It's time to reexamine some bellicose sports metaphors
By Jack McCallum
Sportscasters and sportswriters carry around a mental thesaurus that seems to have been compiled at the Pentagon. In times of need, which is to say in the heat of the action or on deadline, they pull it out to describe, in football, long passes (bombs), areas where most blocking and tackling takes place (trenches), linebacker pass rushes (blitzes) and offices in which team executives determine whether to draft a lineman from Nebraska or a wide receiver from Florida (war rooms). Baseball spawned the gentler jargon that dominated sports reporting in the first half of the last century -- southpaw, perfecto, circuit clout, bingle, etc. -- but King Football is now the clear leader in providing turns of phrase, most of them of the saber-rattling variety. It's good to remember, though, that the Royals lead the majors in twin killings.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy, it's possible that we're linguistically oversensitive. Did you wince when Pentagon appeared in the first sentence, as I winced when I wrote it? Here at SI we're wrestling over what to do with This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse, a popular feature started back when no one would blanch at the tongue-in-cheek categorizing of greed and egotism in sports as apocalyptic. In any case, the time seems right to rid sports coverage of assaults on our sensibilities. (Hmm, perhaps I shouldn't have written assaults.)
Many of the battlefield metaphors are just bad. Aerial attack and field general certainly fit that description, and if any coach or player tells me he's on a "mission," I'll tell him I'm on one not to quote him. Still, there is no way around some of this. Blitz lacks a simple synonym and is so ingrained in the football lexicon that it would be hard to stop using it. For some reason bomb doesn't bother me, though Kenn Finkel, a former New York Times sports copy desk chief who has made it his job to stamp out war terms in sportswriting, takes umbrage at it, particularly, he says, "since it can just as easily be called a long pass." I agree, however, with Finkel's assertion that editors should be taken to task for permitting war references to appear on sports pages as frequently as commas. Says Finkel, "If you refer to baseball games as a war [as a New York City newspaper did before the 2000 World Series], you don't have much to call on when you get a real war."
I shall see to it that in my copy no opponent will "torch" another, nor will I allow anyone to speak of a particularly horrible defeat as Black Sunday. I'm extending my ban on war, holy war and war room to border skirmish. I'm going to leave suicide squeeze alone, but suicide squad is permanently on the bench in favor of special team. As for the two large and skilled members of the Spurs, they are no longer the Twin Towers; they're Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
Above all, I pledge to recognize that a golfer who delicately scrapes a shot from the fringe onto a steeply inclined green and into a small hole is not courageous, fearless or heroic. We know who those people are.
Issue date: October 1, 2001
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