Despite referees’ valiant efforts to maintain an atmosphere where players value sportsmanship as highly as victory, talking smack on the field has become a quintessential part of various sports — particularly among high schoolers with low maturity levels and raging hormones.
Distasteful remarks exchanged in the heat of the moment are a problem, but the true harm occurs because of the buildup of anger, emotion and the desire to retaliate.
Junior Ben Rapperport, the goalkeeper for Paly’s varsity water polo team, recalls one instance where talking smack led to an injury that affected him both mentally and physically.
“We were down a few points in a tournament game, and the other team had become really obnoxious,” Rapperport said. “Every time one player would score on me, he’d yell, ‘Aw, yeah! Let’s go!’ directly in my face. The next time he had a one on nobody, I blocked his shot and yelled, ‘Aw, yeah! Let’s go!’ right back at him.”
Rapperport admits that this was a an immature decision wand says he regrets provoking his opponent by mocking him. The subsequent events could have been easily avoided had he not succumbed to the temptation of leveling the score.
“After my block, he had another one on nobody, and it was just me versus him,” Rapperport said. “I had my arms straight out above my head in order to block as much of the goal. Instead of shooting, he decided to throw the ball straight into my face to get back at me.”
The impact of the ball left Rapperport concussed for the next two months, interfering with his academics and harming his overall mental state. While it was his opponent’s violence that gave Rapperport the concussion, he still felt partially responsible, as the entire incident stemmed from his childish comeback.
This was Rapperport’s worst experience with trash talk, but he is familiar with another case, where a water polo player was even more severely injured because pointed comments were exchanged in the pool.
“A kid from Bellarmine was trash talking, and his opponent pulled him under water and smashed the kid’s face using his knee,” Rapperport said. “He was hit so badly that his face plates were shattered.”
Trash talking has innocuous roots, as athletes’ passion and attachment to the game drive them to say thingsthey normally would not. However, how it interferes with sporting events is another question, and juniors Kenzo Morabia, Abby Black and Rapperport all have slightly differing views on the matter.
“People who trash talk get distracted from their own game. They put themselves in a bubble where all they think about is what they are gonna say next, and how to insult the [opponents] further.”
While he discourages the practice, Morabia said that trash talking is an inevitable part of any game. On the other hand, Black said it contradicts the entire purpose of athletics.
“We play to have fun, and when people play to win or play to make the other team feel bad, they are taking away from our fun,” Black said. “Players’ bad sportsmanship can ruin the experience; trash talking defeats the whole purpose of why I play softball.”
Despite being personally harmed by trash talking, Rapperport is able to see thepotential benefit in it. Taking an unconventional standpoint, he said that when used correctly, trash talking can prove to be a smart tactic.
“I don’t think trash talking says anything about the speaker’s character; it is actually a pretty effective way of throwing someone off of their game,” Rapperport said. “I also believe you do need to respond; your opponents shouldn’t think it’s OK to continue to push you around, but you need to make sure you don’t get yourself into a dangerous situation with a kid that might hurt you.”
Although the practice of talking smack commonly stems from aggression on the field, it can sometimes be the result of a misunderstanding between opponents, according to Morabia, who recounts an incident from his past season on the varsity soccer team.
“We were playing a team from Salinas that was fully Hispanic, and one of my teammates said ‘lo siento’ — which is sorry in Spanish — to my other teammate when he made a small mistake,” Morabia said. “The other team thought that [he was] mimicking them for being Hispanic, but [he wasn’t] at all.”
The situation quickly escalated as the opponents interpreted what was intended to be a harmless comment as a provocative racial remark.
“I didn’t get involved, but several of my teammates rushed into the fight that broke out,” Morabia said. “They started shoving the other team and talking trash [to] each other; it got pretty violent.”
Many athletes hold differing opinions of whether remaining silent or defending yourself is the best response to trash talk. Every situation, including the level of offense in the remark, is different. Morabia is adamant that staying uninvolved is the best way to deal with such commentary.
“I’m a defender and I often have to make important tackles that can get the other team upset,” Morabia said. “I used to talk back, but I have learned that it just distracts you from the game, which is what’s most important for everyone.”
Morabia, Black and Rapperport come to similar conclusions: when it comes to the core values of the game, trash talk is not one of them.
“You can only really beat the other team in the pool. The only thing you can do to get back at them is focus on blocking their next shot. Trash talking will just benefit your opponent because when you’re bad mouthing them, you’ll be mentally distracted from your own game.”
Black agrees, noting the correlation between good sportsmanship on the pitch and how enjoyable the game experience turns out to be.
Black said, “The games where the other team is respectful, no matter if you’re winning or losing, are the games that are worth playing.”
Number 30 sucks! She’s a horrible goalie,” said junior Los Gatos lacrosse player Rick, whose name has been changed, on the sidelines of the matchup between the Vikings and the Cats during the 2017 girls lacrosse spring season.
An intense rivalry between the two teams commenced, as Rick’s rash commentary got him kicked off the sidelines during the game. Unfortunately, Rick did not stop there.
A few Viking team members had posted pump up pictures on their Instagram pages in anticipation of the following game against Gatos, and Rick left distasteful comments on their posts, calling them “lowlife scum,” according to junior Abby Ramsey.
An Instagram battle ensued — the Paly boys lacrosse team jumped in to defend their fellow Vikings and the situation escalated as Rick continued to insult the team.
He received a suspension for his behaviour, and the team thought they had heard the end of Rick’s remarks until this past weekend, when they supported the Paly boys lacrosse team as they took on Gatos in a championship game.
Gesturing with his hands, Rick, who was on the field, pretended to hold a pregnant belly with his hands, alluding to the fact that he thought the Paly girls team was overweight.
“I called out to him, ‘Are you calling me fat?’” Ramsey said. “Then he looked at me and made the same pregnant gesture with his hands.”
While Ramsey did involve herself in the situation, Rick’s response was uncalled for and classifies as body shaming, according to Ramsey.
Rick was involved in the majority of the Vikings’ encounters with trash talk, but Ramsey recalls one time where a member of the Gatos girls lacrosse team bad-mouthed the referee.
“She yelled, ‘That is a really f—— bad call, ref!’” Ramsey said. “The ref didn’t tolerate it though; he gave her a yellow card.”
The accumulation of smack talking incidents has created an irreparable air of hostility between the two teams, according to Ramsey, demonstrating the damage that such provocative insults can have.