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Nebraska's new $155 million football facility will cherry-pick ideas to be best, biggest

LINCOLN — A locker room and meeting rooms big enough for coach Scott Frost’s expanded walk-on program.

An iron palace of a weight room sure to be among the largest in college football, and an additional outdoor practice field.

A new training table and academic support facility to serve all of the University of Nebraska’s 600-plus athletes.

NEBRASKA ATHLETICS 

A rendering of the new Husker football facility that Nebraska hopes to have completed by the start of the 2022 season.

And surely lots of other bells and whistles that appeal to hot-shot recruits.

All will be part of a new $155 million football complex announced Friday that should once again make the Huskers’ facilities among the best in the country — a status that had slipped in recent years.

“It will be a state-of-the-art, best facility,” said NU Athletic Director Bill Moos. “I know, because I’ve seen them all.”

Many of the design details for what NU officials are calling the “Go Big” project are still being worked out. Moos said the school is still “cherry-picking ideas” from other facilities around the country.

But whatever the final features, Moos and Chancellor Ronnie Green said they were sure the facility would be among the largest of its kind in the country.

“This level of investment will put us at the top of the country,” Green said in an interview. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Officials hope to break ground on the new facilities by next summer and then open them in time for the 2022 football season.

The new facilities will be built with $100 million in new donor funds, athletic department reserves and other revenues generated by the athletic department, which is one of only a handful in the country that are self-supporting. Green said the project will be financed without any tax, tuition or other public dollars.

Moos said the concept has been well-received by donors, and about 40% of the private funds are already committed.

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Nebraska's new football facility will feature all the amenities for Scott Frost's expanded roster, plus a few bells and whistles. “It will be a state-of-the-art, best facility,” said NU Athletic Director Bill Moos. “I know, because I’ve seen them all.”

The footprint for the new three-story facility will sit on part of the current location of the Ed Weir track, just northeast of Memorial Stadium. As part of the plans, a new track facility will be built on the school’s Innovation Campus, closer to the current Devaney Center indoor track and track offices.

The next step will be approval from the NU Board of Regents next month. Green said recently departed NU President Hank Bounds is also continuing to consult with him on the project and is helping to raise the funds.

Friday’s announcement, held on an outdoor stage set up on the east side of Memorial Stadium, marked the start of a big weekend for Nebraska football.

The stage was just a long punt away from where ESPN has set up for its Saturday morning “College GameDay” show. On Saturday night, 3-1 Nebraska has a much-anticipated matchup against undefeated No. 5 Ohio State.

The new facilities announcement comes just 13 years after Nebraska’s last $50 million upgrade to its football complex, which included new weight facilities and a new indoor practice facility. At the time, they gave NU what then-coach Bill Callahan called the finest facilities in the country.

Those facilities remain pretty impressive today, still the envy of most schools.

But in recent years NU has been left far behind by dozens of other schools, as football programs attempt to lure recruits with ever-more extravagant and flashy new digs. NU officials said all but a couple of the schools in the Power Five conferences have done some updating to football facilities since NU last did.

In the Big Ten, even traditionally low-ranking programs like Purdue and Illinois in recent years have upgraded. Northwestern spent $275 million on a football facility and practice field that overlooks Lake Michigan. Iowa opened a $55 million facility in 2015.

It’s all relative, but earlier this year, Moos guessed that NU’s facilities ranked eighth or ninth in the Big Ten.

For a traditional football power like Nebraska, which just last weekend became only the sixth program in college football history to win 900 games, that’s seen as just not acceptable.

“To be honest, we’ve fallen a little behind,” Frost said during the announcement Friday.

Green said the biggest problem with the current facilities is they’re simply too small.

The locker room and meeting room were built for about 125 players, as Callahan had moved to scale back the school’s tradition-rich walk-on program.

Frost has since built back the program to grow the roster to more than 150 players, the largest among the Power Five schools. Moos on Friday said the roster could one day reach 170 players.

With the team’s current cramped quarters, the school is using an auxiliary locker room, and during full team meetings some players sit on the steps or wherever they can find open space.

During Big Ten media days this summer, Frost said it was likely time for the university to step up again.

