SALT LAKE CITY — What the Sam Hill were you thinking on that play? My goodness gracious sakes alive, make the dad-gum cut!
Those phrases might actually be heard at an Eastern Michigan University football practice this spring, but there are others that probably won’t. For example, “$*#@!” and “%&##$!” and the ever-popular “%%@*!!”
First-year coach Chris Creighton is eschewing profanity, every day in every way, which is a radically different approach. Profanity has long been the currency of the craft. If a player doesn’t field a punt correctly, what does the coach usually do? He swears like an ore miner. If someone makes a great tackle, teammates celebrate with a string of expletives.
But in the wake of a 2-10 season, which included a profanity-laced rant by former coach Ron English, EMU hired the 44-year-old Creighton in December.
“Some think it’s a sign of toughness to use profanity,” Creighton said in a telephone interview, “but I think toughness is making yourself do something you don’t want, or preventing yourself from doing something you want to do. You better be tough in football, but one of the ways to exhibit that is to control your tongue.”
Previously the coach at Drake, Creighton has long believed restraint builds strength, though he says he “cussed like a sailor until I was 16 years old.” That’s when he joined a Christian-based service program called Teen Missions International. The project included work in Haiti, and during the two-week training camp he realized he didn’t want to bring along his swearing.
“That just wasn’t the kind of language we were going to use,” he said, “so I just stopped.”
When he became a coach, he worked with current Texas-San Antonio defensive coordinator Neal Neathery, who subscribed to a similar philosophy. According to Creighton, the approach has resonated. At Drake, he invited a high school coach to observe his practice.
“Afterward he came up and said, ‘I’ve seen the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen at a college practice,’” Creighton said. “I was thinking maybe we had run a certain play, or done something with special teams. But he said, ‘I didn’t hear a single coach or player use any profanity in over two hours.’”
Try doing that at a movie theater.
Creighton said swearing “isn’t something we change overnight” and that “it’s not something we talk about much” in the recruiting process. However, it is something he stresses as part of his overall philosophy.
What parent would complain about a son with a clean mouth?
The approach should be particularly interesting to Utah athletes, where many are raised in homes that eschew foul language. Still, swearing is everywhere in sports. Legendary basketball coaches Rick Majerus and Jerry Sloan were as proficient at expletives as they were at Xs and Os.
Many local football coaches, as well, have been adept at cursing. To them it was as routine as traffic lights.
Creighton has initiated a grace period on his policy, to allow players and coaches to adapt. Afterward, the rules will be enforced.
But jumpin’ jimminies, can’t they at least use a few dad-gum substitute phrases?
“I hope so, because I do,” Creighton said.
Naturally there will be those who roll their eyes. What good is a monster tackle if you can’t trash-talk a blue streak afterward? The answer: Self-control is at the heart of good athletics.
Creighton’s policy fits the ideals most football programs espouse, such as respect, discipline and maturity. Yet few have made a conscious, visible effort to curb swearing. (At BYU “clean language” is specified in the honor code.)
“I don’t pretend to believe we can completely eradicate it from their entire lives, but they’re growing up, 18-22, and part of college is going from a boy to a man,” Creighton said.
At EMU, talking the talk has a meaning all its own.
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