When Beetle Bailey says "%$--&+'$(*'()!!!" in the comic pages, profanity seems harmless or even amusing. But in a formal setting such as a public high school, salty language still raises eyebrows.
On high school athletic fields, however, you'll often hear a "$%--(::" here and a "?!* 5/8%" there. Profanity isn't encouraged, but it is often excused.
In this era of well-publicized political correctness, rough talk is as common on the high school football field as blocking and tackling. But should it be?
"I'll be honest with you--it's a very, very difficult rule overall to enforce," Chaminade Coach Rich Lawson said. "We can do it individually. Sometimes even we as coaches lose a little self-control."
For some, though, it's a simple matter. Earlier this season, Hart Principal Laurence Strauss suspended a lower-level assistant football coach for one week because of profanity.
"There's a lot of emotion," Strauss said, "a lot of responsibility, and sometimes a great deal of stress and pressure, especially on coaches as well as athletes, and I understand that intensity and pressure can mount to a point that they need to express themselves in an emotional way.
"I understand and accept that. But I don't believe that that expression should ever be in the form of any kind of verbal or physical misconduct."
But opinion varies as to what degree profanity is harmful. Different scenarios--who said it, how it was said--allow for different responses.
When administrators are not around--at practice or on the 50-yard line--and no third party is there to complain, it's up to coaches to police themselves. And as officers, they aren't always such fine gentlemen.
Sylmar Coach Jeff Engilman disapproves of profanity but is the first to say he operates from a house of glass.
"There's no place in sports for it," Engilman said. "Unfortunately, I'm one of the worst offenders. In the heat of the battle, it's kind of tough. You forget what you're doing."
Dan Wyatt, a Sylmar assistant principal, said he has received two or three complaints from passers-by about the use of profanity at practices, in more than one sport. The coaches involved were admonished, but no disciplinary action was taken, said Wyatt, whose explanation reflects the confusion about enforcement.
"It wasn't obscene," Wyatt said. "It was what I would call swearing. . . . It wasn't calling anybody an obscene name. It was general displeasure."
Former Sylmar tailback Tobaise Brookins, now a defensive back at Washington, said Engilman's use of profanity during Brookins' years at the school did not offend him.
"It was just a part of the game," Brookins said. "It's always been a part of the game. . . . Profanity can be used to encourage and to put an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence. So when Coach Engilman uses profanity, instead of saying, 'C'mon guys, get going,' he'd say, 'C'mon guys, get your (butts) going.' "
Using profanity out of frustration does have a logical basis, according to Dr. Roderic Gorney, professor of psychiatry at UCLA.
"There is the common human impulse to do precisely what is forbidden, particularly when great hostile emotion hits us," Gorney said. "We want to throw over the traces, violate the taboos. Profanity is one of those taboos."
It's no surprise, then, that some people believe profanity can be excused.
"I don't think (profanity) is as big of a concern as other things that we have in the game of football," Reseda Coach Joel Schaeffer said.
California Interscholastic Federation officials are less forgiving about the use of profanity.
"I think when we're dealing with minors, this isn't the U.S. Army and this isn't an adult community on the university level," said Thomas E. Byrnes, commissioner of the CIF. "These kids are 14, 15, 16 years of age and I think it's inappropriate to use that type of language. I'm not saying it doesn't happen--probably by accident, or somebody slips."
However, CIF rules against profanity can be vague, sometimes humorously so.
The City Section code of ethics, for example, contains a passage that would make any bureaucrat proud: "Use discretion when providing constructive criticism and reprimanding players."
Beyond those types of guidelines, the CIF defers responsibility for policing profanity to individual schools. Thus, there is no consistent policy from one school to another.
"It's something that officials and school people should be saying, 'Don't do that,' " Southern Section administrator Bill Clark said.
Instead they are asking, "Don't do what?"
For example, how much latitude should football coaches be allowed in the use of profanity? They are educators, but they are also involved in an emotional sport.
"I try to discourage it," Buena Coach Rick Scott said. "I don't like it. On the other hand, there's times I use words that probably would disappoint some parents. . . .
"Sometimes in order to communicate with certain kids you have to be on their level. Sometimes to get their attention you have to say certain things."