Copyright John T. Reed
While channel surfing, I accidentally came across a documentary of the Army Spring Football Game played at Fort Benning, GA.
Footballwise, I did not notice much. It was Army against Army. A couple of running backs had long runs in spite of being hit repeatedly by defenders along the way. I have complained about Army’s lousy tackling technique for some years now. How could such a thing happen? I’m guessing the Army defensive coordinator must be some long-term crony of head Coach Ellerson and Coach is more loyal to him than to his employer or players. I know nothing about who the DC is or how long he has been with Ellerson. My guess is based on the general way things are in the football coaching profession. See my article on loyalty among football coaches.
But I was appalled by two off-field behaviors in the documentary.
At one point, the football players were wearing camouflage combat uniforms. Don’t ask me why. When I was a cadet they would never even dream of letting us appear in public in combat uniforms. We would have worn dress gray or white over gray (gray tropical worsted trousers with a black stripe down the outside and a starched white, open collar, short sleeve shirt).
They were in formation apparently prior to boarding busses for a nearby air Force Base.
The cadet in charge of the formation ordered them to attention, parade rest, report and other routine stuff. His conduct and that of the cadets was what was called “route step” when I was in the Army. That means half-assed, sloppy, indifferent.
The cadets, even hyperfit football players, look like trash bags in those baggy, shapeless uniforms. And I would not call their execution of the commands crisp, but the main thing was the cadet commander. He either never heard a command given properly—they are given to you an average of a dozen times a day when you are a normal cadet—or he was never trained and critiqued in how to give military commands—we all were—or he did hear and was trained in giving commands—likely—and was too cool for military school to ever do it correctly. In other words he deliberately gave the commands in a slovenly way in order to show such things were beneath him as an Army football player—even knowing he was being videoed for a national television broadcast..
Come to think of it, I never recall an upperclassman at West Point giving commands in such a manner other than a football team captain who was in my ranger school class. The ranger instructors apparently made him the commander of our class because they heard he was captain of the Army football team. In his case, he seemed to be trying to do the right thing, but simply did not know, after four years at West Point, how to give a command or what a military command sounded like.
I’m not kidding.
The instructors at ranger School were also appalled and relieved him of his command of our ranger class and gave it to a black classmate of mine who did not play football.
Again, I am not kidding.
I discussed how to give a military command at http://johntreed.com/headline/tag/command/ under the “Teaching leadership in high school football” subhead.
The Army football player commander—probably the team captain—spoke in a quiet, conversational voice. He slurred his words, exuded no confidence, and drew out execution commands that should be pronounced like a starter’s pistol going off at a track meet. He could not have done much worse of a job. He gave commands like a civilian who had never been in the military but who only knew the commands as words in a script just handed to him.
I am not kidding. Watch the video.
One football player whom Army chose to be one of the stars of the show, is incompetent at speaking English. He cannot pronounce many words in a correct and understandable way and his grammar was a cross between Uncle Remus, hip-hop lyrics, jive, and special ed. ebonics. He seemed like a nice kid and a good football player—when he was not striking his celebratory, “look at me,” victory poses after each tackle.
But every time he opened his mouth, I and tens of thousnds of other viewers were thinking, “This is a West Point cadet!? This guy is a year or two away from being an ‘officer and a gentlemen’!?”
Shame on this cadet’s parents for allowing him to go to college still talking like this. When black actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner auditioned to be the son Theo Huxtable in the sitcom the Cosby Show, he launched into stereotypical black teenager talk. The auditioner, Bill Cosby himself, the actor comedian who played the father Cliff Huxtable, glared at Warner.
Do you talk like that at home?
Heck no! My dad would kill me if I did that!
So would Cliff Huxtable so stop doing it in this audition.
Unfortunately for the cadet, his father and mother were not the “Huxtables” or any facsimile thereof.
Shame on his teachers. Why in the name of God did they send him to college still talking like this?
Shame on West Point. Had such a cadet been a member of my class, which entered West Point on July 1, 1964, his way of speaking English would have been found out in about 24 to 36 hours. The upperclassmen would then have been calling each other over to hear this idiot. The New Cadet company commander would have gone to the tac officer and said,
Sir, we have one Negro new cadet who cannot speak English in a satisfactory manner.
