First Posted: 9/18/2009
To me, the U.S Constitution is a sacred document, one not to be trampled upon even during these politically correct times in which we now live. And our right of free speech should forever include the use of curse words where appropriate.
But in the wake of the outcry over two recent events, you wouldnt know that our courts consistently have ruled that foul language is a constitutionally protected form of expression.
Event No. 1 occurred last Saturday night when tennis star Serena Williams let loose with a verbal tirade after losing a semifinals match in the U.S. Open tournament in New York on a controversial call.
I will be the first to admit that Williams remarks, directed toward the line judge who made the call, were not admirable, especially since she expressed a strong desire to cram the ball down the officials throat. But strangely, the threatening portion of what she said has been treated less severely by some critics than the actual language Williams used, in which she repeated a REALLY bad word numerous times.
Event No. 2 unfolded on Monday when fellow tennis star Roger Federer let loose with his own oratorical tirade as he was losing the U.S. Open mens championship. Federers dirty words were much less severe than Serenas, but caused a major reaction nonetheless.
Of course, tennis is traditionally a sport of gentlemen and gentlewomen in which a courteous on-court demeanor is expected. But in the real world, where competitors are playing for millions of dollars and top rankings, it shouldnt shock anyone if a stray curse word slips out occasionally after a player hits a bad shot or is victimized by a questionable call.
Oh, but it has. After the outbursts during the recent tennis matches, there were calls for suspensions and all sorts of dire consequences just over a few words uttered in the heat of battle.
For their part, leaders of the professional tennis tour have levied token fines against both Williams and Federer. Obligatory apologies were issued and presumably everyone is moving on from there.
But what really bothers me is the fact that virgin-eared Pollyannas as one national sports observer referred to them have caused such a furor over the fact two athletes cursed during a match.
To me, these people who would dare infringe upon our rights of free expression though that expression sometimes can be deemed vulgar represent something far more dangerous than any words an athlete, or anyone else under similar tense circumstances, can speak.
One by one, our constitutional rights permitting gun ownership, free speech and other long-protected practices gradually are being attacked by certain forces who seem determined to create some type of Utopian society.
But if these Pollyannas manage to make what they consider objectionable forms of speech unlawful, what will be next? Will they then attempt to control our thoughts, or how we dress or what books we read, all in the name of some Puritanical mission?
Of course, no one wants to see a child wantonly using bad words, which I recall some kids doing back in grade school just for shock value or to make others think they were cool basically cursing for the sake of cursing. Plus, it would not be desirable for public speakers or others to employ such words in the normal course of events.
However, I do not want to live in a sanitized world where people cant be free to let go with a string of expletives if they hit their thumb with a hammer or have something else happen that merits a strong response.
And society ought to have the common sense to understand the difference, especially when it comes to athletes and others under similar stresses.
Babe Ruth, for example, was known for his colorful language; so was fellow baseball star Ted Williams. Meanwhile, legendary quarterback Sammy Baughs remarks often were severe enough to peel paint from the walls.
And nowadays, when technology has evolved to the point where cameras pick up each movement and microphones every sound on the court, course or field, it is even more likely to hear athletes curse. Thats especially the case when one finds a camera in his or her face immediately after being involved in a tense situation.
Tiger Woods often is heard cursing when he hits a bad drive, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. drew controversy several years ago when he had some colorful remarks after a NASCAR race.
But before we start washing everyones mouth out with soap, lets read the Constitution first.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected] or 719-1924.