I feel sorry for scribes and broadcasters covering the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil.
I mean, they’re working without a net. Political correctness is running at a faster gallop than Usain Bolt and, coupled with a language landscape that has changed dramatically this century, they no longer know what is safe to say and write. That’s why, barely into the second week of the Games, media already have issued more mea culpas than Donald Trump’s apologists. Someone’s ox is always being gored and the jock journalists can’t tell all the special-interest groups without a program.
Well, I like to think of myself as a helpful sort, so I’ve begun to piece together a new, politically correct style guide for the news scavengers in Rio de Janeiro and, indeed, for those here at home, just so they know what no longer is acceptable.
Let’s begin with some time-worn cliches and phrases. Use any of the following and you’re sure to put someone’s knickers in a knot (and, remember, this is just a start)…
Beggars can’t be choosers: Never use this phrase. It marginalizes the homeless. Most of them choose not to beg, but those who do choose to beg have their reason. You don’t have to agree with the reason—you don’t even have to know the reason—just leave the homeless out of it.
Life is a one-way street: Totally homophobic.
That’s a horse of a different color: Clearly racist. What does it matter what color the horse is?
Life is just a bowl of cherries: This can be perceived as a derogatory comment about a group of women who have yet to lose their virginity.
He’s in the driver’s seat: No, no, no, no, no. Women drive, too, and god forbid if you ever call in to question their ability behind a steering wheel. Nobody is in the driver’s seat. Ever.
They’re behind the 8-ball: Being behind the 8-ball carries a negative connotation. The 8-ball is black. Do the math.
He goes both ways: You might think you’re talking about a football player who plays both offence and defence, but someone is guaranteed to think you’re outing a bisexual athlete. Never out a gay or a bisexual athlete. Especially the men.
They control their own destiny: This will upset the gospel sharks who are convinced that their God controls all things and all people. They will remind you that all things are an act of God. Even game-winning field goals.
It was a clean sweep: Never use this phrase when referencing a women’s team, unless you want to do your own cooking and cleaning when you get home.
It’s a Cinderella story: That suggests it’s all about the shoes. More female-targeted sexism from male journalists.
Boys will be boys: What about Caitlyn Jenner?
He’s a real work horse: You want the people from PETA knocking on your door? Nothing will get them running faster than a suggestion that an animal is being used for anything other than petting. Animals are meant to be layabouts, don’t you know?
Let sleeping dogs lie: Go for it. This will make the PETA people happy. Then, again, it will likely alienate cat lovers, who’ll cry prejudice and insist that their kitties be considered equal-opportunity layabouts.
That’s his bread and butter: Promoting poor eating habits is a no-no. Generous helpings of bread and butter is an okay diet for sports writers, and I’ve seen enough of you scribes to know you’ve made a visit or three to the McDonald’s drive-thru. It’s okay for you to be soft around the middle, but dietitians will have your scalp (which is another phrase one never should use) if you talk up the benefits of bread and butter for athletes.
He’s a meat-and-potatoes guy: Oh, sure, tick off the vegetarians.
They’re feeling each other out: Oh my. What will the children think if they learn that grownups are feeling each other out? They’ll be scarred for life. Either that, or little Johnny will think it gives him license to cop a feel from little Suzie in the schoolyard.
It’s nip-and-tuck: Hey, plastic surgeons are people, too. They don’t want their serious skills to be trivialized into a sports cliche about a close game. They have feelings, even if that botox injection numbs the feeling in your face.
It’s a real barn-burner: Can you say KKK, kids?
That’ll put a few more grey hairs on his head: It’s acceptable to use this phrase when discussing men. There’s nothing wrong with some snow on the mountaintop. It doesn’t mean the coach can no longer think straight. At worst, it means he needs a little dab of Just For Men. If, however, you’re talking about a woman and grey hair, it’s ageism.
His coming-out party: Not a phrase to be used for male athletes. We know there are no openly gay men in any sports league that truly matters to the beer-swilling, belching lumps who sit on bar stools. But mention of a coming-out party tends to make the closeted gays antsy. Numerous gay female athletes have had their sexual coming-out parties, but since men only write about women’s sports once every four years, they probably haven’t noticed all the lesbians.
A pretty Penny: Holy sexism, Batgirl! Don’t even think of going here. Pennys aren’t to be told that they’re pretty. Not at any age. If you have to write about an athlete named Penny, change her name to something that is non-punable so tabloids can’t use it for a cheesy play-on-words.
Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public: Even though it’s been documented that many men (usually bachelors) wash their dirty laundry in those convenient places we call laundromats, radical feminists shall insist that this is yet one more example of sexist stereotyping.
She’s the (insert male athlete’s name) of her sport: Write or say this and you’re on your own, pal. And I shouldn’t have to explain why.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.