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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Talking trash

I like trash talking as much as the next sports fan but with technology today, how do you know when it's gone too far? Whether it's emails, texts, twitter, facebook, or ESPN's "Conversation Section140" there are a lot more outlets today to chide your friends over rivalries or critique your own players/teams performance. Many video games, also, allow online players to talk trash to one another. Trash talk, or talking smack, is not limited to just sports as we see it in politics and other arenas as well but it's my assumption that it has become socially acceptable because of sports. It's well known that Michael Jordan did it a lot and was good at it and some fans believe there is even an art to it. Maybe Jim Rome should get the most credit (or blame) for this becoming an art form with the development and annual event of his radio show's "Smackoff" in which caller's compete for "Best Caller of the Year" honors by degrading rival teams and fans alike. But I believe trash talk is older than Jim and Michael and believe it may go back to the days when fans' “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” signaled life or death for a beaten down gladiator.

And while that's all fine and good - and sometimes quite entertaining - there is a line that gets crossed when you strike a nerve with someone by getting too personal. Moreover, there seems to be less of a filter when people post their smack through technology then what they would say face to face to another in bars or other establishments where rival fans come together. I mean, you say the wrong thing to the wrong person at a bar and you might literally get smacked. The lack of the prospect of this happening through technology allows people the "freedom" to say whatever they want to others.

Fortunately, many sites have policies to govern inappropriateness between fans. But what happens when the reader is not a fan at all, rather the athlete that made a bad play that everyone is trashing?

Recently, two such players have taken a lot of flack from their fans for their crunch time short-comings in Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman and Missouri basketball player Kim English. Brotzman missed two field goals leading to a loss to Nevada that will keep them out of a national championship game. English saved a ball going out of bounds to the other team allowing them to hit a game tying three point basket with no time left in regulation that eventually lead to Missouri's unraveling in over time. Both players received a lot of disapproval the following days and Brotzman even received death threats, including some aimed at his family members.

When you boil it down, smack talk is all about proving oneself to others over something you take (often entirely too much) pride in by degrading something or someone else. Certainly women talk smack, but it seems like they are imitating a very masculine past time and that trash talk is often linked to calling out one's manhood by degrading feminine characteristics. Scenes like the one from The Sandlot come to mind concluding with the ultimate dis in boyhood, "you play like a girl".

I have heard fans argue about how athletes at any level can turn it off by not listening or reading all the comments and, ultimately, someone always says, "sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me". But are these type of comments really the responsibility of the athlete? Do fans really have the freedom to say and do whatever they want? Are personal verbal attacks about someone's on field performance not only OK but something worth rewarding if it leads to others taking another step by leaving death threatening messages? Do boys value girls less in environments where fans and coaches regularly talk smack with put downs like "you throw like a girl" or worse? It's well documented that cyber bullying has lead to death in the forms of suicide and murder - is that what it will take for us to seriously consider when we have taken smack talk too far?


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