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The Many Ways The Media Gets Around Saying [Groin]

It’s the oldest laugh in sports: Some poor schmoe takes a sports ball to the crotch, keels over and, once we’re reasonably sure no lasting damage has been done, the TV announcers deadpan some dad jokes while the camera pans around to giggling teammates. It’s as much a familiar sports yuk as other not-all-that-uncommon oddities, like a field player on the mound or the fat guy touchdown, only with funnier GIFs.

At least, that’s how things work when the hit comes in a relatively low-stakes setting. But what happens when the stakes are raised? And just as important, when reporters are forced to write about sportsmen kicking each other in the nuts, what do they write? This week has provided some answers.

In the hours after Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the entire NBA-watching universe found itself poring over various angles of Draymond Green kicking Steven Adams right in the penis. Green was at risk of being suspended for Game 4, and suddenly the punchline was vital to the outcome of the NBA playoffs.1

Just as suddenly, reporters had to describe what had happened. Different outlets have different comfort levels when writing about the crotch. The New York Times, for example, threw idiomatic English out the door on first reference: “Exhibit A was that Green picked up a flagrant-1 foul — while hacked in the act of shooting — with 5 minutes 57 seconds left in the half by flailing a leg between those of Steven Adams, who wound up doubled over.” The New York Daily News, writing after the situation had resolved itself, was less weighed down by compunction: “Green will not be suspended for kicking Thunder center Steven Adams in the nuts during Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday, the league indicated in a release.”

Clearly, a more thorough linguistic examination is in order. Out of practicality, when searching for the terms used by news outlets to describe the incident, I limited the search to online articles, and not broadcast or radio. I used Google’s advanced search function to look for articles in the last week about Adams or Bismack Biyombo, who was punched in the genitals by Dahntay Jones in the Eastern Conference Finals the night before Adams crumpled, and counted up who wrote what.

The sample includes articles from mainstream sports news sites such as ESPN, Yahoo, CBS Sports, Fox Sports and — for strictly liberal-media, East-Coast-bias reasons — a few of the New York tabloids. I threw in some old media standbys (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press) as a control group, as well as general sports blogs like SB Nation and Bleacher Report for more or less the opposite effect. I also sought out the most partial participants: local newspapers for each team, plus dedicated blogs for each team — Daily Thunder (the TrueHoop Network’s blog for the Thunder), Golden State of Mind (SB Nation’s for the Warriors) and Deadspin, a Warriors fan blog based in New York City.2

Here it is, in table form:

PHRASE CBS SPORTS S.I. ESPN FOX OLD MEDIA* NEW MEDIA* ALL OTHERS TOTAL
“Groin” 22 19 18 15 9 23 42
“Below the belt” 4 1 2 4 0 2 4
“Nuts” 0 0 0 1 0 5 9
“Low Blow” 6 0 1 0 0 3 4
“Private area” 5 1 0 1 0 0 5
“Balls” 0 0 0 0 0 6 3
“Between the legs” 0 3 0 0 0 4 2
“Dick” 0 0 0 0 0 8 0
“Groin Area” 1 0 5 0 0 0 0
“Crotch” 1 0 0 0 0 2 2
“Junk” 0 0 0 0 0 4 1
“Nether region” 1 0 1 1 0 0 2
“Midsection” 1 0 0 0 1 2 0
“Penis” 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Other phrases 8 2 2 4 1 13 41
He kicked him where?

*Old media: NY Times, WSJ, AP, Reuters. *New media: Deadspin, SB Nation, Bleacher Report

In 96 articles, totaling a little more than 50,000 words, “groin” was used 148 times across headlines, body and photo captions. Of course, in sports, groin injuries can mean something very different from your basic knee to the crotch. So at best, this creates unnecessary ambiguity in order to demur from coarser language. The next most frequently used was some form of “below the belt” with 17 appearances, followed by “nuts” with 15, “low blow” with 14, a few variations of “private parts” totaling 12, “between the legs” with 10 and “balls” with nine. “Other” variations appeared 71 times, though this number is heavily skewed by a single Yahoo article that used 30 non-standard variations. This category includes a wide range of phrases — “nads” and “cobblers” and “Adams’s apples” alongside recitations of Green’s own softening quote, in which he repeatedly referred to the penis area as “down there.”

But the taxonomy of dong euphemism goes beyond basic totals. ESPN, for instance, is almost uniformly “groin” and “groin area,” while CBS clusters around “below the belt” and “low blow” and SB Nation is heavy on “between the legs.” Deadspin carries both “dick” and “balls,” frequently daisying the two as a complex noun.

Omission is just as much a function of the editorial hand as diction. In six articles appearing on NewsOK.com and Daily Thunder — both Thunder-leaning publications — some term for genitals was used 21 times; in six on SFChronicle.com and Golden State of Mind — Warriors rags — there were 14 mentions.

Perhaps most concerning, the word “penis” appeared just once, in an SB Nation article; the lone appearance of “testicles” came from a CBS podcast teaser; “scrotum” appeared once, pluralized. Any of these, and many of the others, would be preferable to “groin.”

CORRECTION (May 24, 5:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article misidentified the publishing network affiliated with the Daily Thunder blog. It is part of the TrueHoop Network, which is owned by ESPN, and is not an SB Nation blog.

Footnotes

  1. In a lot of ways, this is a fitting absurdity to afflict the NBA pundit class. When the assumption is that complex, instinctual movement can be studied in slow-motion to reveal some very specific truth — when the angle of Andre Iguodala’s arm is a measureable gauge of defensive sophistication — maybe spending 18 hours Zapruder-ing intent out of Vines of a kick to the penis is the proper antidote.

  2. Disclosure: I used to work for Deadspin, where I was made to write Warriors propaganda.

Kyle Wagner is a senior editor at FiveThirtyEight.

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