The voice of sport?

This piece first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in July 2005

Attention professional sportsmen everywhere. Now listen up lads. I understand that after a few beers post-game you may get a bit testy and feel like a rumble with someone who’s given you some lip. I can understand you getting hot under the collar during a game and having a wild swing at someone just to relieve the tension. I’m even beginning to understand that as 21st century men you find it tempting to send smutty text messages to women you’ve just met or may not have met at all.

The thing that sticks in my craw is something that no one’s mentioned over the past few months, yet is irritating to me and my family. It concerns language, and I know you’ve had enough of academics telling you how to speak and what to say, but this is pretty important.

My 10-year-old daughter and I like to watch the footy on TV occasionally.

Now while she can’t spell “league” or “union” and would probably spell the “Aussie” in Australian Rules Football with an “O”, she can understand when someone mouths the “F”-word clearly on the television.

She won’t ask anything about the umpire’s rulings or the crazy mixed metaphors of the commentators, yet when it comes to that “F”-word, she knows every time one of you screams it out. “Dad, he said that word again!” she says – often. As a matter of fact, we’ve started to keep score to see which team says it most in each game. Sometimes there are more “F”-words than actual points (but that’s usually only in Carlton or Newcastle games).

Now if you were Lleyton Hewitt yelling the same word at the Davis Cup you’d be fined a few thousand dollars, lose a point, be reported to the match referee and even be disqualified if you kept it up. If you were the member of any Olympic team you’d be sent home on the first available plane.

So why do we accept it from you? What gives you the right to openly use the “F”-word in a family viewing timeslot and when there hasn’t been a network warning about “mature, adult content” or “occasional coarse language”?

One reason may be that no one has said anything. Perhaps by being silent we’ve all given our consent for players to swear their heads off. Yet perhaps all that should change.

If we have put the off-field behaviour of players under the microscope over the past year, it’s time to do the same to their on-field behaviour.

Players’ language during a game can be just as detrimental to their code and just as influential on the thousands of youngsters who hang on their every word. As the football finals approach, it may pay our sporting heroes to realise that someone is keeping tabs on more than just the game score.

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