Officers would have interviewed the kid and thrown him out. They might have decided to try to do an Eliza Doolittle project with him, and maybe he warrants that in terms of general intelligence and ability. They might have sent him to the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School for a year of remedial English speaking and grammar. But he would not have lasted a week at West Point in 1964.
Nowadays, when the wimpy U.S. Army officer corps is afraid to say anything about Muslim soldiers who have publicly announced that they believe it is a good idea to murder their fellow soldiers, the West Point authorities, including the upperclassmen, are apparently afraid to say anything about the way this kid talks. They fear the racist label, and the accompanying death of their careers.
There is an actual combat reason to correct this. When you are talking on FM radios, the typical Army radio, to conserve power and frequencies, the frequency spectrum of the radio transmission is less than the spectrum of face-to-face human conversation. When you combine the shrunken frequency spectrum with this guy not knowing how to pronounce English language words and his incompetence at normal American grammar, there is a danger that his statements or requests over the radio might be misunderstood to the detriment of accomplishing his mission, and the physical safety of him and his men or a wider group of Americans. This problem has long been discussed with regard to foreign born doctors in the U.S. and foreign-born U.S. soldiers—our increasingly day-labor all-volunteer Army—not being correctly understood in life-and-death situations.
English is the official language of air-traffic control worldwide. It needs to be the official language of the U.S. military for the same reason: life or death situations where miscommunication can be fatal.
West Point has an additional reason for having an official language that its cadets and officers speak: leadership. It would be hard for American officers to effectively lead, say, Peruvian soldiers, if the American officer in question did not speak Spanish or spoke it as poorly as this cadet does English. Your men understanding what you say is a sine qua non for leadership. Also, certain ways of speaking distract from the objective of the communication and some ways make listeners conclude that you are stupid or ignorant or from a criminal element or that you are antagonistic to mainstream America including many, or most, of those whom you are trying to lead.
I actually had a similar problem when I went to West Point. No one ever said anything about it, but I had a bad South Jersey accent when I arrived at West Point. I discovered it when I taped one of my radio shows on KDET radio, and I was horrified and immediately resolved to fix my accent, which I did. Read details about that in my article criticizing Herman Cain for how he speaks. (Cain is about ten times better than this cadet.)
In July 1967, I was a senior platoon sergeant of a New Cadet company. We were the first upperclassmen training the new cadets who entered around July 1, 1967. One of the new cadets in that platoon was John F. “Jack” Reed, now U.S. senator from Rhode Island. Another new cadet in that platoon had a really wimpy, quiet voice with a hint of the stereotypical gay way of speaking. I told him that voice was not going to work at a college whose purpose is to train combat leaders. I told him to fix it and that I did not know or care how, only that West Point is a place that gives R for results but no E for effort.
A couple of months later, that cadet, who had been assigned to a different cadet company than I was in for the academic year, had occasion to come to my room on some official business. I noticed he had fixed his voice. I commended him, pronounced him almost cured, and wished him well. According to the West Point Register of Graduates, he graduated and is now a lawyer.
Some probably thought I was too harsh on him. His voice is not his fault and all that. Bullshit! I told him what he needed to hear if West Point was his chosen college and the army, at least initially, his chosen career. Now I am giving similar needed and good advice to that cadet in the Army Spring football video. If he and his supporters want to reject it and call me racist and all that, so be it. But have offered the critique in the same spirit as I did that member of the West Point class of 1971. I am guessing the class of 1971 guy is grateful for it and it probably changed his life for the better.
Shame on this cadet himself for not recognizing his awful way of speaking and correcting it—as I did when I was in his position. You can hear how I talk now at my YouTube videos.
There was another black football player interviewed on the video, an injured player. When he began to talk, I thought, “My God, they’ve got two guys like that!” But the injured guy was okay. He could pronounce English words correctly and used correct grammar. I would characterize his way of speaking as way, way too provincial, like my South Jersey accent. If you did not know him except to hear him talk on the phone, you would instantly recognize he was black.
Is that okay? It’s like I said about Trayvon Martin’s hoodie in my article on his death,
The issue is that doing what you are legally entitled to is not always wise.
