It’s no joke: words matter

Radio host’s tweet was inappropriate

“Words can inspire and words can destroy. Choose yours well.” This pithy, yet wise credo, credited to Canadian writer Robin Sharma, should be a lesson to anyone who is paid to share his or her thoughts in print or online.

It was a lesson lost on Cody McClure, a sports talk show host at FOX Sports Knoxville in Tennessee. After Loyola University Chicago’s basketball team defeated the Tennessee Volunteers in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament on Saturday, March 17, McClure posted a profanity on his Twitter account aimed at Sr. Jean Dolores Schmidt.

Sr. Jean, 98, is a longtime chaplain of the Loyola men’s basketball team, the Ramblers. She has become a minor celebrity as the underdog Ramblers defeated both Tennessee and the University of Miami to qualify for the Sweet Sixteen. TV cameras constantly spotlighted Sr. Jean cheering for her team to advance. That apparently angered McClure.

Following the game, McClure posted “F – – – Sister Jean —everyone.”

Chicago Tribune reporter David Haugh learned about the Twitter post and called McClure, asking why he would do such a thing. “I wanted to at least give a so-called professional a chance to defend an outburst I considered unprofessional, unacceptable and wildly inappropriate,” wrote Haugh.

McClure, who also serves as chief meteorologist at the Knoxville radio station, told Haugh that it was meant as a joke and not “a slight toward Catholicism or the elderly in general.”

“It was meant to be comedic – cheap maybe – but comedic. A lot of people got a kick out of it and a lot of people were offended by it,” said McClure, who obviously never picked up a copy of Associated Press Stylebook, the journalist’s rule book.

On the use of obscenities, profanities and vulgarities, the AP Stylebook states: “Do not use them in stories unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them.” Now tweets aren’t exactly stories, but communicators should follow basic journalistic rules.

Then again, McClure isn’t a journalist. He’s more of what is known as a “shock jock,” someone who screams for attention, often at the expense of decency — and the ridicule of others.

McClure said he did not regret writing the post “because … it was a joke.” However, by Monday afternoon, he had deleted the post from his Twitter account.

What is sometimes lost on this smartphone generation is a belief that words do matter and that silence is sometimes a better option. Fr. Henri Nouwen explained it this way: “Choosing life and not death, blessings and not curses, often starts by choosing to remain silent or choosing carefully the words that open the way to healing.”

Whether in front of a microphone, computer or camera, we are defined and judged by the words we use. McClure failed the test. His penance should be an apology to Sr. Jean and Loyola University, but the best he could offer was an unremorseful justification. “I know it was offensive, inappropriate and vulgar, but it was only language.”

“Kind words do not cost much,” wrote another Catholic theologian, “yet they accomplish much.” That is a lesson we can take away from this sad story.

May the Loyola Ramblers continue their run during March Madness and may their chaplain, Sr. Jean, continue cheering them on for a long time.