“Really what you want to do is give high school kids as many reasons as possible as you can give them to come to Lincoln, Nebraska, and play football,” he said.

NEBRASKA ATHLETICS 

A rendering of the new Husker football facility that Nebraska hopes to have completed by the start of the 2022 season.

NU is certainly doing that now with the 350,000-square-foot plan it rolled out Friday, one that Frost said showed Nebraska is committed to competing on the highest level.

A new athletic medicine facility, equipment room, other meeting rooms and new offices for Frost and his coaches are also part of the new building that’s being called the North Stadium Addition. The current NU locker room will continue to be used on game days.

Though the plan is geared for football, Frost said he wanted a facility that would benefit all Husker athletes. That’s why the new academic and dining facilities for all athletes are part of the plan. 

Athletic officials said the new facilities will benefit fans, too, with new “vertical transportation” — presumably elevators or escalators — to help fans get in and out of the North Stadium.

The current academic center under the West Stadium will eventually become additional club amenities for football fans. And the home of the current training table will become a kitchen for Memorial Stadium, which doesn’t currently have one.

Some of the football facilities built around the country include some interesting — and some would argue frivolous — amenities intended to appeal to recruits.

Louisiana State has sleeping pods in lockers where players can take naps. Clemson has a slide. Several schools have barbershops. But if NU is planning such things, Moos wasn’t tipping his hand Friday.

“Oh yeah, you’ve gotta have a barbershop,” Moos said with a laugh. “I don’t know if we’re going to. We may. The important thing is that it serves our young people and that it’s a home for Husker football where they get everything they need.”

Touted freshman receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, who was one of the highest ranked recruits in the nation a year ago, said he already thinks NU facilities are good. But he was sure the new ones planned will attract “more recruits like myself.”

Husker fans are no doubt hoping the new facilities will help NU get back to being a top-10 program, a place it hasn’t occupied in nearly two decades.

Moos said when he was hired, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told him that “Nebraska needs to get back to being Nebraska.” Along with the hiring of Frost, Moos said, the new facilities are a step in that direction.

On college campuses, big investments in athletic facilities can invite questions from some about misplaced priorities. But Green did not back away at all from what NU is trying to accomplish, both athletically and academically.

He noted the campus is in the midst of a $350 million academic building boom that includes a recently opened $84 million business college and a just-announced $85 million engineering school. The athletic plans will put the new campus construction over half a billion dollars.

“We expect to compete at the highest levels both academically and athletically,” Green said. “And we know we need to make these investments to do that in athletics.”

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New Nebraska football facility will be a boon for recruiting, help 'get some more banners'

LINCOLN — Six days after he saved Nebraska football’s bacon at Illinois, true freshman Wan’Dale Robinson walked to a lectern outside Memorial Stadium and stumped for the new football facility that would appear behind him in three years.

Hopefully, Robinson joked, he’s still at NU in 2022, when the North Stadium expansion project is scheduled to open.

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Then, the highest-ranked prospect in NU’s 2019 recruiting class — the top-100 player with enough smarts and talent to play running back and receiver in the 42-38 comeback win over the Illini — gave a quick pitch to the audience.

“Adding this facility is just going to attract more recruits like myself,” he said. “Attract more people who want to come here.”

In a sport where talent acquisition never stops, where coaches spend hours on planes and in homes to persuade some left guard to sign his named on a dotted line, Nebraska can reap one of the biggest benefits of the new football facility and athletic complex right now, even this weekend, when countless prospects from several sports — football and men’s basketball especially — descend on campus for the Ohio State football game.

“This is going to help all sports starting today,” said Matt Davison, NU’s associate athletic director for football. “Every sport is recruiting today. Those kids are going to have a chance to enjoy this wonderful facility.”

Nebraska, located in the middle of America away from major talent bases, needs every advantage and perk it can get.

“We’ve got to go head-to-head with the top programs in the country,” Athletic Director Bill Moos said. “Michigan, Ohio State, USC, Texas, Alabama, Florida. We need to be in those same high schools and junior colleges to get that caliber of talent if we want to get some more banners in that building. That’s our intent. This building is going to help us.”

