Last month, a professional British soccer player was arrested and faced charges in an English court for something he said on the pitch during a game.
Celebrated soccer captain John Terry’s fate was in a court’s hands. The question: Would Terry’s 600-game career be forever tainted by a criminal conviction for racially abusing opposing player Anton Ferdinand?
The question was not whether Terry physically assaulted Ferdinand. The question was: Did Terry abuse Ferdinand with three hateful words?
The central fact of Terry’s trial was that he called Ferdinand “black,” couched between vulgar swear words. That was never in dispute.
The Telegraph reported:
The offending words were caught on camera and broadcast live to millions of viewers across the world from Loftus Road, where Chelsea were losing a Premier League game 1-0 to Queens Park Rangers.
Keep in mind these are not fifth graders, but professional athletes.
The maximum penalty Terry faced was a $4,000 fine. However, a conviction would have enormous implications for Terry’s career.
The prosecution argued that the Chelsea captain intended to offend Ferdinand when he used those words.
Did Terry intend to offend Ferdinand? The answer might depend on how you feel about the policing of words and whether the law can make us more polite even at the highest levels of sporting competition.
Chief magistrate Howard Riddle took the middle ground. While Riddle did not find Terry’s explanation of events persuasive, other misgivings nagged at the magistrate. In his judgment, he wrote:
It is highly unlikely that Mr. Ferdinand accused Mr Terry on the pitch of calling him a black (expletive). However I accept that it is possible that Mr Terry believed at the time, and believes now, that such an accusation was made.
The prosecution evidence as to what was said by Mr Ferdinand at this point is not strong.
It is therefore possible that what he [Mr Terry] said was not intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him.
In those circumstances, there being a doubt, the only verdict the court can record is one of not guilty.
So Terry was found not guilty. But the verdict was rendered not because it didn’t matter that in the heat of a professional football game that some bad words were exchanged. Instead, it was because there was reasonable doubt as to the exact intent of his words.
Had the magistrate ruled that Terry had “meant” that despicable phrase as an injurious insult to Ferdinand, Terry would now have a criminal record.
I know it’s England. I know it is soccer where a rip-roaring game is 1–0 and, if a player gets a hangnail, the ambulance drives onto the field. But really, as unmanly as this game is, can’t players even utter a bad word? It certainly isn’t the kind of organized sports I played when I was a kid. All kinds of comments were made back and forth discretely out of coaches’ and referees’ earshot.
If you think “So what, that’s England and who cares?” you had better think again. The language police are everywhere and — just like the old KGB — you might not know they are standing behind you.
Twenty years ago, I was in Spokane, Wash., standing outside the Spokane Club. It was pouring rain, and I was thinking of the quickest way to get to my car. Crossing a boulevard from the other side of the club was a man with a white cane and dark sunglasses. Because I sometimes think out loud, I said: “That guy does great for a blind guy.”
Two steps behind me was a woman of whose presence I wasn’t even aware. Indignant, she shouted: “He’s not blind! He is sight-impaired!”
She had no connection to the man navigating across the road. She simply wanted to correct my thinking.
A month later, I got a call from Society for the Blind. While I was on the phone with the gentleman who was asking for a donation, I asked him: “What do you call yourself?”
He said: “I’m blind.”
It made me think that the woman behind me that day — the woman who could see — was wrong in telling me what to say to myself or how to think.
Bad Words Are Bad
I hate the “N” word. I never use it, along with a few other words that upset me. That said, black people use it freely all the time. It is part of the rap culture;for some people, it is part of their everyday life.
Years ago, I was jogging alone in Spokane’s Riverfront Park and a couple of young black men saw me. One of them said to his friend: “Look at the [‘N’ word] run!” I laughed then, but later I wondered what would happen if I used that word. If it is terribly offensive for me to use it, shouldn’t it be offensive for others as well, despite their complexion?
This brings me to the word “black.” I see on the news every day that most white commentators call dark-skinned people African-Americans. That is a longer name for a group of people that not long ago were politely called “black.” And it is strange because on the news I see most dark-skinned people refer to themselves as black. If people of African heritage call themselves black, why can’t the rest of us?
Some Just Can’t Wait To Be Offended
We live in a world of political correctness — so much so that there are two words many people consider offensive but which our Founding Fathers highly respected: “Creator” in the Declaration and “Lord” in the Constitution.
A recent Psychology Today article warned about George Orwell’s classic, 1984, and went on to suggest that some of that nightmare is coming true today. Society and even the courts are telling us what words we can and must never say:
What is not fiction is the way the present day language police have established an elaborate protocol of what is called a beneficent censorship. Politically correct school boards, bias and sensitivity committees now review, abridge, and censor texts which in their opinion contain potentially offensive words, topics, and imagery. The members of sensitivity and bias committees are people with backgrounds in counseling, diversity training, guidance, bilingual education, and so forth.
Diane Ravitch’s book The Language Police laid bare “an elaborate, well-established protocol of beneficent censorship, quietly endorsed and broadly implemented by textbook publishers, testing agencies, professional associations, states, and the federal government” that steadily and stealthily reduces schoolbooks to packages of pabulum. The arbiters of political correctness on the left have joined with the fundamentalist guardians of morality on the right to foster a censorship apparatus that serves the political and social agendas of both, scorns the interests of students, and ensures that students will not be exposed to anything that might bother anyone, anywhere, for any reason.
I have bad news for some people: Some words and phrases are going to bother you. Choose to ignore them.
Words are a key to freely express ourselves. When people and the courts say it is criminal to use certain words, we have taken an irreparable step back from any hope for future liberty.
Yours in good times and bad,
Editor, Myers Energy & Gold Report