Super Bowl winning football coach and former Gopher player Tony Dungy has been taking some heat lately. The soft-spoken and inspirational leader has ruffled a lot of people’s feathers since he criticized New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan’s R-rated vocal outbursts. Dungy’s critics have insisted that he is out of touch since sports locker rooms, practices and even games have always had a level of salty language, but his detractors are missing his main point. It’s not the fact the swearing happens, but rather who hears it that makes Tony Dungy’s public disapproval spot on.
I’m no prude. I’ve uttered many a foul word in my day, and although I never played sports, I’ve been around them most of my career. There is always a lot of swearing in practices and in locker rooms, but it’s usually behind closed doors. During games, coaches temper their reaction, as they know cameras are on them almost constantly, hiding behind a clipboard if they just have to let an expletive fly. In the past, players and coaches always toned it down when the media and fans were around, sounding more like churchgoers than tough athletes, but this self-censoring is changing in the NFL.
Dungy was criticizing Ryan’s language not from a private practice, but rather from the HBO series “Hard Knocks,” where documentary cameras follow a team through training camp as they prepare for the season. This took the swearing from behind closed doors and put it in front of the NFL’s fans, including young fans the NFL has worked hard to cultivate. This is why Dungy’s criticism hits the mark. If you are marketing your product to families and kids, then you should make an effort to keep your product family-friendly.
The NFL is far from alone in trying to market a more adult product to kids. Liquor companies, movie studios, television networks and other vices work hard to earn brand awareness from our children. Joe Camel is the consummate, and vilest, example of this marketing, but pushing adult products onto kids has become an art form. Hard-liquor companies slap their logos on glorified wine coolers and barbecue sauce, making their brand name safe to promote; movie studios market PG-13 and R-rated movies directly at kids too young to see such fare, and television networks promote adult themes in supposedly family-friendly programming.
They want your family watching together
This points out another problem the NFL and other sports leagues have. They want your family together watching the games, but the ads during the commercial breaks aren’t family friendly either. he commercials during games usually feature scantily clad women wrestling or dancing, jokes where nudity is a punch line, glorified violence, and promos for television shows, many animated, which should be R-rated. It’s gotten to the point where the swearing during the game is sometimes the most kid-friendly aspect of the experience.
My critics will say I’m being too preachy and if it offends me so much, then don’t watch. I don’t let my kids watch, and I’ve had to work very hard at making sure the world they live in is appropriate for their age. It’s a two-way street. My life would be a lot easier if those who market adult-oriented products wouldn’t try to market to my young children. They do everything to undermine my parental decisions, but then fall behind the thinly veiled defense of, “What a child sees is up to mom and dad,” creating the ultimate parenting Catch-22.
“Hard Knocks” isn’t the only place where the NFL’s swearing barrier is eroding. I know some Viking’s fans who don’t allow their kids to go with them to Mankato for Vikings training camp anymore. Apparently, it can get quite … vivid. The NFL needs to decide what its image is, adult-oriented or family friendly, and then present itself accordingly. Until it does, my kid’s exposure to its product will be limited.
I applaud Tony Dungy’s brave stand and only wish more leaders in the sport would set such a noble example. I hope Dungy returns to coaching soon (Gophers, call him!) as I will always encourage my kids to be fans of someone who not only walks the walk, but also talks the talk, minus the swear words.
Matthew McNeil is the 6 p.m. weeknight host on AM 950, KTNF.