When in doubt, leave it out
By Bob Halloran
Special to Page 2

Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron talked it over with his wife, Judy, and decided that June 23 would be his final mount.

Chris McCarron
If you can't joke about Chris McCarron and his mount, then what can you joke about?
Anybody offended by that sentence?

Read it again and take special notice of the sexual innuendo. Offended now? For some reason, which remains unclear to me, that's the kind of thing I've never been permitted to "say" as a sportscaster, but is well within the boundaries for a sports columnist. I thought the written word was far more powerful, and therefore potentially more offensive, than the spoken word. The written word would seem to have far more permanence. The reference to a sexual action is still right at the top of this paragraph. You can read it again. Show it to your friends. Quote it verbatim. You can even go back and find it years from now in the Page 2 archives. That sentence now has a life of its own, and it may never die. (Kinda makes me wish it were a better sentence.)

But if I said the same thing on ESPNEWS, any impact the sentence had would fade with the ensuing highlight. It would die almost immediately. Plus, many of you would be distracted and wouldn't hear it, and some of you would be oblivious to the subtlety. That would leave only a very few to possibly be offended by it, and I'd argue that it's innocuous enough not to offend anyone -- even the McCarrons. Yet I wouldn't even bother to try to run it past my producers for broadcast. It's a little bit funny, but it's a lot unnecessary. That's why the decisions about what to say and what not to say are generally quite obvious. When in doubt, leave it out!

Explosive diarrhea! Two more words that I would be prevented from saying on television. I would "euphemize" it by saying "flulike symptoms," or "a river runs through it." But "diarrhea" will never pass my lips. Earlier this year, David Duval said that he had "flulike symptoms" and lost 13 pounds in one night. How do you think he lost the weight? When writing that story for ESPNEWS, I originally wrote: "David Duval lost 13 pounds overnight -- breaking the previous record held by Kate Moss." Then I deleted it, wondered why, and wrote something about as bland as the food that David Duval probably ate for the next week.

David Duval
If you learn one thing from David Duval, let it be the ability to read between the lines.
It's a fuzzy line between appropriately edgy and poor taste. In the past, I've gotten away with saying: "And who would score the game-winning goal? Peca would." And several years ago, when Randy Johnson was scheduled to pitch, but hurt his back a few hours before game time, I said: "The Big Unit was scratched tonight." Of course, that was back when I worked rather autonomously in the sports department of a local news station. I'm not sure if anyone in the entire building even watched the sportscast. Now, at ESPNEWS, they're very careful about what gets out over the air. Rightfully so, I'd say, but that line is often so blurry I feel like Mr. Magoo reading the fine print on his lease agreement.

I think the line blurs because of how linear television is. You put that clicker in your hand and start flipping. In a matter of seconds, you can see a cooking show or an update on the war. Turn the channel, and it's SpongeBob SquarePants. Keep flipping past your local news reporting about priests molesting children, and maybe you'll see some sportscaster trying not to giggle while he reports that Jerry Stackhouse has a stiff groin.

When any television viewer can catch a glimpse of Dennis Franz's bare behind on "NYPD Blue," or listen to the language on "The Shield," or try to keep up with the plethora of double entendres on "Will and Grace," how is a guy like me supposed to know I can't say that a basketball team that draws a lot of charges "stops more penetration than a chastity belt"? I would think that a population inundated with sex and violence would have been desensitized to some extent and far more difficult to offend.

Mike Peca
Insert your own line about Mike Peca.
"The Triple Crown races are the horse racing family's jewels" is a harmless little turn of a phrase, just like: "The Raptors only scored 63 points in the first game, so they'll be making more adjustments than a catcher with an undersized cup." Yet, both of those would likely fall victim to the delete key. They'd never be seen in a teleprompter, and they'd never be heard by a TV audience. Maybe it's just that people who read aren't as easy to offend.

Despite what I've said already, I actually think I offend pretty easily. I'm disgusted by comedians and late night talk show hosts who first began making jokes and accusations about Michael Jackson and young boys, and who have now decided to rehash their garbage material regarding the crisis in the Catholic Church. We're talking about the rape and molestation of small children! Where's the humor in that? As soon as the subject matter is broached, all laughter should stop. Certainly, some things should be off limits.

As a father, I'm concerned about where television is going. I'll admit, in a bit of poor parenting, I discovered late that my oldest son (11) was watching "The Drew Carey Show." I put a stop to that right around the episode in which Drew sprained his "Randy Johnson" and moaned in agony every time a pretty girl walked by.

I guess I'm starting to answer my own question. It's all about setting limits. My limits are different than the ones I impose on my children. Your limits are different than mine. HBO's are different than ESPN's. The National Enquirer's are different than the Philadelphia Inquirer. Who knows what the appropriate limits are at any given time, or in any given forum?

I don't think any of us knows for sure. But I can tell you from my own experience, an awful lot of decent people (probably parents) with higher standards than my own are making sure other decent people who also have higher standards than my own can watch a sports broadcast without running the risk of being offended. The credo: "When in doubt, leave it out" is not only simple and effective, it's really all we have. Hopefully, it's worked well enough so far that everyone can enjoy "offensive-free" sports.

Meanwhile, the slightly less "pure" can always turn to the "relatively" decent people of Page 2 who proudly consider themselves equal opportunity offenders.

Bob Halloran is an anchorman for ESPNEWS.



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