Lez stirs controversy at Scrabble championship
August 07 2004 12:00 AM ET
It wasn't a four-letter word, but it was close enough to cause a stir at the National Scrabble Championship in New Orleans on Thursday. In the final round, eventual champion Trey Wright played the word lez, which was on a list of offensive words not allowed during the tournament. Normally, no word is off-limits, but because the games were being taped for broadcast on ESPN, certain terms had been deemed inappropriate, including the three-letter slang for lesbian. "There are words you just can't show on television," National Scrabble Association executive director John Williams said.
Wright, a 30-year-old concert pianist from Los Angeles, played the word and then drew two replacement tiles so quickly that the referee didn't notice at first. When he did, he said the slang term had to go. ESPN officials told Williams the word could stay, but the issue was that Wright had already selected new tiles. "He violated the rules. But there were also people who were upset that the
word was played," Williams said. Eric Chaiken, a tournament participant and director of Word Wars, a documentary about the Scrabble championship, said the definition of offensive is open to interpretation. "The ultimate absurdity is that you can't play the word redskins on ESPN," he said.
Williams spoke with Wright and his opponent, David Gibson, and then called an emergency meeting of the Scrabble advisory board. The board unanimously agreed to remove the word. Wright then returned the two tiles he had selected and played a different word, Williams said. "We kind of took two steps back," he said. Wright, using more innocent words like feijoa (an evergreen shrub) and zebu (a domesticated ox), won the best-of-five final round in three games and pocketed a $25,000 prize. "Meaning has no consideration when I play," Wright said.