[Viewpoint]Pull military terms from sports storiesJeong Chae-bong, a fairy-tale writer who died in January 2001, was a sports fan. Mr. Jeong, who hails from Suncheon, South Jeolla province, was a big supporter of the Haitai Tigers, the predecessor of the Kia Tigers, based in Gwangju, South Jeolla province. The Haitai Tigers were on a winning streak at the time, which had made Jeong ecstatic. It does not sound fitting to the writer of such beautiful stories as “Oseam” and “Crescent Moon and Night Boat,” but he used to enjoy watching boxing matches. He admired watching Mike Tyson beat down rivals whose frame seemed larger than his own.
Jeong worked as an editor of the monthly magazine “Ssamteo,” or ‘The Spring Place,” for a long time. Whenever I dropped by his office in Daehangno, he welcomed me with a bright smile, which reminded me of a gourd flower. He used to invite me to get a cup of coffee at a coffee house called Mildawon, which was next door to the Ssamteo magazine office. He would ask me about sports.
When Korean pitcher Sun Dong-yl was doing well for a Japanese professional team, he asked me about the record number of wins by a pitcher in the American major leagues during one season. When Mike Tyson won a match, he wanted to know how many matches the legendary boxer Joe Louis won in his career.
Jeong perused the sports dailies every morning. Since he was a fairy-tale writer, he often frowned at the rough expressions used in the articles. Excessively savage expressions made him feel uncomfortable. Especially in soccer stories, he shuddered at the expression that a forward was “put in fetters” when midfielders successfully defended the forward’s attempt to score. He probably didn’t like the nickname of Sun Dong-yl, the Haitai Tigers pitcher, which was the “Mount Mudeung Bomber,” meaning he was like a mighty bomber from Mount Mudeung, the highest mountain in Gwangju.
In major professional sports events in Korea, such as baseball, football, basketball and volleyball, there are a large number of foreign players; they are often called “mercenaries.”
A mercenary is a hired solder who receives payment to serve in the military. Therefore, it has a negative image. When we call foreign players mercenaries, it implies in our minds that they they are despicable “hired players.”
Pervis Pasco, of the LG Sakers, who last Thursday assaulted a referee and a member of the opposing team after he got fouled, is also a mercenary.
Although he admitted his wrongdoing, Pasco said he was discriminated against because he was “a mercenary” and the umpires pretended that they did not see the fouls committed by the other team, which threatened his safety.
His colleague, Hyun Joo-yeop, supported Pasco’s claim. He said, “Players commit serious fouls against foreign players that they don’t dare commit against a Korean player.”
Perhaps there were people who anticipated an incident like Pasco’s.
A human rights action group, the Korean human rights press monitor group, criticized press outlets that use the word “mercenary” in sports stories as “the ones that change sporting events into wars” on March 23. They are of the opinion that the word “mercenary” spreads the military culture, is misused to divide Koreans and foreigners and degrades human beings to the level of merchandise. The indications and the criticism they make are quite persuasive.
As the remnants of our military culture disappear, military terminology should not be used regularly in sports stories.
According to a press monitoring group, mainstream newspapers used the word “mercenary” at least once or twice per story, and when they used it often, as many as 23 times in a story.
On the contrary, it is difficult to find sports stories that describe Park Ji-sung of Manchester United or Lee Seung-yeop of the Yomiuri Giants as a “mercenaries.”
Jeong, who hated oppression and violence, might have disliked the expression “mercenary.”
On the other hand, he might have thought that it was not that bad of an expression at all. If he did so, it was because Jeong, a devoted Roman Catholic, recalled the Papal Swiss Guards.
The Swiss mercenary soldiers, who currently serve as protection for the Pope, were famous for their sincerity and bravery because they guarded King Charles VIII until the moment all of them were slain by the Spanish.
*The writer is the sports editor of the JoongAng Sunday.
by Hur Jin-seok