The Question of Dawgs
In sports, catch-phrases are everywhere. And once they're in circulation, people use them without giving a lot of thought to what they may mean to others or how they may affect the people they're used to describe.
One of the best-known examples was ESPN's Sunday NFL coverage that featured video clips of incredibly violent hits, followed by the commentators gleefully yelling, "He got JACKED UP!" As the awareness of concussions grew, however, the ugliness of the segment became so apparent that ESPN finally, mercifully, ended it.
That hasn't stopped people from complaining. It's common today to hear folks gripe about how "soft" the game has become. On one message board where followers were discussing the "Jacked up" series, there are comments like this one:
A stunning statement knowing the kinds of life-long damage to the body and brain those hits lead to.
Of late, I've come to be bothered by another catch-word that has gained popularity. "Dawgs."
College football fans will instantly connect the term to the shorthand that University of Georgia fans use to cheer on their football team - the Bulldogs.
In popular culture, however, it has a different meaning. It's a term of endearment for an especially close friend. That's the overriding sense given for the word in the UrbanDictionary. (Note: The language in the Urban Dictionary can be raw.) Merriam-Webster's dictionary supports that reading.
But there's little doubt that In sports, it's also a term that celebrates mental toughness, physical resilience, and an approach to playing that may be described as controlled recklessness.
"“A dog is somebody that’s just a nasty person,” [Alabama] linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said. “When they step on that field, they’re just a different person. You expect them to just be really physical and aggressive and ready to sell out for the team”
Still a positive reading, but it's not a long reach from a player fully committed to their teammates and willing to "sell out for the team" to someone who's reckless.
When recruiters use this term to describe the players it wants, it can be hard to know precisely what's meant. Consider the following:
What is this recruiter signaling?
High school coaches often stress the ability of sports to teach life lessons. And how sports can become a path to education and a better life. Neither of those ideals comes across in the above tweet.
Let's tread carefully. One can't deduce motivation and character from a few tweets. Or hearing an expression used once or twice. We have to look at the person and their program as a whole.
Over the past few years, however, I've heard enough uses of "dawg" to make me question what people mean by it. It's a term that I've cut from my coaching vocabulary out of a sense of caution.
It's time to have a broader discussion about "dawg," just as we did about "Jacked Up" a decade earlier.