Use words wisely (sometimes swearing helps)

Did he need to use crass content in order to make his point? No. Did he gain something by doing so? Absolutely.

Did he need to use crass content in order to make his point? No. Did he gain something by doing so? Absolutely.

While I’m not an avid football fan (hockey is my sport), I really enjoyed following the news about Minnesota Vikings’ punter Chris Kluwe’s use of the English language late last week.

In case you missed this news cycle, Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. wrote a letter to the Baltimore Ravens management team asking them to quiet their linebacker, Brendon Ayanbadejo, who recently spoke out in favor of a Maryland ballot initiative that would legalize gay marriage. Kluwe published an open letter to Burns, blasting him for requesting Ayanbadejo’s First Amendment right be muffled.

What made this exchange so noteworthy was the colorful words that Kluwe used to convey his point in his letter to Burns. If you haven’t already, check out Kluwe’s letter here (warning: strong language!).

It’s clear that Kluwe is a thoughtful and articulate individual. Did he need to use crass content in order to make his point? No. Did he gain something by doing so? Absolutely.

Political views aside, Kluwe reminds us of how impactful and strategic we can be through the words we choose. His letter is a great example of the conscious use of language to meet an objective. Kluwe’s objective? Secure mainstream awareness for an issue in hopes that others would stop to question what’s going on around them.

Kluwe refuted Burns’ letter and perspective with purposeful profanity. Rather than degrade Burns directly with these words, he uses them to get a laugh and portray Burns and his perspective as ridiculous. The result has sparked interest across mainstream media and social channels for the past few days. In a follow-up blog post defending the vocabulary in his letter to Burns, Kluwe says, “My words are meant for those that might be on the fence, those that are initially drawn in due to shock, or laughter, or outrage, but then look at what lies beneath, the truth of the matter.” Kluwe’s ability to extend the reach of his message beyond the immediate circle of politicians and activists mirrors the tactics of individuals like Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Tina Fey and Jon Stewart, among others.

Does this reflect badly on American society – that we are so low-brow that we rely on shock-value and humor to get our attention on important issues? Perhaps. Regardless of whether you agree with his use of profanity to gain attention, Kluwe effectively used language to raise awareness – a challenge we face every day as communications professionals. As some would say, don’t hate the player; hate the game.

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