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Bo Pelini's Disturbing Use Of That Other C-Word -- Core Values

In his farewell speech to Nebraska players, fired coach Bo Pelini had some choice words for his old athletic director. As in, he probably should have chosen not to say them. Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY Sports

Core values.

Definition of above term: the fundamental beliefs of a person, or organization, which guide behavior and action.

In his final meeting with Nebraska football players, fired coach Bo Pelini used the phrase eight times. (Audio of the recorded meeting from Dec. 2 is available here, along with the transcript.) The 47-year-old invoked the expression to emphasize what he sees as the difference between his "core values" (as in, he has some) and those of Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst (as in, Eichorst doesn't).

Pelini explained to his former players that Eichorst is "a total p---y. I mean, he is. He's a total c--t." Later in the speech, the new Youngstown State coach explained that Eichorst didn't "have the balls to go out there and support me" and that he said as much to the athletic director, telling him, "'At a place like this, you gotta be a grown-ass f---ing man to lead something.'"

Kind of sounds as if one of Pelini's "core values" is degrading women.

But, you know, Pelini also used the hollow phrase "at the end of the day" 16 times and "fellas" 18 times, so one could write the whole thing off as humorous -- in a clich├ęd, college football, kind of way. After all, we've all seen comedian Jason Sudeikis, in khakis and visor, portraying a hard-nosed American football coach in his skits for NBC Sports. (And if you haven't, get on that.)

But here's the thing: Pelini isn't some outlier. Brushing his words aside by saying, "Oh, that's just Bo," doesn't feel quite right. After all, he's using words and phrases you would probably hear walking past a good number of practice fields in this country. Pelini just happens to be caught on tape, for all to hear, instead of spitting sexist phrases while tucked away in the depths of the football team room. The casual misogyny he employs in this speech? Pretty standard in the sports world, and especially in football, which values strength and toughness above most other attributes.

Football is a violent game, so of course coaches need a certain narrative to motivate players to commit to such a grueling sport. Inspiring speeches and all-out effort are awesome. And who doesn't love watching a running back, knocked down dozens of times, finally barrel over a defender for a touchdown? There is nothing inherently sexist about a hard tackle. Pointing out misogyny isn't a threat to the game -- a game plenty of women love, too. But you know what does need to stop? Correlating failure and weakness (whatever "weakness" means) to women.

If you break it down, Pelini is conveying a simple message to his former players: the worst thing to be is a woman, or to be like a woman. And hiding behind the excuse, "C'mon, 'p---y' is just something guys say!" is to willfully ignore the pretty obvious implication of the word, which is that the most embarrassing thing a young man can be called is a female body part. That, "at the end of the day," women are the lowest possible ... anything.

Being intentional with words is the same as being intentional with a fade route. A good coach would never let a player get away with imprecise footwork. Well, why should language be any different? If we have bought into the idea that words can motivate young players, we must also admit they shape perspectives.

Put another way: Language isn't meaningless; it builds, and reveals, core values.

(And it's irrelevant whether Pelini is intentionally sexist or just ignorant; that doesn't change how the sentiment might influence his players.)

Maybe this would be easier to disregard if we weren't just weeks removed from a domestic violence crisis in the NFL. Realistically, why are we surprised that some NFL players have complicated relationships with women (and men, for that matter), when they're absorbing this kind of language as 18-year-olds?

The Nebraska administration issued a scathing response to its former coach, to whom it will pay $7.6 million over the next four years -- a fortune, just to go away. "We are extremely disappointed, but it only reaffirms the decision that he should no longer be a leader of young men at Nebraska. His habitual use of inappropriate language, and his personal and professional attacks on administrators are antithetical to the values of the university. His behavior is consistent with a pattern of unprofessional, disrespectful behavior directed by Mr. Pelini toward the passionate fans of Nebraska, employees of the university and, most concerning, our student-athletes. This behavior is not tolerated at the University of Nebraska and, among many other concerns, played a role in his dismissal."

Pelini has been coaching young men since 1991, at places such as Iowa, LSU and Oklahoma.

And now he will continue coaching young men at Youngstown State, where he'll presumably try to instill his core values.

So, what are those core values, exactly?