One of my favorite football pathologies is when a team is losing and fans observe that no player is yelling during games, and complain about a “lack of leadership.” The three assumptions behind this argument: (1) Leadership is atomic and individualized, (2) Leadership is the same as yelling, and (3) Leadership enjoys a causal, not correlative, relationship with results, all make me chuckle.
Yet I don’t want to laugh. I do want to wax, old timer lament style, on a decay in modern sport and the gift of gab. I, refer, to the poetic and oral tradition of “talking shit.”
Of course, I am not some tone-deaf First Amendment acolyte who confuses “pushing the envelope” with shock-jock radio tactics that care little for intersectionality. When I talk about trash-talkery, this is not some excuse to share some select Spanglish pejoratives or a lament that racist and sexist thoughts cannot manifest themselves in audible sentences.
The best trash-talking goes beyond the superficial; you must truly know thy enemy. That’s why nobody does it anymore, nor cares to even try. Players are buddies who swap jerseys after a game and seldom fill their pressers with even indirect taunts. Yes, from time to time, you may get a nice Twitter-barb from a Real Madrid or Barcelona player, but that’s slim pickings.
I’ve always preferred faux-empathetic to my own strain of trash-talking. For example, after ‘megging somebody, finding a moment afterwards to pat them on the back and say: “Don’t worry – not every day can be this bad.”
Of course, one has to be careful to avoid the default of overtly and subtly homophobic insults. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a gay slur while kicking a ball, I would be a nickel-rich man with many jars full of nickels. I would probably not need a special room in which to store my nickels – there has been some progress in the last decade – but perchance a walk-in closet.
Thus, the next time your team is losing and you are clasping for explanatory straws, don’t ask: why are there no leaders on the field? Instead, ask – why isn’t anybody talking shit?