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Wink Wink


When I read the story a couple of week’s back about the use of a gay slur by University of Hawaii football coach Greb McMackin at a press conference, I didn’t think too much about it. Business as usual. Coach makes remark he shouldn’t have, apologizes for it, says he didn’t mean it, of course he meant it, will be punished, won’t do it again. For some reason, the word he used is so sensitive that newspapers can’t even print it, which leaves us guessing (though it’s not hard to guess) just what he did say and doesn’t advance the cause of serious discussion of the issues.

But then I heard his remarks (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan), which you too can listen to, here, and I discovered how much worse his remarks were. The thing is, he didn’t just describe the Notre Dame chant before last year’s Hawaii Bowl game between Notre Dame and Hawaii as a faggot [yes, that’s the word] dance — eliciting laughter from some of the audience. A minute later, after talking about the game against ND, McMackin went on to ask the press to cover for him and not repeat his faggot dance comment, saying it in a sneering tone and eliciting still more laughter. Hearing the actual words makes it difficult to take his subsequent apology with any seriousness at all. (See an AP story here for coverage of his apology and the penalty the university is imposing on him.)

ESPN senior writer Jeff MacGregor had an excellent piece last week on the incident. An excerpt:

Let’s be clear before we go on that this word, “f*****,” is a slur, is a crude blunt instrument of language used to hurt, and is, in and of itself, undeniably hateful. Whether or not it’s the gender equivalent of “n*****” I can’t say. There’s no consensus on the matter. It certainly seems so. Especially insofar as its power and its ugliness and its use as a kind of rhetorical jiujitsu within the very community it is most often used to denigrate. But as Chris Rock asks, is it OK for a white person to use the word “n*****?” Not really. Is it OK, therefore, for a straight person to use the word “f******?” Not really.

Now take a breath.

Think of it this way:

If Mr. McMackin had used the word “n*****” instead of the word “f*****”, he’d have been fired before he stepped away from the podium.

So, yes, I feel bad for Greg McMackin, undone in public by his own clueless ignorance and insensitivity.

But the bone-deep homophobia of the football locker room is well known to anyone who’s ever walked into one, from Pop Warner to the pros, so none of this should come as a surprise.

Now I don’t doubt for a moment that Mr. McMackin is a very nice man who meant no hurt to anyone. But Mr. McMackin is also the perfect product of his lifetime environment, a genial boob in the moral and cultural vacuum of football who can’t imagine a world in which the word “f*****” used as an adjective would ever trouble anyone.

And see also an earlier piece by MacGregor’s ESPN colleague LC Granderson on the significance of the reaction by the media in the room to McMackin’s remarks.

Categories: Culture, Language, Sports
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