A Brief Note on Trash Talking
Talking smack to your opponents is fun, as long as the game is still in the balance
One day during high school basketball practice, my coach set up a drill to help teach our team to set up our transition defense. My job as point guard was to dribble the ball down the court quickly while the defenders got themselves set.
First time down the court, I stopped at the top of the key, found myself open and shot the ball.
Coach blew the whistle and started yelling at me. “Schneider!” he barked, “this drill is to get the defense set up! You have to be a hell of a player to take a pull-up three on a break!” (This was before the Steph Curry era made it common.)
We ran it back. I dribbled the ball quickly down the court, once again found myself at the top of the key, and once again jacked up a shot. I looked at my coach and he was purple. I thought he was going to have a stroke.
“What did I JUST TELL YOU?” he yelled.
I put my hands in the air and said, “all I heard was that you have to be a hell of a player to take that shot.”
As an overconfident young athlete, I was always an inveterate trash-talker. I would ask opposing players if they wanted me to beat them with my right or left hand. I would tell them where I was going to take the next shot from and then do it. (With sporadic results. But when it works, there is nothing like it.)
Talking shit during any sporting event is a time-honored tradition, and it makes competition even more engaging. Ask anyone who had to stand in front of Michael Jordan or Larry Bird and try to guard them while listening to a stream of obscenities about what was going to happen to them. (Bird would famously taunt his opponents by telling them he was insulted when they tried to guard him with another white guy.)
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, the best player in college basketball, also enjoys the fine art of trash talk. When she gets hot, which she did often in leading her school to this week’s national championship game, she will let opponents know it. Whether it’s holding up three fingers to remind everyone she just hit a three-pointer or waving her hand in front of her face a la John Cena (known as the “you can’t see me” gesture), she is not afraid to give other players the business. (Cena himself has approved of her use of the gesture.)
But at the end of Sunday’s National Championship Game, Clark found herself on the other end of some effusive trash talk. With around ten seconds left in the game and LSU comfortably ahead, the Tigers’ Angel Reese gave the John Cena gesture right back to Clark, following her to make sure she saw it. Reese pointed at her finger to signify that she had won a ring.
Reese was unapologetic after the game, saying she had been plotting the taunt all night. She pointed to Clark’s actions on Friday night, when she refused to even guard South Carolina’s Raven Johnson, even dismissing her with a disrespectful wave.
“I don’t take disrespect lightly,” said Reese. “I was in my bag, I was in my moment,” she said.
The typical bros on Twitter erupted. Clay Travis of Outkick.com thought Reese’s gesture should have been a technical foul, saying “dudes might fight over taunting like this.” Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports was even more exercised, calling Reese a “classless piece of shit.”
Then, of course, there were Reese’s defenders. “Stop policing women and women sports differently,” tweeted former NFL linebacker and current Fox Sports 1 analyst Emmanuel Acho. According to Acho, Reese’s taunt was no different than a linebacker doing a dance after sacking Aaron Rodgers or a cornerback celebrating a pass he had broken up. Numerous people posted video of Clark doing the Cena to a Louisville player earlier in the tournament, and wondered why she was being treated differently.
The answer for some, of course, is because Reese is black and Clark is white. In these types of situations, this is always the first question I ask myself. Would Clark’s actions be just as disrespectful if she had done it to Reese after the game had long since been decided? Are we treating women’s trash talk differently than we would treat men because our expectations of them are different? (During the game, I actually tweeted some praise for LSU sub Jasmine Carson, cognizant that I had only been praising the lily-white Clark.)
Virtually the entire LSU team had been yapping at Iowa all game. Which is fun - it got themselves and their fans pumped up. But even after being run through the filter of race and gender, Reese’s behavior at the end of the game was still boorish.
Yes, Clark has done many of the same disrespectful things to opponents. But as in most circumstances, context matters. It is one thing to talk shit to your opponents as the game is going on. This is the nature of competition - you talk, and it puts pressure on you to back it up. And it gives your opponent the chance to prove you wrong.
(This actually happened in the Iowa versus South Carolina game - after Clark’s dismissive wave, the Gamecocks’ Johnson stepped up and nailed three clutch three-pointers late in the game.)