How?

An understanding of Nebraska’s current facility situation with North Stadium and the impact new facilities can have in recruiting reveal a few ways:

  • The Huskers have good facilities now in North Stadium, but they’re too small for coach Scott Frost’s preferred roster size and create stress on the support staff. Head strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval has had to do extra shifts of weight lifting to accommodate all the players. Some walk-ons sit in the aisles of Nebraska’s main meeting rooms. Some of the hallways are tight. Nebraska’s players currently have to be spread over two locker rooms.

Bigger won’t just be better, it’ll be more efficient for Husker football.

“I can’t emphasize enough the size of it, the hallways being wider, the seats being wider, the door frames being wider,” Moos said of the new facility.

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Nebraska, located in the middle of America away from major talent bases, needs every advantage and perk it can get. “We’ve got to go head-to-head with the top programs in the country,” Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos said.

  • Nebraska’s new facility will be a one-stop shop for Husker football players vs. separate areas for eating, working on academics and working on football. ESPN “GameDay” analyst Kirk Herbstreit touted the functionality of new facilities.

“Kids get great value out of these facilities,” Herbstreit said. “It’s not just for recruits to see, ‘there they are, aren’t they great, now stay.’ You get to use them. They’re for you as a player. The bigger and better these facilities are, the more it sends a message to players and the pride it builds within a program.”

  • Nebraska’s new facility fits snugly between Memorial Stadium and the Hawks Center. This is rare among programs, Davison said. Only four or five programs, he said, can have the kind of connectivity among all three buildings that NU will provide.

Take, for example, Iowa. The Hawkeyes have a four-year-old football building with all the bells and whistles, and it’s attached to the new indoor football practice area. As a match set, it’s nicer and more convenient than what Nebraska has now.

It’s also across the parking lot from Kinnick Stadium. At Michigan, Schembechler Hall is on State Street. Michigan Stadium is on Main Street. A basketball arena, among other things, sits between the two buildings.

NU’s setup has continuous flow.

“A lot of places have built brand-new facilities, but they may not have a perfect spot for it,” Davison said.

  • Yes, it’ll help recruiting. The key buzzword is “commitment.” That’s the word coaches and administrators use to suggest longevity and permanence of a program.

Davison used the phrase “100 years” when talking about the facility, and likely not by accident. Commitments stand the test of time.

Constant change — which NU football has experienced the past 15 years — can be a turnoff to top recruits. A facility speaks to establishment.

“Young people today are looking at ‘what can you do to help me to where I want to be, my dreams?’ ” Moos said. “We can do (a) pretty good job of that right now, and we’re doing a good job of it. But when we get this building, it’ll be even that much better.”

When Frost arrived at Nebraska, his to-do list was long and didn’t initially include an upgrade of NU’s facilities. But Davison talked to Frost about facilities before Frost even took the job, and Davison liked Moos so much in part because he knew that Moos liked to build facilities and had just completed a palace at Washington State nicer than Nebraska’s current setup.

Over time, Frost came around to the idea of needing facilities sooner rather than later. He wanted it to incorporate all student-athletes — with the training table and academic advising area — and touted how it fits in to the rest of campus.

And if it helps land more Wan’Dale Robinsons, all the better.

“It’s going to make a big difference for us from a recruiting standpoint, from a unity standpoint and eventually from the standpoint of success in our football program,” Frost said. “It’s only going to accelerate the program and momentum we already had.”

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Grace: 'Hamilton' asks, 'Who tells your story?' Omaha veteran has an answer

During the final number of the smash Broadway musical “Hamilton,” I didn’t think of the production’s namesake (founding father Alexander Hamilton), its genius author (Lin-Manuel Miranda) or the powerful actors on stage. Nor did I even consider my sweet children watching in pure rapture.

Instead, as the refrain swelled, I thought of Howard Hansen. I thought of the 81-year-old Navy vet living in Millard with his wife of 60 years, Anita. I thought of their tidy split-level and their granddaughter Valerie, who painstakingly listened to her grandfather tell his life story, recorded it, transcribed it and made copies for the whole family.

The final song of “Hamilton” asks an important, poignant question.