One of the thrills of becoming a West Point cadet is when you first put on a uniform that says “U.S.” on it. Previously, you were a high school kid. You may have been a big man on campus, but it was still only at some high school no one outside your area ever heard of. Now you are at the United States Military Academy wearing a uniform that your name on one side of your chest and “U.S. Army” on the other. Heady stuff. Even the most jaded NBA all-stars said they were moved or choked up when they were first handed their Olympic basketball team jerseys that said “USA” on them.
So if you are now “U.S.” instead of Podunk High, how’s about talking like U.S. instead of Podunk?
Blacks are not the only Americans many of whom have unattractive or off-putting regional or ethnic accents. They are also widespread among Southerners, New Yawkehs, Chicagoans, Bostonians. Many American accents sound hostile or belligerent or unfriendly (“So you a Yankee, huh?”). All regional accents, including those in the upper Midwest (Doncha know?), Sarah Palin’s Alaska accent (“You betcha”), Philadelphia, Baltimore, Maine, etc. sound stupid. “You might be a red neck” comedian Jeff Foxworthy calls Southern the “official accent of stupid,” a point he illustrates by asking how you would feel when you are about to undergo brain surgery and your surgeon informs you,
We’re gonna drill a li’l ’ol hole raht about heah in your haid.
In the past, and probably still to an extent, would-be national TV and radio announcers from regions with thick accents—like Dan Rather, Bob Schiefer, and Mel Allen—would go to speech classes, or otherwise work to get rid of their accents. I did that to myself when I was a radio announcer at West Point.
Are you entitled to sound like a moron by sticking with your regional or ethnic accent? Yeah, I guess. Are you PROUD of your thick accent and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge there is the slightest thing wrong with, or distracting about, it? I roll my eyes. Enjoy your life sentence in Hick County. But if you aspire to succeed beyond the boundaries of Hick County, lose the accent and learn correct grammar.
But do not be surprised if, in life, people who never SAY anything about it, nevertheless seem to be discriminating against you or taking you less seriously because of it. Sarah Palin is a gifted and experienced leader—far more so than, say, Barack Obama. For example, she was captain of her high school state basketball championship team. He was a bench warmer on his. Not to mention mayor and governor compared to his “community organizer.”
But when she tried to go beyond the boundaries of her regional accent, she was more or less laughed off the national stage. There was an ideological component to the opposition to her, but she did not need to give them the ammunition she did by talking in a way that sounds stupid to non-Alaskans.
Obama is one of those blacks whom, if you only heard him on a phone call, you would not be able to tell if he was black. He is also president of the United States. Harry Reid famously said Obama had a “Negro dialect” he could turn on when he wanted. I said one of the problems with Herman Cain, who is NOT going to be president, is that he cannot turn off his “Negro dialect.” Word to the wise. Lose the freaking black street punk or rural cotton pickin’ slave dialect talk.
The black defensive back on the Army football team is an extreme case. He is unfit. But all the cadets at West Point and and young people elsewhere ought to check whether they have an accent or poor grammar that is now preventing, or may in the future, prevent them from being all they can be. It’s not just blacks. It is all regional and ethnic accents or born-in-the-USA pidgin English like the cadet speaks. When I was a kid in the 1950s, blacks were explicitly taught what I am saying here on a daily basis! It was totally accepted as absolutely correct advice within the black community. Listen to an audio of Martin Luther King Jr. and note that he makes a consistent effort to speak the King’s English. (His Southern Baptist black preacher shtick sounds super moronic and “are you kidding?” clownish to us whites—like the Kingfish in the Amos and Andy radio and TV series—but he is trying to pronounce English words correctly and use correct grammar.)
Then the black-power movement came along and told blacks they were entitled to be permanently angry and talk like idiots and isolate their children from white America by giving them strange names and depicting studying hard as “acting white.” Entitled? Maybe. Wise? No.
And what the heck were the football people at West Point thinking to let this kid near a microphone? Maybe they are trying to attract more blacks to West Point, in spite of repelling more white and Asian excellent students.
We had blacks at West Point in 1964, although, amazingly, none in the Army football team photo my freshman year. They were the same as the whites. There was no affirmative action then. There were fewer in my class than the percentage of blacks in the population. Like I said, no affirmative action.
That black defensive player in the Fort Benning game documentary has obviously been ill served speechwise by his 14 years of affirmative action. And no one in the Military Academy has the guts to put the interest of the kid and the Army ahead of political correctness.
