THE IDLE AMERICAN: ‘Besmirching’ on the Rise

Published 2:15 am Thursday, October 18, 2018

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury


Roger Summers, one of the all-time great writers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, has long had a way with words. My late mother would have said he “wrote a blue streak.” In retirement, he still takes spells of prolific writing between periods of “hibernation.” (Or maybe it’s the other way around.)

Whatever, his current writing–some on the Internet and some in old-fashioned books that require “page-turning”–remains excellent.

Here lately, he’s been churning out a slew of synonyms for words that dominate the day’s news. Few of them remind us of Shakespeare’s claim that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” More likely, his “word litany” describing our world today is more akin to sportswriter great Blackie Sherrod’s “take” on purity. Sherrod once described some guy being “as pure as the driven slush.” That’s a too-close description of today’s world.

Summers’ lists serve to remind me that I don’t look up word meanings as often as I used to. Maybe I’ve become accustomed to writing the first words that come to mind, or maybe I’ve joined the masses who feel that in communicating–like in tossing horseshoes–it’s quite okay to simply “come close.”

One word that seems to have a new life is “besmirched.” Now that’s a “one-size-fits-all” word these days, whether the topic is news, politics, sports, religion or world hunger.

A Merriam-Webster definition provides many choices. For synonyms, it lists “sully, tarnish, blacken, stain, taint, smear, befoul, soil, contaminate, pollute, disgrace, dishonor, stigmatize, injure, damage, debase, spoil, ruin, slander or defame.” Added is this comment: “When you besmirch something, you cause it to have a smirch. Indeed, there’s a ‘whole lot of smirching going on’.”

Take the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s induction of new members recently. The annual event reeks of accomplishment. This year, however, negativity crept in, since the bright lights of notoriety also shined on Terrell Owens’ induction. Mostly, it centered on his decision NOT to attend the Canton, OH, event. Instead, he threw his OWN party in Chattanooga, TN, where he played college ball.

The HOF admitted him anyway, sadly, “in absentia.” One could have hoped they might have taken a page from the Texas Sports Hall of Fame guidelines. It requires attendance, a lesson Dallas Cowboys great Emmitt Smith learned the hard way.

He was chosen for TSHOF honors in 2003. Upon announcement of his impending induction, his agent said that Smith would attend IF TSHOF could come up with a $25,000 appearance fee. That was Smith’s story, and he stuck to it. Besides, he said a father/daughter banquet was scheduled for the same night. For Smith, his failure to attend was a PR disaster. And, he was NOT admitted to the TSHOF.

Alas, the damage was done. He “besmirched” himself and his profession. Eight years later, he was inducted. This time, he attended the dinner–without requiring an appearance fee.

Sports enthusiasts likely also remember Dallas Cowboys star Zeke Elliott’s recent tardy arrival at an autograph signing session. A long line of his admirers had been standing for more than an hour, some learning upon reaching his table that he would sign ONLY “Elliott paraphernalia” purchased on site.

Much, much more “besmirching” could be cited, but such references would do little more than plunging us more deeply into snow banks of “driven slush

Lord Byron once declared concerning newspapers: “Without offense to friend or foe, we sketch your world exactly as it goes.” For many years, this quote appeared daily on the masthead of the Abilene Reporter-News. In today’s world, we settle for less, bowing instead to whatever flies in social media. In 2018, an approximation is close enough.

We’d do well to re-visit the statement included on most diplomas–“with rights and responsibilities appertaining thereto.”

We should accept the responsibilities–as well as claim the rights–striving for common sense solutions. Today, common sense is in short supply.


Dr. Newbury is a former educator who “commits speeches” round about. Comments/inquiries to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury.