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”?