kyle lowry and the power of profanity

words: nathaniel friedman

Kyle Lowry didn’t even attempt to check himself. When asked about Trump’s Muslim ban, the Raptors guard said exactly what he felt, repeating it four times for emphasis. Coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr had already spoken eloquently and at great length about the issue. Lowry went somewhere else altogether. The reporter’s joke about “try[ing] it again without swearing” wholly misses the point. This was when professionalism falls away, when polished spokesmen lash out like private citizens. There was no other way he could have put it. The profanity was the sentiment.

It was an act of desperation that, at least for those of us lucky enough to be decent human beings, was instantly resonant. Like Lowry, we’re struggling to keep up appearances, wading through days as if trapped in a dream state, wanting so badly to talk or think about something else but finding ourselves constantly drawn back in. We are unsure of what is happening right now other than that it is profane and cruel and we may have to become a little more like that ourselves to make it through. It’s a feeling that’s new to many of us, that of being unable to escape the things that feel senseless—or even step back, catch our breath, and get some much needed perspective.

We wield profanity for all sorts of reasons. We swear when we’re angry and when we’re joyous; when we’re beaten down and when we’re lifted up; when we’re defiant and when we’re resigned; when we’re lost when we’re found; when we’re suffering and when we’re experiencing tremendous relief; when we’re dismissive and when we’re engaged; when we’ve got swagger and when we’re utterly defeated. Nothing quite encapsulates the full range of human experience quite like “fuck,” “shit,” “damn,” and “hell.” Lowry’s “it’s bullshit” may have been a knee-jerk response but it was probably more apt than what Popovich and Kerr had to say as a reflection on both the ban and the state we’re living in. Our current situation is as indecipherable as it is unthinkable. It’s hard to know exactly what to say because there’s so much to say. We’re torn in several directions at once, including that most basic binary of despair and the possibility of transcendence.

Pop and Kerr did what responsible, reasonable people are supposed to do in unstable times: They assessed the situation, collected their thoughts, and advocated for what they believe. But what if this kind of rational discourse is dead and gone, or at least inaccessible to us at this point in history? Lowry manages a cursory nod to “home of the free” before shutting it down. His point’s been made and everything after that is superfluous. Nothing can ground him—or us—other than profanity. It’s inherently unstable but oddly reassuring, like it knows all the ways that life is mess and is all the more solid for it. It’s the shambles that we call our own, a way to bridge together things that don’t belong and yet force their unity upon us at every single turn. It affirms everything we know about ourselves and allows us to fully confront the things we can’t explain.  

For all the deep morality coursing through protest crowds, the underlying mood is outrage, a rejection of not only what we’re seeing but how it makes us feel. This isn’t us and this isn’t ours; to take it back, we’ve got to return to the things we know best, to what we know to be true about ourselves and what we’d like to believe this country stands for. That’s a tall order, to be sure. You take hits along the way and feel every one of them. But you also realize that everything that’s happening is not as unfamiliar as it seems, that the way forward will be unmistakably human because the worst that people can dish out cannot be met with more inhumanity.

In moments like this, we become bigger than we were before, not smaller—more complex and maybe a little less persuasive, capable of embracing what’s truly profane. To move forward, we’re going to need a healthy dose of idealism, faith, and resolve. To find that, each of us needs a Kyle Lowry moment, where everything comes bubbling up the surface and we fully admit to ourselves just how mixed-up and preposterous we are inside, we find a way to accept it all, and let out one big, collective “it’s bullshit.”