What Manziel and Morris Day Have in Common

It was amazingly easy to find a volunteer for this photo. Thanks?

It was amazingly easy to find a volunteer for this photo. Thanks?

Well Johnny Manziel, after being fined $12K for flipping the bird to MY Washington Redskins during Monday Night Football this week, you can take heart that you are in some pretty historic company making that gesture.

And I must admit, having tossed up a few “salutes” myself over 20 years of Washington DC traffic, I got to thinking “What does the bird mean anyway?” (Besides a really awesome Morris Day and the Time song.)

Dating back to ancient Greek and Roman cultures, not surprisingly, “the finger” means a phallus, and the two fingers on either side, the testicles. In fact, whether Latin, Greek or otherwise, the etymology almost always means sexual affectations.

In other words, with the exception of those who showed the sign as a way to thwart evil, you silly boys haven’t changed one bit in 3,000 years. Classical scholars such as Aristophanes, Erasmus, and Diogenes Laertius referred to it; today, Madonna, Ronald Reagan, Johnny Cash, Ron Artest and Justin Bieber have publicly let their finger flag fly.

The gesture is reputed to have arrived in America after the Civil War, likely through Italian immigrants. It wasn’t long, however Johnny, before athletes found it useful. The first documented use of “read between the lines” appeared around 1886 by baseball player Old Hoss Radbourn, a pitcher with the Boston Beaneaters—he definitely did it in a photograph (top row, far left); allegedly it was to send a message to their rivals, the New York Giants.

So that’s something you can think about, Johnny Football, as you’re sitting the bench in the #2 spot for Cleveland. You are in good company, sure, but next time, when you have yet to take a single snap in a real NFL game as a starting quarterback, put your money where your finger is.

Oh wait, you just did.

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