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Ways to avoid contracting
foot-in-mouth disease

Page 2

Years ago, the only time athletes muttered offensive lines was when praising their offensive lines for their blocking.

Charlie Ward
Charlie Ward went from boos to a standing ovation in less than 48 minutes.
Sadly, that is no longer the case. Charlie Ward offended Jewish groups. Jason Williams offended Asians. Allen Iverson offended gays and women. John Rocker offended everyone. But this is to be expected in our cable-ready, sports-obsessed society. With a record number of notebooks and microphones in locker rooms and with 24-hour sports programming on the air, it not only is easier than ever for sports figures to offend fans, it's all but guaranteed.

The best we can hope for is to keep headlines, league fines and outraged phone calls to a minimum. The key? Follow these 10 well-established rules on who to offend and when to offend them:

1. Be a winner.
New York fans soundly booed Ward when he took the court last week for the first time after his comments about Jews. But when he played well in the closing minutes of a playoff game, they gave him a standing ovation.

In other words, no one cares what you say just as long as you back up your comments with sufficient tape-measure home runs, touchdown passes or championship rings. Remember, your I.Q. rises with your batting average and the public's tolerance decreases with your winning percentage.

Bobby Knight caught some grief for his comments and actions, but it wasn't until he foolishly stopped going to the Final Four that anyone was offended enough to actually fire him.

1a. Fly in under the radar.
There are occasional exemptions to Rule 1, such as: If you are of sufficiently little consequence, no one will care enough about you to be offended by anything you say. If fans have to first ask themselves, "Who is Julian Tavarez?" they probably won't make the effort to ask the follow-up, "What did he say?"

John Rocker
John Rocker was ostracized after breaking nearly every rule in the book.
2. Be popular.
Reggie White emerged virtually unscathed when he stereotyped every ethnic group in America a couple of years ago. The nation roasted Rocker for his lesser comments two winters ago. Why? Because we had already decided that we liked Reggie and disliked Rocker.

What is said is less important than who says it.

3. Be careful with religion.
Steer clear of any comments regarding religion. At the very least, don't mock a religion professed by a significantly large group of people in this country. Depending on where you live, that pretty much leaves Hindus, the Amish, Druids, who carry absolutely no risk, and the Moonies, who are always good for a laugh. Of course, if you are a high-ranking board member the world's most powerful network, you can occasionally joke about Catholics (see Rule 5).

4. Be especially careful about race.
Avoid any reference to racial minorities, except for American Indians, who still can't get anyone besides Robert Redford to hear their protests. Certainly not the NFL, which has no problem calling the team in the nation's capital the Redskins, or baseball, which loves ringing up those merchandise sales for Chief Wahoo.

5. Don't be a bigot -- be outrageous.
This is tricky, but the keys are to be good-looking or a man in power or both. AOL Time-Warner vice chairman Ted Turner can tell Polish jokes at the expense of the Pope, call Catholics "Jesus freaks" and lead fans in the Tomahawk Chop and he's just good ol' Ted, the Mouth of the South. Marge Schott, however, has to precisely weigh her words, because she made the twin mistakes of being a woman in a man's world and also unattractive.

6. Use the proper forum.
It's dangerous to be quoted in the printed media, where your words can be easily and instantly distributed out of context. Better to save your raw material for talk radio, where anything goes. Not only is outrageous comment that medium's preferred form, whatever you say disappears into the ionosphere and is pretty much forgotten the second after it's spoken.

Jason Williams
Jason Williams' recent comments slipped under the radar.
Besides, no one ever listens to talk radio closely enough to be offended in the first place because we're all too distracted by the idiot driver in front of us who is going so damn slow.

7. Timing, timing, timing.
If you're going to say something stupid, pick the first Monday of April when everyone is busy watching the Final Four and baseball's Opening Day, and there isn't a spare inch to waste on your comments about San Francisco.

Whatever you do, don't make Rocker's mistake by allowing publication of your quotes during Christmas week when schools are on break, newspapers are extra thick with holiday advertising, reporters are too busy shopping to fill all that added space and your unfortunate musings are guaranteed to make the top of the fold with the oversized headlines normally reserved for an English princess dying.

8. Stay in fly-over land.
The farther you distance your comments from New York, the safer you are. Don't let the national media get too interested in your cause. Once you appear on a Letterman Top 10 list, you've had it. Stick to insulting Midwesterners.

9. Look respectable.
If you wear cornrows (or tattoos that you didn't receive just before shipping out for Khe San), you'd better think twice before offering an opinion on anything beyond the game that just ended.

And finally, when all else fails ...

10. Stick with the safe groups.
Contrary to popular opinion, there still are plenty of people you can ridicule with impunity. It's still perfectly acceptable to stereotype Southerners, Californians, the French, Scandinavians, Bulgarians and lawyers.

And when in doubt, remember: Fat people are always fair game.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

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