The Art of Trash Talk - Is Trash Talk the Decline of Sportsmanship and Yet Another Sign of Society's Loss of Civility?

The Art of Trash Talk
Is trash talk the decline of sportsmanship and yet another sign of society's loss of civility?
By Jason Silverman, published on September 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 12, 2007

Trash talk, the practice of boasting and insulting one's foes on
court or afield, may be one of our culture's most beloved, and most
reviled, phenomena. Commercials from athletic companies such as Nike
often glorify trash talking, suggesting that bad manners are essential to
good basketball. But critics see in trash talk the decline of
sportsmanship and consider it yet another sign of society's general loss
of civility.
Professional sports leagues discourage trash talking with
no-taunting rules. Far from trashing trash talk, however, Richard
Lapchick contends that it actually serves a good purpose.
Founder of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at
Northeastern University and son of NBA player and coach Joe Lapchick, the
sociologist points out that while "the language has changed, and the form
is different," trash talk has historically given players a mental edge
over their opponents.
"Those who are older know that trash talking has been part of
basketball and football for a long time," Lapchick notes.
But does it work? Jonathan Katz, a New York City-based clinical
sports psychologist, is doubtful. He believes that thinking up put-downs
can actually impair an athlete's performance.
"Some players feel they can intimidate other players by getting
into their heads," says Katz, who has worked with the New Jersey Nets and
several college basketball teams. "But many athletes are putting time and
energy into something that distracts them from playing their best.
Playing well is the most intimidating factor."

Still, sports history is filled with famous trash talkers. One
well-known athlete, a young man named David, was able to use a verbal
attack to his benefit in a battle with a heavily favored foe. "I will
strike you down and cut off your head," David proclaims to his much
larger enemy, Goliath, in the first chapter of the biblical book of
Samuel. And the rest is trash-talking history.

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at