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THE WRITING ON (AND OFF) THE WALL NFL AUDIBLES TO PREVENT DEFENSE.

Byline: TOM HOFFARTH

At least George Carlin had the decency to keep his list of the words you can't say on TV to a manageable seven. For the NFL, the number of things it won't allow to be printed on the back of one of its personalized jerseys is a bit more obscene.

One thousand, one hundred fifty-nine of 'em. Give or take a conjugated verb.

A public-relations backlash over what's appropriate for fans to request from the league's online store has brought this dubious list out of the closet, so to speak, only because of the work of Web sites called Outsports.com and 365gay.com, devoted to sports news by and for gays and lesbians.

It's actually a rather humorous collection of words and phrases that these NFL scourges have taken the time to compile. But it really wasn't funny last month when Leigh Clemons, a professor at LSU, tried to order a $79.95 New England Patriots jersey with the name ``Gay'' on the back. Her former student, Randall Gay, just finished his rookie season with the Super Bowl champs, and she wanted to wear the name in his honor.

Clemons told 365gay.com that when she went to NFL.com and typed in the request, it was denied because of a message that read: ``This field should not contain naughty words.'' Randall Gay wasn't the first NFL player with that name, either - there has been a William and a Ben in recent years, too.

After that story appeared on Outsports.com, someone named Barry Gay of Raleigh, N.C., reported the same problem. Gay, who is homosexual, tried to complain to the NFL through its online form, but when he put in his name, again the alert came up: ``You can't use that word or phrase in the last name field.''

In the process of exposing this issue, Outsports.com extracted the java script from the NFL site that contained its list of what the computer software would prevent fans from using. Since then, the NFL has removed its list, but Outsports.com has kept it and has been drawing unusually high traffic to its site, on a link with the header: ``Warning! Read at your own peril.''

In the NFL, the best offense is often a good defense, but as it tries to backpedal away from this, it has no defense for filtering out what it deems to be offensive.

For example, Weiner (as in Todd, the Atlanta Falcons' tackle), Sapp (as in Warren, the Oakland Raiders' defensive tackle) and Pugh (as in Alfonso, the New York Jets' receiver) go through just fine. Tongue, which happens to be the surname of Reggie, New York Jets safety, is not fine.

Hitler and Al Qaeda once got past the electronic drawbridge, but not anymore. Same with Bin Laden, Jesus, Devil, Satan, Dahmer, Lolita, Neon Deon (sic), Jack the Ripper or - get this - Rae Carruth, the ex-NFL player in jail for murder.

Coors, Miller Lite and Old Milwaukee can be enjoyed in moderation, and on a shirt. But not Budweiser. Or the phrases ``I Luv Beer'' and ``Waysted.'' Our apologies to Ted Bruschi.

Dope, Fatso, Hobo, Hooker, Idiot, Low Life, Loser, Poor White Trash, Roach, Slime Ball, Slime, Stupid and Tramp - all names you'd come to expect on the back of a Raiders fan's jersey - won't be tolerated, you imbecile.

Remember the guy who had ``He Hate Me'' on his back in the old XFL? Rod Smart, a very smart man. But the NFL isn't dumb enough to let anyone do that.

Athletes Foot, Barely Legal, Drag Queen, Man Hater, Pimp, Playboy, Red Light, Showtime, Suicide and Sexy Moma are censured as well.

Gay, by the way, is now OK. But Lesbian or Bisexual? Get serious.

We'd like to applaud Tagliabue's taskmasters for taking some responsibility here, but you realize it's not so much morality that they're upholding - they're only protecting the brand name, one that brings millions in licensing fees. The gesture is definitely Noble (as in Brandon, the Washington Redskins' defensive tackle), but the Bottom Line (that's legal, right?) really is money.

And even a Chargers fan can figure out there is a way around this Booby Trap (an NFL no-no). Just order the jersey without anything on it, then have a name ironed onto it later. Duh (approved by the NFL).

So in the end, the fan does have the last word. If they end up picking one of Carlin's lucky seven, or the hundreds more that makes the NFL uncomfortable, it's a free choice. If you have to, just consider it a poor reflection on the person, not the league that takes itself too seriously.

CAPTION(S):

6 photos, box

Photo:

(1) Patriots corner back Randall Gay (21) had his name dragged through the crossfire last month in a dispute with the NFL over acceptable words on the back of league-licensed retail jerseys.

Getty Images

(2) On Wednesday, President Bush finally got around to handing out Congress' highest honor to Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson (pictured, with House speaker Dennis Hastert)

(3) KOBE BRYANT

(4) JOHN CHANEY

(5) SCOTT BORAS

(6) - Randy Moss, on joining the Raiders

Box:

Sunday PUNCH

- Tom Hoffarth
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 6, 2005
Words:867
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