The power of words


Recently we had an incident where an announcer for the Cincinnati Reds made an offensive comment on air.

He thought his microphone was off when he used the slur. There was an immediate furor concerning his use of what is considered by most people as hate speech. Several of the Reds players made public comments expressing their personal disagreement with his apparent bigotry.

There were, however, a significant number of people defending him. Not his use of the word, at least none that I saw, but what they considered an overreaction to his gaffe, what they saw as a slight accident that should be forgiven. Their comments ran along the lines of he is only human, haven’t you ever made a mistake, everyone messes up sometimes, he is sorry, etc.

Unfortunately, these people do not understand some things about hate speech, calling people degrading or insulting things because of who they are. By saying such things, whether you get caught on a hot microphone or not, you are not just saying something. You are showing who you are and how you think. People who have never been a member of a group that has been oppressed, sometimes physically attacked, by people using those words may find that difficult to understand.

There is an old saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.” That is a lie. Words have great power to heal, to hurt, to wound, to comfort, to insult, to praise, to build confidence, to tear down self-esteem, to open dialogue between two opposing points of view, or to crush it. It all depends on what you say, in some cases how you say it, and often to whom you say it.

People often talk about freedom of speech and how you should be able to say anything to anyone. I always suggest they go into their boss’s office and call him or her a rude name and see if freedom of speech claims help them keep their jobs.

You can, obviously, say anything you like. You are not, however, protected from the consequences of what you say. You may be sued, you may lose your job, you may lose your significant other, you may become an outcast in your community, you may lose friends, you may lose your life if you say the wrong thing to the wrong person. Words have power.

The announcer has expressed his sorrow and contrition, of course, the mistake, or more accurately revelation, has threatened his career. Oddly enough he apologized first to his bosses and the team organization for embarrassing them rather than to the community he had insulted. That, too, was revealing.

Have we all said something we wish we had not at one time or another in our lives. Of course. But the more of a public figure you are the more caution you have to use about what you say, where you say it, and who is listening.

Using hate speech against any group, and this man seemed very comfortable both with the cruel word and his comfort saying it in the announcer’s booth, is just wrong. Anything that you say that you later have to apologize for, is wrong. Name calling, using denigrating terms to describe someone because of their race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, language, disability, size, or any other personal characteristic is both cruel and ignorant. It is not done by decent people.

The wrong words can make you feel less than others, devalued, unworthy, isolated, disliked, even unsafe. Sticks and stones can break your bones, the wrong words can break your spirit.

Words have power, great power, choose yours wisely.

Cookie Newsom

Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and columnist.

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