I love adjectives.
Those marvelous multifaceted descriptive words are the best tool a writer has.
They’re especially important for sportswriters, who often find themselves trying to explain feats and people that defy description.
But I’m not a fan of all adjectives.
Sports are prone to words that are hyperbolic or hackneyed. If every situation late in a game was really “do-or-die,” there wouldn’t be any athletes left to write about. Even the Roman journalists covering gladiator fights from the Coliseum press box probably thought that expression was tired.
But the worst words in sports are those that spotlight and sustain cultural stereotypes.
I cringe every time I read about how “articulate” an athlete is. Inevitably, it’s used to describe a black person, whose eloquence is somehow surprising or noteworthy.
Want proof? Type “Russell Wilson articulate” or “Robert Griffin III articulate” into Google and see the match count rise faster than a Silicon Valley stock in the late 1990s.
Do the same for a white college graduate playing quarterback in the NFL, and the matches are as rare as a penny stock that actually pays.
“Athletic” is another adjective that should never be used in the sports world. News flash, anyone who plays professional or collegiate sports is probably athletic.
But you often see this word used to describe a black player, the connotation being that their most prominent attribute is natural ability. Never mind the devotion, persistence, intelligence and guile it takes to succeed in sports.
“Cerebral” is another word to avoid, when you actually think about it. You’ll see it used to describe Peyton Manning, Greg Maddux or John Stockton, but rarely Warren Moon, Johan Santana or Magic Johnson. All achieved mental mastery of their sport, but the “cerebral” cliché only comes in one color.
I could go on. Coachable, scrappy, grinder, gym rat and high IQ all carry connotations that describe a black-and-white sports world. In reality, most athletes are as nuanced as the colors on a high-definition TV.
Someone once wrote something about a pen being mightier than a sword.
A weapon should be handled with care. The same can be said about words.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s sports editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.ricecolumbian.com or on Twitter col_mrice .