As Game Four in the Bulls-Heat series starts tonight I find myself still thinking about Game Three.  Not so much about how Chris Bosh played out of his mind shooting 13 of 15, nor about how the Bulls have needed to exert their energy to keep close to the Heat in the past two games leaving nothing in the tank to be able to pull away at the end.  I’ve even gotten past the fact that Mike Bibby appears to be wearing a double-wide headband that makes him look like he has a serious head injury.  What’s instead still clawing at my conscience is the uproar over Joakim Noah’s verbal assault of a fan.

Now let me be clear that the particular slur Joakim selected to toss into the crowd like a grenade, reportedly aimed at a fan that was so inebriated that it made me envious, I’m not a strong supporter of.  I have a very vivid memory of when I was a young chap one of my friends fathers pulled us aside and made a very emphatic point that we should never use the word that rhymes with ‘maggot’.  He said that the origin of the phrase as a derogatory term came from the Nazi Germans who likened the gays and Jews to a bundle of sticks meant to be burned – which is the literal definition of the word.  To this day in England if you ask a fellow for a fag, he’ll hand you a cigarette – an evolution of a stick to be lit on fire.  Having heard this reasoning I understandably removed the word from my vocabulary from that day forward.  Fast forward to just a few years ago and imagine my surprise when I heard that same father use it to taunt an opponent in a game of bags on a Saturday afternoon barbeque.  I reminded him of how his little speech fifteen years earlier had affected me so, and his response was, “I just said that I don’t like being called it.”  Well there you go.

I stand by my stance that that particular term is not in my wheelhouse but for uttering the right combination of six letters, you’re telling me it has a penalty of $50,000 ($100,000 when Kobe Bryant did the exact same thing to a ref last month)?  My quick devil’s advocate is that I understand how the NBA can’t be having their players getting into verbal altercations with the fans that hand over their hard earned money to watch the product they sell.  Understood.  By all accounts though this fan had it coming though.  When Loul Deng, Mr. I’m-Up-For-The-Humanitarian-Award-Every-Year-And-Was-At-A-Refugee-Camp-In-Suddan-While-LeBron-Was-Making-“The Decision”-Last-Summer was quoted as saying that he wanted to go punch the guy, it’s safe to say this wasn’t the first time this particular gentleman had been on the receiving end of this phrase. 

What gets me is the outcry from groups like GLADD and other gay rights organizations and activists that take offense to the word personally.  Really?  You seriously think in the heat of the moment when reacting to a fan that had been riding him the entire game, in a moment of frustration, Joakim Noah chose to deride the entire gay culture?  Me thinks not.  As always I turn to “South Park” to shed a light on how the meaning of the phrase has evolved today and I’m guessing how Joakim meant for it to be interpreted:

By taking such offense to the phrase, aren’t the gays in essence taking ownership of it?  Kind of like if you are talking about girls and having a few laughs with your buds and then someone makes a comment about another guy’s sister and the conversation scratches to a halt like a record – it’s funny until someone takes it personally.  The solution, don’t take things personally.

Last summer, while innocently watching the Italian soccer team play in the World Cup in my hotel in Florence, I had the opportunity to meet this guy who happens to own this vineyard in Tuscany.  He’s basically royalty in the world of wine but could not have been any cooler to watch a soccer game with.  We got to talking and he made an interesting comment about American culture from an outsider’s perspective.  He said that we are a culture of contradiction as we have liberal mindsets but Puritan values.  We dress teenage girls as harlots and idolize them as popstars and actresses but then shame them when they take the role too far and actually hook up with boys.  We put guns and violence in every piece of media and then act appalled when it translates into the real world.  His argument is that in Italy you can have a politician (for example) that gets caught with a transvestite prostitute and the public reaction is, that’s unfortunate for him but if it doesn’t affect his job performance it’s not my concern.  Basically as long at Schwarzenegger cuts the budget he can have as many kids as he wants.  If Bill needs to spend an hour a week with Monica to relieve stress, which results in his being able to make better decisions, then I guess we better keep her on the payroll.  It’s safe to say we can chalk that up to a cultural difference.

The reason I bring this up is that so much of life boils down to what you take personally and what you take offense to.  Think about how many bar fights have started because someone accidentally scuffed someone else’s Pumas.  Things like swearing, slurs, or verbal comments are totally in the eye of the beholder.  Weren’t we all raised on “sticks and stones…”?  So why do we let these words bother us so?

Break it down, a swear word is a word that we collectively have all agreed to take offense to.  The f-word would just as easily have been ‘fudge’ if that’s what we all decided was a “bad” thing to say.  It’s a lot like prohibition back in the 20s.  The government decided that booze was bad and then tried to convince everyone of the message.  Needless to say it didn’t work so they brought booze back and instead opted to demonize marijuana which stuck – with a little marketing effort and propaganda – and it’s still illegal today.  Had the farmers had the same lobbyists and marketing departments the alcohol distilleries did we could all be sitting around hash bars and would have cousins still in college that can get us a flask of whiskey in a pinch.  It’s strange how a society or culture can all agree or reject a certain set of rules and morals. 

So back to swearing, when was the meeting held that determined that on the left side of the Atlantic we’ll take extreme offense to what the folks on the right side call cigarettes?  Why will saying ‘shit’ get you sent to the principal but using the word ‘poop’ will always draw a laugh?  If you stop and think about it the whole thing is ridiculous.  Starting tomorrow the words ‘crud’, ‘spud’, ‘barf’, and ‘criggle’ should make your blood boil – cool?  We’re all in agreement going forward with this right?  People who are left-handed should really embrace that ‘criggle’ one especially. 

We can go the route of the Puritan-minded sect that says, I don’t need to swear to express myself.  To you I say ‘the hell you don’t’.  When you spill communion wine on your Dockers and exclaim, “fiddlesticks” you’re expressing the same frustration I am, just doing it in a much cornier way.  You’re conveying the same message and the same meaning behind your collection of consonants and vowels so why take exception to the way I arranged the letters?  Chances are if you’ve taken a firm stance on swearing to that degree you’re probably not someone that a lot of people want to be around anyways so not a lot of ears are going to hear what you have to say in the first place.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  In this land of free speech I think it’s funny that Joakim Noah, a French born seven footer with Swedish and African bloodlines, can attest first hand that there’s nothing ‘free’ about the words you spit in our country.  If you disagree with me that’s your right too, as it is your right to not read any further posts or visit this site.  It’s your call.  You can control what you take offense to and what environment you put yourself in.  And if you’re one of those people that feels that your voice needs to be heard as you crusade against such blasphemy, then I encourage you to drop me a line at my private email address getbent@getalife.com and we can have a spirited back and forth at your convenience.  I’ll tell you wankers to piss off as you’re probably just a big puff anyways and you can ask your great uncle who’s English how much offense you should take to that.