Sunday, January 1, 2017

Words Matter: On Violence with sports and with Trump

"Stop the words now. Open the window in the center of your chest, and let the spirits fly in and out." Rumi

Sitting on my couch with a cold on New Year’s Eve 2016, playing Candy Crush Soda Pop (level 337 - Oh, that sticky bubblegum!), I was stunned when a TV sports announcer during the Peach Bowl’s Alabama/Washington game said, “And, put in the dagger!” He soon talked about “penetration” as if the football game was an exercise of war with flanks penetrating the enemy. Words matter. Roll Tide.

Other frequently used sports’ words: Attack, Ambush, Aggressor, Assault, Battle, Brutal, Capture, Chaos, Charge, Clash, Combat, Command, Confrontation, Concussion, Conquer, Control, Counterattack, Crash, Damage, Defense, Demolish, Destroy, Devastate, Dominate.  And those are only the A through D’s!

I began thinking about masculinity and violence: “Studies on gender and sports media find that sports commentary reinforces perceptions of ‘violent masculinity.’ By praising athletes who continue to play while injured, and by using language of conflict and war to describe action, sports commentary reinforces violence and aggression as exciting and rewarding behaviour….[reinforcing]the social attitude that violence and aggression are normal and natural expressions of masculine identity” (

Violent, visual imagery affects not only children but us all. We become numb, traumatized, and/or desensitized when watching sports, news, violent video games and movies. Violence is all around us.

Throughout 2016, we also heard our President-elect using violent imagery as a regular talking point, a punch line, even a campaign strategy. Regarding Hillary: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks… Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know,” implying that some voters might assassinate Hillary if not “lock her up,” another favorite campaign slogan.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence said Trump’s statement was “repulsive — literally using the Second Amendment as cover to encourage people to kill someone with whom they disagree.”  Trump has called Mexicans rapists and just as hideous, he has bragged that he grabs women he doesn’t know by the genitals, using the slang word for cat.  Our President-elect brags about sexual assault, and offers troubling terms at the drop of a tweet.

Pope Francis speaking to U.S. Congress:  “All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by the disturbing social and political situation of the world today… a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities… We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within… Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice” (

Words matter, and Americans too frequently live in a world described in hyper-masculine, violent verbiage. It is time for all of us to speak instead about the values of nonviolence, peace and justice, and act accordingly.

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