Today’s lesson, children, is about nonsense words.

The longer we live, the more of them accumulate in our repertoire. “Jabberwocky,” brought to you by Lewis Carroll. “Sussudio,” presented by Phil Collins.

And “locker room culture,” at least subconsciously embraced by every athlete since the beginning of time.

Culture, itself, is a word that has been flagrantly co-opted, its definition rewritten by anthropologists and psychologists (you know, guys who don’t get within 25 miles of a locker room) since the middle of the 20th century.

It has done wonders for the industry of excuse-making, OK-ing deviant behaviors and giving people from every background two syllables to hide behind. It has been the death of transparency and frank discussion.

You don’t look like I do. You didn’t grow up in the environment I did. You’ve never done my job. How dare you criticize my, ahem, culture.


That was the predictable backlash when most of rational-thinking America took offense to the foolishness that has prevailed in the Miami Dolphins locker room. Current and former players lined up to tell us we don’t understand. Won’t understand. Can’t understand.

Understand what? That the now-world-famous text message sent from Richie Incognito to Jonathan Martin, dripping with images of racism, scatology, and violence against women, punctuated with the words “I’ll kill you,” was merely boys being boys? A failed attempt at ironic humor or sarcasm?

The funny thing is, you didn’t need to play professional sports, film a summer-long documentary at an NFL camp or even graduate from junior high school to understand that all that stuff is never right.

You needed parents. You needed two minutes in a Sunday school class to learn the golden rule. And you needed a lick of common sense. That’s all. There are certain things the entire world should be able to look at collectively and agree, “Yup, that’s garbage.”

Just as we don’t require spending half our lives shooting up with heroin to become effective substance abuse counselors, it doesn’t take a dozen years in the NFL to understand that calling someone a half-(bleep) or saying that you’re going to (bleep) in his mouth is probably a serious error in judgment.

In fact, there’s a good rule of thumb for any walk of life. If you’re getting worked up to say or write anything, and you recognize that every fifth word would have to be edited in order to sanitize it even for basic cable, strongly consider keeping it to yourself. It may save you from donning an ill-fitting, button-down shirt and acquiescing to a hastily arranged television interview in order to keep yourself employable.


We have some work to do, obviously, but the rest of our society has come a thousand miles in this area. We recognize that words hurt and that the damage from them often heals more slowly than physical abuse. We understand that bullying reduces the victim to something less than human.

We accept that even in a society that celebrates freedom of speech, there are certain epithets we don’t use. While the quest to eliminate some of those words would be more successful if some of the potential targets didn’t exchange them among themselves, it’s worth an amen that we’ve almost arrived at a consensus about what’s right and wrong.

Why football or any sport would weigh itself to be above that progress is mind-numbing. It’s a combination of institutional arrogance and macho mumbo-jumbo. It’s the same secret-society mythology that allows private clubs to exclude people based on any characteristic they choose. “You’re not one of us. You don’t know our brotherhood.”

Stop it, already. You aren’t orthopedic surgeons. You’re playing a kids’ game. A physically and emotionally demanding kids’ game, yes, but not one whose intricacies take a Ph.D. to comprehend. Coaches or players who spout that line are falling for the decades-old NFL Films portrayal that equates football with war and the depths of the human soul. It’s precisely the same game that every single one of us has played in our backyards on Thanksgiving morning, so get over yourselves.

Interesting, also, how insiders’ response to the Incognito-Martin debacle almost universally parallels their stand on the concussion epidemic. People who accept that we have evolved as a species and need to change our behavior accordingly on the field seem to accept that it’s time to follow the same track off it. And the guys who romanticize knocking the hell of each other, even at the expense of the hitters and hittees becoming invalids in their 40s and 50s, don’t see what all the fuss is about.

The fuss is legitimate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional football player, a sportswriter or a short-order cook. You should have the freedom to go to work every day without being subject to harassment that celebrates the basest forms of human behavior.

Any and all opposition to that is utter nonsense.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.

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