Ethics Quiz: The Vulgar Exclamation That Wasn’t

This is a weird ethics quiz, I’ll admit: it involves conduct that didn’t really take place.

In a game between the Cleveland “Guardians” (they are really the Indians) and Chicago White Sox, Cleveland had a runner on second with two outs when Owen Miller lifted an easy fly to right field, where Chicago outfielder Gavin Sheets should have easily made the play. Instead, in what is technically called a “clank,” the ball bounced right off his glove and went past him for an embarrassing error. The runner on second scored, and Cleveland’s radio color commentator, former player Rick Manning, could be heard saying Are you shitting me?” as play-by-play man Tom Hamilton described the error.

Much hilarity ensued on social media.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

What is the fair and responsible consequence for a professional broadcaster who utters a spontaneous vulgarity or obscenity on the air?

Before I comment further, it’s time to reveal that after the clip had gone viral, audio sleuths determined that Manning hadn’t said what everyone heard him say, or thought they did. Manning’s broadcasting partner said the iron-cloved outfielder’s name, Sheets,exactly when Manning said “kidding.” The result was, as the New York Post described it, a one-in-a-million auditory illusion.

“Now how about that?,” as the late Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen used to say.

Never mind, though. I had already decided to ask the quiz question before Manning was proven innocent, so the query stands. If Manning had said “shitting,” should there have been any punishment?

I’m torn on this one. We have discussed here before the occupational hazard of talking extemporaneously for a living and how gaffes are inevitable. People who could never perform such a job are often “no-tolerance” advocates when a pundit or a politician uses language that is considered taboo in a live event, or makes an embarrassing error. I do have such an occupation, and I have had such unfortunate brain malfunctions. For me, it is tempting to apply the Golden Rule.

Moreover, it is getting harder to be a stickler for civil language when increasingly elected officials say things like “impeach the motherfucker” with no adverse consequences at all. They should be the role models for the rising generations. The argument for suspending, firing or fining a color-man who says “shitting” is based on the perhaps archaic theory that the tender ears of children are poisoned by such language (though they have probably heard and uses such words many times), and thus the culture is coarsened if there is not a formal declaration that this is not how we want to communicate with each other.

Yet if we don’t continue to try to fight the tide of incivility that threatens to make our society a cesspool, the effects will be dire. Public discourse deteriorated horribly during the Trump years, and it wasn’t all Trump’s doing. Do we really want to live in a culture where there is no escape from vulgarians like the character Ruth on “Ozark,” who literally says “fuck” at least once in every sentence?

And if those who insist that saying various taboo words should be punished, should all such words be treated equally, or do we need a scale? Let’s see: how about fined for “shit,” suspended for “dick,” fired for “fuck” and executed for “nigger”?

9 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Vulgar Exclamation That Wasn’t

  1. Whatever happened to the eight second tape delay and “blooping?” Too expensive? If the concern is really about young ears, the broadcast entities should use tape delay. There’s lots of cussing in baseball.

  2. I heard the audio on the radio this morning.

    The first time, I did not hear it because I was listening to the guy who was speaking and tuned out the background noise.

    It was only when they played it a second time and I knew what I was supposed to hear that I heard the audio correctly (incorrectly?).

    Were the mistake real, I think it would have been a problem. I understand the argument about the hazards of speaking extemporaneously for long periods of time. However, I would NOT give them a pass here.
    This is not a radio show where you are dealing with callers where issues may pop up.

    You are not dealing with something unexpected, like the Hindenburg crash.

    You are not dealing with something like an unscripted Trump speech or a tele-prompted Biden speech where the speaker is simply pulling stuff out of his head.

    The parameters of baseball announcing are limited (balls, strikes, runs, errors, close plays, home runs). This play did not fall outside the sorts of plays you might see every day. You would not need to let an “Are you shitting me?” out. Any competent broadcaster would be prepared for a goofy play.

    I mean, Holy Cow!


    • I loved Rizzuto’s catch phrase for remarkable occurrences. You will recall that in the epid baseball scene in The Naked Gun, Mel Allen is among the line-up of broadcasters and all he says is “How about that!”, including when a tiger mauls a player on the field.

      In B-Town, two beloved Sox broadcasters had famous catch-phrases for such moments. Ned Martin would say, “Mercy!” Joe Castiglione, still behind the mic after 40 years, says, “Can you believe it!”

          • In the very early ’80s we watched a lot of (too many) Cubs television broadcasts. Harry Caray was still doing White Sox games with Jimmy Piersall. Jack Brickhouse was literally a brick house in the Cubbies’ broadcast booth, pretty much a Chicago icon. He was terminally laconic. A pitch would be thrown. Jack would intone, sonorously, “Ball one.” Silence. Next pitch, “Strike one.” However, during one game, Jack’s true MO was inadvertently disclosed. The veil of silence was dropped. It turns out Jack was a terminal chatter box. On this occasion, Jack failed to cover his mic with his hand or turn it off, because after he’d made one of his trademark calls, he yammered away in an excited, almost teenaged boy voice something along the lines of, “Hey! Look at that cutie down in Section 204. And she’s all by herself! What’s up with that!” or words to that effect, followed by “Strike two.” It was hilarious. There was absolutely no mention of it on the air.

            My all-time favorite announcer moment was a few years later when Harry Caray was broadcasting the Cubs with Steve Stone, aka “Stoney.” The Cubs pitching staff were assiduously blowing a late inning lead. Harry’s corporate employee loyalty patience was finally exhausted, and he moaned, “Can’t ANYBODY on this team get an OUT?” I guess Harry’s distinguishing feature was he was a fan first and foremost. The honesty was endearing.

            Oh, and then there was Bob Brenley who, after Steve Bertheume remarked, “Well, I guess you can’t win ’em all,” asked simply, “Why not?”

            And of course, there was most anything Dizzy Dean said while working with Pee Wee Reese or Curt Gowdy. But I’m showing my age.

            If I were an executive and an announcer of mine let a “shit” or “fuck” slip, I’d suspend him with pay for a game or a series and have him issue an apology written by the PR department.

  3. Executions aren’t so bad provided the right people are terminated.

    A proper apology by Manning should mention Rashida Tlaib’s “impeach the motherfucker” as an example of regrettable public discourse that Manning does not want to participate in.
    Never miss an opportunity to indict the fascist Left.

  4. How long should a career last? When deciding what a career-ending mistake is, you might want to consider the frequency of such mistakes and the length of time it takes to train such a person. For a neurosurgeon, for example, it takes 14+ years after college to train one, so you will have to allow for some really drastically bad mistakes if you want them to have a decent career after investing all that time and money into training them.

  5. Anyone who continuously swears should not be broadcasting on radio or tv and should be fired if they do. But anyone can make the odd mistake and should only be warned if they slip up and leave firing for those who can’t or wont improve. Also, if a newsreader is talking about a banned word, they do need to be able to say that word so everyone knows what word they are talking about.

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