Pointing out that Hamilton died before his time, the refrain goes: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

This made me think of Howard and the day he called. Howard wanted to kvetch about politics, specifically how some Democratic candidates for president want to make college free.

Hooey, he said. You could have a perfectly good life, a successful life and productive life, he argued, without college. Exhibit A, he said, was his own experience joining the U.S. Navy. The Navy gave him job training. It took him all over the world. It gave him a solid middle-class living and it gave him pride.

If I wanted proof, Howard went on, he could show me this book his granddaughter had made several years back.

ERIN GRACE/THE WORLD-HERALD 

A life story written by Howard Hansen's granddaughter, Valerie.

I confess I had zero interest in debating the merits of a college education, let alone a free one. But I did have every interest in seeing this book and writing about the larger story conveyed in its pages of photos and maps and Howard’s jolly, can-you-believe-this voice.

Alexander Hamilton was a not-small historical figure who is probably best known for how he died — by fatal gunshot in a duel — than by how he lived. Hamilton had the ultimate American immigrant bootstraps story that involved helping George Washington win the Revolutionary War, pulling together the U.S. Constitution and setting up the U.S. financial system.

But his story really exploded on the modern consciousness after Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow’s 818-page biography was published in 2005. It was a bestseller.

Miranda, the musical composer, had picked it up at an airport and was so riveted by the tale that he decided to write a musical about it. A rap musical.

The rest is history. Alexander Hamilton is now a household name. (My son has a rapper-style ball cap that says A. Ham.)

Howard Hansen is not a household name. He is not a major force of history. But his life counts, and his story matters, and the fact he was able to tell it and someone was able to listen and write it down and make copies is an important example.

A couple of weeks ago, I was set to do a story on a 95-year-old woman who wanted to tell it herself. Then she died. Her daughter, son, sister and I tried to tell the story.

But you don’t have to be a journalist to know that the best account comes from the primary source.

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Take Howard.

He’d drop a little detail or tell a little story about his Navy career or life in small-town Nebraska and his kids or grandkids would say: We didn’t know that! They wanted him to tell his story, and Howard finally said OK. Valerie Moran, who had edited the literary magazine at her high school, Millard South, felt like she had some background in this. She became her grandfather’s scribe.

Plus, Valerie was curious: “He’s been all over the world. But I was born and raised here and didn’t travel too far.”

Now 30, Valerie met with her grandfather, taped a 45-minute interview and had a first draft of his 27 years in the U.S. Navy. It was seven pages long.

He’d entered as a 17-year-old, reenlisted in his 20s and retired in 1983 at age 45. His career included stints on Midway Island, at the Keflavik Naval base in Iceland, in Alaska, in Pakistan, near Cuba during the missile blockade of 1962. He served during Vietnam. He served stateside and had to go to a Nebraska home to tell a family that their son had been badly wounded.

Howard was stationed in Omaha in 1978, where he’d stay. He had risen to the rank of chief petty officer and had won the Navy’s national recruiting coordinator of the year award for his work in recruiting. Nebraska’s then-Gov. Bob Kerrey appointed him to an admiralship in the Nebraska Navy, which is both an honor and a joke.

When Howard retired in 1983 at the rank of master chief petty officer, the Navy gave him a nice send-off: “Howard M. Hansen, departing.”

Howard then went to work at H&H Chevrolet as a service adviser and dispatcher. In 2000, he left that job to deliver light fixtures for Lighting World, where Valerie works.

ERIN GRACE/THE WORLD-HERALD/  

Howard Hansen with granddaughter, Valerie, who wrote his life’s story and made copies for family members.

But she wanted to know more about his pre-Navy life, which led to more interviews and more recordings and more transcription, which resulted in this 58-page book. It includes a colorful index of naval aircraft photographs and descriptions, naval carrier photographs and particulars, a map of the world showing Hansen’s Navy appointments on four continents and definitions of naval insignia.

The life story covers basic biography: Howard was born in 1938 in Seward, Nebraska. His father was a Danish immigrant. His mother was the daughter of Oklahoma homesteaders. She had married, had two children and had been widowed. Howard wound up with six siblings.

