Please, Someone Call Me A Ballerina
Somebody -- anybody -- compare me to a ballerina. Please.
I can think of fewer greater compliments. The word encompasses strength, poise, grace, beauty, toughness -- or did you miss the devastatingly triumphant story of Misty Copeland, principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre?
That video has nearly 10 million views, but now we know two people who likely didn't see it: Carolina Panthers defensive back Josh Norman and New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. On Sunday, as their two teams played each other in football, Norman and Beckham staged their own mini-drama, tumbling around the field exchanging vicious cheap shots -- both physical and verbal.
Supposedly before the game, officials from the Panthers carried black baseball bats onto the field and motioned toward Beckham. Norman also supposedly called Beckham a "ballerina"; he meant it as an insult, and Beckham obliged, supposedly absorbing it as a slur. At one point during the game, the 23-year-old wide receiver took a running start and speared Norman in the head.
At first, watching this game-long fight embarrassed me -- as a Giants fan, as a sports fan, as a member of the human race. Then when I read about the language after -- the supposed "slurs" that fueled their violent behavior -- that embarrassment almost morphed into a kind of laughter. If this laughter had been fully realized, it would have been the sarcastic kind, with full eye roll, head slowly shaking.
This casual ignorance, this total lack of imagination, coming, once again, from our most-celebrated athletes?
In addition to using the word "ballerina" as an insult, Norman (and perhaps Beckham, too) supposedly also used phrases questioning Beckham's heterosexuality, as well as repeated use of the word "bitch." In fact, all of the insults had the same common denominator: being female, or like female, is the absolute worst.
Really, guys? That's where you're at still?
I'm not against trash talk, I'm against unimaginative trash talk. I'm against clichéd trash talk. I'm against athletes who do everything at an unimaginably high level, but still allow their language to be embarrassingly dated and ignorant, who don't demand better from themselves. Those who are the center of attention, but apparently haven't been paying attention to the conversations going on around them.
Because here's the larger point: Everything Norman and Beckham reacted violently to being called, much of the world has been very busy redefining and embracing. In addition to the aforementioned Under Armour advertisement with Copeland, there was the "Like A Girl" commercial from Always, which has 60 million views, and the You Can Play Project video from, ironically, the New York Giants, which encourages participation in sports regardless of sexuality.
Few things have been cooler this year than redefining what's cool -- pointing out age-old stereotypes in a smart way and rethinking how we speak. Being different is slowly becoming mainstream cool.
So perhaps no better evidence exists that the NFL is often operating in a retrograde bubble than two players losing their minds over hearing themselves called words that other people would take as compliments, and that have inspired some of the most interesting conversations of the year.
It's more irony, actually. We're a week away from the New Year, and this is the time during which we like to reflect about the stories and conversations that truly made an impact during this past year. And while so much of the sports world is talking about Copeland and the U.S. Women's National soccer team and all the steps taken toward embracing new ways of seeing the world, the NFL is airing a game in which two players believe "ballerina" is an insult.
If it weren't so embarrassing, it would be almost comical, like a "Saturday Night Live" sketch -- two guys enraged because the other is complimenting him too much.
Truth is, I cringe when an athlete uses this kind of language.
Except one specific thing has changed: Now I cringe for the athlete.