The etiquette of trash talk

Investigating the history of trash talk and whether Varsity Blues athletes believe it has a future
Conor McGregor speaks to the media ahead of UFC 189. ANDRIUS PETRUCENIA/CC WIKIMEDIA
Conor McGregor speaks to the media ahead of UFC 189. ANDRIUS PETRUCENIA/CC WIKIMEDIA

“He is fucked! There’s no other way about it. His little legs, his little core, his little head. I’m gonna knock him out inside four rounds, mark my words.” Those are the words of Conor McGregor, the UFC Lightweight Champion, before his famed fight with professional boxer Floyd Mayweather.

If you had a chance to tune in to any of the press conferences leading up to this recent matchup, you would know that the two fighters are no strangers to a little verbal intimidation. The conferences were filled with the pair exchanging cheeky comments and throwing verbal jabs at one another.

With the exception of UFC and boxing, many sports have rules against trash talk that are enforced by officials and referees, but oftentimes player-to-player chatter goes unnoticed. The verdict is split on whether or not trash talk has a place in sport, and both sides make a compelling argument. Does trash talk have a place in sport or does it simply contradict the values of good sportsmanship and fair competition?

On one side of the argument, we have those who are in favour of using the power of words to gain an advantage. Those who are pro-trash talk often make the argument that it is part of the game.

Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry told ESPN’s The Undefeated, “Trash-talking is part of the game, you have to give it. You have to be able to take it.”

Curry argues that as long as trash talk doesn’t cross personal lines, everything is fair game. Trash talk can lead to frustration and aggression, but in some sports such as hockey and basketball, this type of retaliation is considered one of the most exciting parts of the game.

Not only do advocates argue that it’s just a part of the game, they say that it is simply entertaining. Perhaps the most famous trash talker of all time was late boxer Muhammad Ali, who was notorious for exciting whole crowds of people with poetic jabs like this one directed at George Foreman: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. George can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. He thinks he will, but I know he won’t. They tell me George is good, but I’m twice as nice. And I’m gonna stick to his butt like white on rice.”

On the other side, there are those who feel that the most effective way to get into someone’s head is through action, not mouth. Ultimately, they declare that winners should take their victories with humility and respect because trash talk gets in the way of good sportsmanship. In short, they claim that athletes should let their skills do the talking.

Varsity Blues athletes weigh in

Although Varsity Blues men’s hockey player Evan MacEachern doesn’t consider himself a trash talker, he sees both sides of the argument. “In a game like hockey, where it’s physical contact, it can make tensions high… In contact sports I think that it can bring up the game to a different level,” said MacEachern.

Blues women’s basketball player Keyira Parkes does not identify as a trash talker either, but she says that if the perfect moment presents itself, she might drop a line. She agrees that sometimes trash talk is just a part of the game. She also feels that only some scenarios warrant trash talking.

“I think without it, the game could be just as good,” said Parkes. She does not think it should be banned from sports.

What professional athletes have said

There seems to be a consensus that comments relevant to the flow of the game or about the opponent’s skill are harmless. Judging by the Toronto Star’s interviews with NHL players on the subject of trash talk, professionals feel the same way as the Blues athletes. When asked to comment about what sorts of remarks are acceptable and which are not, most players said that family and race were out of bounds.

A prime example of trash talk gone awry occurred in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Italy. When Italian defender Marco Materazzi began grabbing at Zinedine Zidane’s jersey, Zidane told Materazzi he would have to wait until after the game if he wanted to have his jersey.

Materazzi responded he would rather have Zidane’s sister. Zidane proceeded to head butt him in the chest, earning himself a red card and a one-way ticket out of the game. It is this kind of scenario that those against trash talk hope to avoid, however it is what pro-trash talkers might see as a strategic move for Materazzi, whose team went on to win the World Cup.

Whatever your personal view on trash talk, it’s likely that the practice won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. And for those of you who embrace it, keep in mind that there is still an etiquette to be followed.

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