Life wasn’t easy. When Howard was 1, the family moved to Tecumseh. Then they bought a farm near Burchard. Howard’s childhood was one of adventure and travail. He fell off a tractor and got run over by the grain drill. He fell off their horse, Cab. He nearly lost a finger when he stuck it into a pump.

A 1948 snowstorm stranded the family 2 miles from town for days. Howard, at age 10, shot game, like rabbit, squirrel and pheasant, that became the family dinner. The family telephone was a party line, which meant neighbors could hear one another’s phone calls.

Hansen was quarterback for his school’s six-man football team and a starting guard for the Burchard basketball team at 5 feet and “a whopping 85 pounds.”

When his father died of cancer, the family moved to “the big city,” Beatrice. Howard was 13. He had a newspaper route. He went fishing. When he graduated from high school in May 1956, he stood 5-foot-7 and weighed 117 pounds. Just 17, he was able to enlist in the U.S. Navy under a special program that promised he’d be out by age 21.

He figured college wasn’t an option for someone of little means like him.

Howard exited the Navy the first time at age 21 and then reentered after meeting and marrying Anita, who worked in a Beatrice cafe. He warned her that the Navy life would mean time apart, sacrifice and frequent moves. He warned her that this would be their life for at least the next 17 years.

Anita signed on.

ERIN GRACE/THE WORLD-HERALD  

Howard Hansen with wife, Anita. 

“We thought the Navy was a chance to have something. It was a way of life that gave us the chance to make something of ourselves,” Howard said in his book.

And it’s something he keeps saying in that house in Millard where he and Anita have lived for the past 41 years. The Navy showed Howard the world. It gave him skills and a salary and a pension. It gave him pride and a sense that you didn’t have to go to college to be somebody.

It gave him an entry point for his life story. But as Valerie discovered, there was a lot more to who her grandpa is than his long service.

“His life just has so many interesting things in it,” she said.

The book was finished in 2015 and was handed out at Christmas. Valerie made some 20 copies for the family: her grandparents, aunts and uncles and the grandchildren and Howard’s siblings.

The book still brings joy. Howard pulls it off his shelf and reads it. And remembers things. He finds the exercise “wonderful and entertaining.”

Valerie is not done. The story is not over. She is currently working on her grandmother’s book.

The final scene in “Hamilton” makes the point that the musical’s namesake did not live to tell his story. Thus the song: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

Howard Hansen can provide this answer: He does. He lived to tell his own story. And that story continues.

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What the… ? Politicians have opened floodgate of curse words

The subject line, targeting President Donald Trump, was purposely provocative: a string of angry emojis and a call to "dump the *%5E*%#%/!!!!!!!"

"Sometimes," read the email launching a progressive fundraising drive, "cursing is required."

Sometimes actually seems to be quite often, as the path to the White House has become a blue streak of vulgarity, cuss words and four-letter effusions.

Trump and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker have employed a barnyard-related epithet numerous times. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has offered a crude reworking of his campaign's catch phrase, governors get stuff done. Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke markets T-shirts echoing his profanely stated concern about gun violence and proudly boasts of his off-color vocabulary.

"I was talking to some people today," he said during a recent stop in Los Angeles, "and somebody said, 'I'm so glad that you say f —, because I say f —.' "

The profusion of profanity, which has drastically increased during the 2020 campaign, stems from numerous factors, including the conventions of a less decorous society, the cultural influence of anything-goes cable TV and the Internet, and, not least, a president who began shredding political norms and behavioral boundaries the moment he launched his candidacy.

Because of Trump's success, "politicians on both sides of the aisle are thinking, 'Maybe profanity, which seems less scripted and guarded, is something I should try out,' " said Karrin Vasby Anderson, an author and political communications expert at Colorado State University.

Indeed, GovPredict, a public affairs software firm that aggregates data for trade groups and other clients, has found a notable rise in foul-mouthed political speech in the last five years and, especially, since the presidential campaign began in earnest this year. Researchers scouring Twitter found more than 2,400 uses of profanity by state and federal lawmakers so far this year — "jackass" and "crap" being the mildest of 13 epithets tallied — compared with fewer than 850 in all of 2018.