I may be the first to say this about this cadet, but I guarantee you I was not the first, or the last, to think it. There used to be a commercial that said, “Even you best friend won’t tell you if you have bad breath.”
Here is an email I got from a reader:
Hey John, I have some thoughts on your recent article about the Army football players. I don't know how it was in 1967, but I do have some fairly recent personal experience concerning the treatment of football players at service academies.
Today, the service academies, especially West Point and Annapolis, hold their football programs to be of paramount importance, transcending even needs of the respective services. I can tell you, from when I attended an academy in 2001, that it was common knowledge that football players were strictly hands-off. The academies go to tremendous lengths to attract the best football players possible to their schools, and then go to the same lengths to keep them there, which enevitably involves "special treatment":
Football players did not have to attend the full eight weeks of plebe summer, only about 6. The other two were spent in training camp.
Football players did not have to eat with their squad and be subject to eating at attention, etc. as they had their own table far away from the upperclassmen.
Football players were exempt from any extra military "training" that might interfere with practice or totally exempted if the player's grades were low.
That's just what I can remember off the top of my head witnessing personally; one of my squadmates was a football player. One of my theories behind Army's recent string of Army-Navy game losses is that West Point can't convince as much football talent to come to their school compared to Navy due to Iraq / Afghanistan. Remember, these guys just want to play college football, not die for their country, and there's a far lower risk of that in the Navy right now.
Here is an email I got from a current cadet [and my response]:
"slug" cadets. One is that if a corps squadder is in season, which many are year round, they are allowed to "sit" their hours instead of walking them. For sitting hours they simply go to a room and do homework. Essentially, they can do the homework that they would normally do during the next week on the weekend which results in a net loss of none of their time. Also, whenever some type of mandatory event comes up, teams will often schedule "workouts" which exhempt them. These workouts will often consist of just sitting in their team rooms watching tv until thr event is over or doing some useless 20 minute workout. Also, many corp squad cadets who commit the same offenses as regular cadets, i.e. drinking in the barracks, crafting with plebes, honor boards, etc, are often retained while the regular cadets are kicked out. A good example concerns our current quarterback Trent Steelman. During his plebe year [he] blatantly plagarised part of an English essay. [According to the Times Herald-Record, a subsidiary of Dow-Jones Local Media Group, Inc., Steelman committed an "unspecified honor code violation"] The offense for this is commonly at least being a December grad or full year turnback. [Times Herald-Record says all such cadets are required to go into a six-month honor mentorship program.] However, [he] was put into what I heard was called an " accelerated" program whereby he essentially ended up with no punishment absent having to be a pfc instead of a corporal for his 1st semester yuk yr. However, I will say that for every one that openly abuses the system and does think they are better than everyone else, there is one that is genuinly good who works hard and doesn't try to shame out of everything. As a regular slug cadet I believe that there are plenty of corp squadders who fit the stereotype there is an equal or greater number who don't. Also on a different subject I thought you might be interested to know that west point recently banned the purchase or consumption of alcohol by cadets on academy grounds to include the firstie and o club because the comm de used we weren't mature enough to drink responsibly.
Name withheld by request of the cadet
1. When I was cadet, privates walked the area, corporals and above sat con like you describe. I do not know if corps squad privates avoiding walking back then. Never heard of it. They probably walked.
2. We could not drink within 15 miles of West Point ever. Drinking in the barracks was so serious that I never heard of it. Probably expulsion back then.
3. What is crafting?
4. Honor boards either said guilty or innocent. If guilty, you left that day. If innocent, nothing.
5. Plagiarizing was an honor violation, period. You're gone. Didn't matter who did it.
6. I appreciate your trying to comfort me by saying that half the corps squad guys are worth a shit, but when I was a cadet, it was more like 90% and the other 10% were not trying to do the stuff you depict except for some honor scandals with more than their share of athletes.
7. We were famous for not knowing how to drink alcohol or relate to females after graduation because we had little access to either except on leave. (I am a lifelong teetotaler. I am referring to my fellow cadets.)
8. I sent a letter to West Point Public Affairs asking if the above account of Steelman’s misbehavior and punishment were accurate. They did not answer.
John T. Reed
Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military