Tom Brady’s sideline swearing has people complaining, wondering about profanity in sports.
The New England Patriots trailed the Green Bay Packers, 26-21, in the final minutes of their game three weeks ago. The Patriots needed the ball back, but the Packers completed a first down that would allow them to run out the clock.
On the Patriots sideline, cameras took close-ups of a frustrated Tom Brady shouting “fudge” three times.
Only he didn’t say fudge.
Brady’s obscenities soon went viral, as did the ensuing criticism of the quarterback. Even the Federal Communications Commission received three complaints about Brady’s choice of language.
The incident has prompted discussions about the acceptance of profanity in competitive sports – from the major leagues all the way down to the high school level. As well, it’s kindled debate about whether being a role model means having to be squeaky clean.
This wasn’t the first time Brady has been shown swearing on the football field. Nor is he the first athlete to be caught on camera uttering an obscenity.
David Ortiz’s use of the same profanity became a rallying cry for the Red Sox and the city of Boston through a season that ended with the 2013 World Series championship.
Nobody complained then. So what the heck is the big deal now?
“I think anybody who is involved in competition will get frustrated and use profanity as a way to release that frustration,” said Bill Gayton, a University of Southern Maine professor who specializes in sports psychology.
“(Swearing) is an expression of frustration and anger. It is used to help people defuse (their anger) and calm themselves down so they don’t get overaroused.”
But for high school athletic directors, the use of obscenities by student-athletes is an issue.
“The privacy of the locker room is one thing,” said Deering High’s Mel Craig. “But when you’re on the sideline or in a position where the media, or the parents, or even your teammates can hear you, you are held to another standard. You are representing the uniform, the community. You have to be careful.”
Marshwood High’s Rich Buzzell reminds his players that someone is always watching – “most likely a little kid who wants to be like you” – but he knows it would be naive to think that students don’t swear.
Libby Pomerleau, a junior at Saco’s Thornton Academy who plays field hockey and softball, said she hears obscenities on every playing field.
“Definitely, it happens with all sports,” she said. “It’s part of the game.”
Pomerleau said she doesn’t swear; instead she tries to internalize her thoughts. But “for others, I know it is hard to keep control. Some of those games get pretty heated.”
heat of the moment may prevail
Pro athletes know they are held to high standards. But sometimes, stuff happens.
Andrew Campbell, a defenseman for the Portland Pirates, said: “When you’re on the ice in the midst of the battle, you say stuff that sometimes you wish you didn’t say. But it’s an emotional game. It’s a physical game.
“You want to be a role model. That’s what you focus on away from the rink, doing the right things, being the right person. But stuff can roll off the tongue pretty quickly when you’re in the heat of the moment out there.”
Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston, said pro athletes are held to a high standard – but it’s important to realize star athletes are human, too.
“With those expectations that we hold them to,” he said, “it’s also OK to recognize that human fallibility intersects with those expectations.”
Even college coaches admit they are guilty at times of using the obscenity Brady did.
Gary Fifield, the women’s basketball coach at the University of Southern Maine, has heard it as well on the court. Has he uttered it? “Probably,” he said, with a slight laugh. “Highly likely.”
Jack Cosgrove, the University of Maine football coach, said, “I know I’m guilty of it, whether in football or everyday life.”
“I wish I didn’t use that word, but I use it. I’m an emotional guy. As much as I try to keep them in check, there are moments like that. … Of course, mine are not on a national stage, like Tom Brady.”
Brady said he wished he didn’t swear as much he does. But, he said, what’s to be expected when there’s a camera in his face during a game?
“Blame CBS and NBC for putting it on TV. Don’t blame me,” Brady told Boston-based sports talk radio station WEEI.
“We’re not choirboys, I know that. You bring us up to a certain level of intensity to the game, your job is to go out there and physically, emotionally, mentally dominate the game. You don’t do that at church on Sunday. You’ve got to go to the football field for that.”
‘blown out of proportion’
Gayton, who has worked with a number of pro hockey teams over the years, understands why some people might be upset about Brady’s outburst. But he said it is difficult to watch any sporting event – “maybe with the exception of golf,” he said – and not witness profanity.
“I don’t have a problem if a parent wants to get upset about exposing their children to profanity,” said Gayton. “But the concept of outlawing profanity in the National Football League? That’s like asking people not to breathe.”
Lebowitz said Brady in particular deserves the benefit of the doubt.
“When you look at his extended career, he has comported himself with all the dignity and class that you would want someone to comport oneself with,” Lebowitz said.
“This one instance, where he was shown using profanity, does it make him less of a person? I find this has been blown well out of proportion.
“Is this any different than someone reading a bad quarterly earnings statement at IBM? They might react the same way, only the cameras wouldn’t be there recording it.”
Joe Esposito, a junior at Portland High who plays football and basketball, said: “I think this has been overblown. Football is an intense game and words are said in the heat of battle that you wouldn’t say under normal circumstances.
“I still consider Tom Brady a role model. He’s done a lot for charity and the city of Boston.”
Thornton’s Pomerleau said her little brother looks up to Brady as a role model and should continue to.
“I think the swearing is definitely a negative thing and people look down on it,” she said. “But of all the things that adults can be caught doing, swearing is one of the minimal things.”
This article was republished with permission from the original author, Mr. Mike Lowe and the original publisher, the Portland Press Herald.