But it is an entirely different thing to taunt your opponents after the outcome of the game has been decided. Clark was likely feeling the worst she has ever felt on a basketball court. To rub it in at that point is cheap and unsportsmanlike.
Trash talk is fun while the competition is going on - but when the game is over, it loses its point. Reese’s defenders are willingly failing to understand the appropriateness of time and place. Singing Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” at the top of your lungs at karaoke is adorable; singing it while a funeral is going on will likely get you cut out of the will.
Clark, probably the mentally toughest player in college basketball, spent the post-game press conference sobbing. But she didn’t get to be as dominant as she is by worrying about other players trash talking her. She will be back next year, perhaps getting a chance to exact revenge on LSU. Ultimately, l’affaire smack talk will amount to nothing.
Lost in all this, of course, is the fact that LSU deserved the championship - they made shot after shot after shot en route to scoring 102 points in a 40-minute game. But when they pulled away near the end, it would have been far more sportsmanlike to let their game do the talking.
A few of my pieces at National Review Online have been posted since we last talked. Here are a few:
In early March, I wrote about the myth that American sports somehow proves that “Socialism” works:
American sports leagues are not an example of socialism — they are a strong refutation of it. Each league is a mega-corporation acting in a free market in competition for entertainment dollars. And the one product each league has to sell is competition.
The socialism-in-sports dorks think each NBA team is like a separate fast-food chain, all competing for customers, until the league levels the playing field by taxing the rich ones and giving to the poor ones.
But this has it completely wrong. It is the sports leagues themselves that are the burger joints in competition with one another, and the leagues’ skyrocketing revenues are proof that the free-market battle for sports dollars is fierce, thriving, and conducive to creating a superior product.
In a later column, I wrote about how different America will look when paper cash money goes away. It won’t be good:
There is nothing more American than the dollar bill and the independence it offers. No matter where you are in the country, it speaks the regional dialect. It fits neatly in your pocket, it can survive a run through the wash, and it intimidates people. Would anyone actually feel threatened if Clint Eastwood chomped on a cigar and declared he was in search of “a fistful of PayPal”?
Some municipalities, like Evanston, Ill., are considering ordinances to block businesses from going completely cash-free. The businesses say that going cashless protects their employees from being held up and that customers prefer other payment methods.
But poor people are also less likely to have credit cards, bank accounts, and smartphones with which to make purchases. Eliminating cash transactions effectively bars them from an establishment. (And how are you supposed to give money to homeless people on the street when there is no longer any cash? If you wave your phone over a hobo, not only does it not give the fellow a dollar, it provokes the hobo’s ire.)
A couple weeks ago, I bemoaned the death of the “Reagan Republican:”
If you are a politician who enabled Trump during his nearly eight years in politics, you have forever forfeited your claim to being a “Reagan Republican.” His disqualifying flaws were known to every GOP politician from the start. And every time a road had to be chosen between Trumpism and Reaganism, virtually every elected Republican veered toward MAGA.
No member of Congress who voted against impeaching Trump after he sicced his supporters on the Capitol should ever be trusted again. As Trump’s social-media posts get more deranged and unintelligible, it makes the votes to retain his good standing in the Grand Old Party even more unforgivable.
Modern Republicans may still revere Reagan, and a return to his optimistic free-marketism should be welcome to traditional conservatives. As Charles C. W. Cooke has noted, the party’s members have to pick Trump or conservatism — there is no middle ground.
But the party cannot move forward until it shakes free of the sitting Trump sycophants who sacrificed their dignity for ephemeral power. They, like Trump, stand for nothing but themselves.
There are plenty more of my columns up. You can see them all here.
I recently updated you on my trip to the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
My podcast mates and I recorded a SXSW wrap-up here. Have a listen - some great music recommendations in the lot.
As I noted on the podcast, one of the bands I most wanted to see, a three-piece from Oakland called Fake Fruit, got rained out. Nonetheless, they are really good and you should listen to them. Here is the last song on their last album - it’s called “Milkman.”
Until next time.