they exit the program. What kind of adults will they become? When it comes to students, what goes in will come out.

We only have a few years of influence. We must make it count.

Jeremy Sherrill is the pastor of Greater Faith Church in Ironton