Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Is Coach's ##?&! Word Choice Wise? A Christmas Wish for Charlie Weis

"When I was younger, I did swear on rare occasions," Holtz admitted, "but I immediately felt bad about it. The only word of that nature I did use when I was older was 'ass'--and that is found right in the Bible." Here, Holtz paused. "But I'm not proud of that either."
-from the Lou Holtz chapter in "Champions of Faith"

"Now I believe in the love that you gave me.
I believe in the faith that could save me.
I believe in the hope and I pray that some day it
Will raise me above these Badlands ..."
-from Bruce Springstein in "Badlands"

While most of the middle school boys I teach are pretty impressed their teacher is the author of a celebrity sports book, Anthony was the die-hard leader of the minority. He summed up my 230 pg. intended-to-inspire volume with the critique "Mr. O'Toole's book's got a swear in it!"

While most everyone will agree that one word should not define a whole book, Anthony's passion about "swears" is actually shared by a great many adults. The case in point for this article is a recent 60 Minutes segment where Fighting Irish football coach Charlie Weis not only admitted using the "choice" words during the heat of battle but seemed to show little remorse for his tough guy stance -- and many of Notre Dame's more sensitive viewers are upset about it, especially because University President Fr. John Jenkins (also interviewed for that segment) also did nothing to discourage Charlie's word selection.

Frankly, I see two sides to this on-the-surface simplistic looking story. On the one hand, I have never heard of any Catholic justification for swearing, so Charlie, who coaches at a Catholic university, needs to be ordered -- by Notre Dame's lax and/or liberal president to immediately cease and desist from using the "f," "s," or any other "#?!&" words.

On the other hand, coaches swearing has been a part of football long before Knute Rockne introduced the forward pass, and while it is certainly not the Christian way to get a point across, Charlie and Company correctly access most of the word police to be of the "speck in your brother's eye, plank in your own" (Matt 7:3-5) variety of protesters.

So although it's easy to point out the problem, the solution to this tough talk argument is actually rather delicate. As many FIT readers know, Charlie is from New Jersey, a chip on its shoulder state where the tough guy person thrives. And Weis thoroughly embraces this image especially when it is depicted in the music of native son Bruce Springstein whose music Charlie loves.

But as Holtz would learn, tough guys need not swear; in fact, it's "tougher" not to. But it takes the gentle gaze of Our Lady, not the heavy hand of the self-righteous, to learn this lesson. And in Charlie's case, another factor may figure in favor of a language change. Charlie Jr., Weis' own 8th grade son, roams the Fighting Irish sidelines with him and can hear nearly every word he says ... and certainly lip read the rest.

Because it is hard, if not impossible for a college football coach to spend time with his kids (due to job demands) during the season, I was one of the vocal minority who thought Charlie's unorthodox move of having his young son with him on the sidelines was a great thing. Of the dozen closest moments I've had with my three boys, at least half of them have come walking around the campus and watching the game together at Notre Dame stadium, so I believe Our Lady makes it one of the greatest places for a dad and son to bond. Of course for Charlie Jr. there are hard lessons here too, but his Dad also used these to his advantage, including the time he brought his son over to the USC locker room to congratulate Reggie Bush and Company after the Trojans' last second victory over Notre Dame last season. Cursing can only undermine these lessons, but instead of rallying against Weis, we need to pray that after a choice word or two, Coach happens to catch a glimpse of Mary on the Dome (or perhaps his son looking into his eyes) and that will be enough to start the change of heart.

For, while it is hard to conceive of a cursing football coach becoming a saint, that family guy from Jersey may be closer than you think. You're a good man, Charlie Weis (your work and prayers on behalf of your autistic daughter Hannah proves THAT), and you may be a few plays and phrases away from Notre Dame Immortality, but just as "the Boss'" Badland lyrics are not far removed from Paul's "Greatest" passage, "There are but three things that last: Faith Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love" (1 Corinthians 13:13), you may be only words away from transforming your band of Fighting Irishmen into (to quote another famous Irish philosopher Ara Parseghian) "Our Lady's Tough Guys." And THAT will be a team no one on Heaven or Earth will want to mess with.

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