The cussing has become so contagious that ABC warned participants in the last Democratic debate that there would be no broadcast delay, hence no time to bleep four-letter words. "Candidates should therefore avoid cursing or expletives in accordance with federal law," the network urged. (Save for the odd "damn" and "hell," the 10 spirited contestants complied.)

Other broadcasters and news organizations have had to relax their standards or find creative means of quotation to avoid offending their audiences.

It's not as though politicians are national arbiters of good taste.

Columnist Judith Martin, who has spent decades defending standards of decorum and politesse under the pen name Miss Manners, said no one should look to elected officials to model upstanding speech or good behavior. "That would be pretty pathetic," she said, though "not as bad as looking to rock stars and movie stars."

Nor should the occasional, , or not so occasional, curse word come as a surprise. Politicians are people, after all, and not plaster saints.

That said, the many indelicate utterances of President Richard Nixon, famously rendered as "expletive deleted" in transcripts of his secret White House tapes, still held the capacity to shock when they were revealed nearly half a century ago.

Eyebrows arched in 2000 when George W. Bush, running for president, described a NewYork Times political writer as a "major league a — hole" and again in 2010 when Vice President Joe Biden used an unprintable modifier ("this is a big f — ing deal") to express his enthusiasm over signing of the Affordable Care Act.

In each of those episodes, however, the statements weremeant to be private. Nixon appealed to the Supreme Court to fight public release of the raw tapes, along with their evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and Bush and Biden were both inadvertently caught speaking on hot microphones.

What's different about today's cursing candidates is the deliberate nature of their unrefined language.

Trump, a virtuoso at reading a crowd, seems to note the frisson of excitement at rallies when he employs "hell" for added emphasis, as in suggesting those in the country illegally need to "get the hell out" of the United States.

Trump's use of the bovine epithet to impugn the White House investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller went over so well at a gathering of conservative activists, the president repeated it days later on the campaign trail. Soon after, a variant, #RidiculousBull, surfaced on Twitter.

The White House declined to comment on Trump's use of profanity.

John Murphy, an expert on political rhetoric and its evolution, sees a degree of calculation in the cussing.

"It's a way to say, 'I'm so passionate about this issue it's just bursting out of me,' " said Murphy, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. "It's a sign of authenticity: 'I'm real.' "

O'Rourke suggested as much when asked recently about his not-infrequent dropping of f-bombs. Earlier this year, he forswore their use after being confronted by a concerned voter in Wisconsin.

"We already have one vulgar-inchief," said the man at a meet-andgreet in Madison. "Do we need to replace him with another?"

"Great point," O'Rourke responded. "And I don't intend to use the f-word going forward."

That changed in the aftermath of August's mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, when the candidate fell back on his old speech pattern, offering four-letter commentary on both Twitter and national TV. In defense, he said the normal parameters of debate are too confining for these highly contentious times.

"Our political rhetoric and our language has really been insufficient in describing just what is happening in this country today and the threat posed by Donald Trump," O'Rourke said after a heart-rending tour of Los Angeles' skid row. "I think the focus-group-driven, poll-tested triangulated careful language has kept us from seeing things for what they are, calling them by their true name.

"And when something's f — ed up," he said, "saying it's f — ed up is really important."

Kathryn Jones, who heads an umbrella group for progressive organizations, the Collective Agency, offered the same crisis-mode justification for her provocative press release referring to the president as *%5E*%#%/!!!!!!!

"The idea of being nice and (politically correct) just feels useless and old news," Jones said. "These past three years have been taxing on all of us, personally and politically, and now is not the time to be worried about who we're offending."

There is, however, a risk of backlash from voters accustomed to more dignified language and comportment from those who aspire to sit in the Oval Office.

Judging from her 90-year-old mother, for one, Penn State's Mary Stuckey believes older voters are farmore likely to cringe than thrill to the sound of a White House contestant in unexpurgated flight.

"She's used to my potty mouth. But she doesn't want to hear it from her president," said Stuckey, who studies political communication and campaign rhetoric. "Many people would prefer their professionals to be professional."