On Sunday night, Richard Sherman made the biggest play in the biggest game of his career. The post-game interview that followed a few minutes later almost melted down the internet. This piece isn't on Richard Sherman — there's definitely been enough words on him published in the last 72 hours for us to subsist on for the next three decades — but his post-game interview does serve as a good launching point to discuss one of my favorite things about sports: trash talk.
Before people attack my class — Spencer Hall already lampooned that ridiculous line of argument — I'd like to point out 98% of us here laud a coach that once answered a question about why, in a game his team was already winning, he went for two against Michigan with the iconic one-liner "because I couldn't go for three." (The other 2% are fans of other teams.)
And that's fine, because Woody Hayes was dat dude and spiking the ball on your enemy's broken sternum is what sports is really about.
People say they look to sports to "build character" and learn "life lessons." Personally, I think that's a load of coach-speak.
Outside of natural selection, I'm unsure of what life lessons can be ginned from a children's game where grown men are mangling each other. I don't watch sports for a sermon or life lessons. (I'll take the trash-talking team of heart-eaters over the team of quiet "life lesson" types any day of the week.)
Sports is about competition. It's about the strong dominating the weak. It's about seeing where your best lines up against the best of some other bastard. Anything else is just window-dressing. Trash talk is but a more humorous and less violent extension of the true ethos of sport.
That's why, despite loathing everything about Boston and its sports teams, I have nothing but infinite respect for Larry Bird. Sure, ol' Bird was a helluva basketball player, but he also knew the score:
[Larry Bird] once told Chuck Person that he had a gift for him during a Christmas Day game. Bird then hit a three in front of the Rifleman while he was sitting on the Pacers' bench and told him, "Merry Fucking Christmas." He also asked a locker room full of the best shooters, "Which one of you motherfuckers is coming in second?," before the 1986 Three-Point Shootout. Bird won the contest by a landslide and when he received his winnings Larry said, "My name's been on this check for a week now."
Compare this to Michigan Man Tom Brady, who in light of Richard Sherman's rant said, "We win with graciousness." Isn't that a bit of trash talk in of itself?
But, nitpicking aside, it's comical to see Tom Brady take this route. Brady won three Super Bowls while his coach stole opponent's defensive signals. Is that winning with graciousness?
This is all without pointing out it's pretty damn easy to win with graciousness. Try losing with gracio— *scene cuts to Tom Brady cussing out an undrafted rookie for a dropped ball during the third quarter of a regular season game in which the Patriots trail*
Sports are simply more entertaining when filled with outlandish characters and not blood-and-bones factories that produce nothing but the same empty clichés that we've had spewed at us since Muhammad Ali hung up his fighting mittens. Judging by the traffic driven by Richard Sherman's post-game column — over four million unique visitors as of yesterday — I'm not alone in that sentiment.
Arrogance and trash talk are crutches athletes need to survive at the highest level of sport. Whether folks like to admit it or not, it's as ingrained into our sports culture as alcohol.
So why are people shocked when trash-talk bubbles over into the public sphere? We should welcome it. Death to clichés and empty platitudes masquerading under some archaic banner of "sportsmanship." In the words of the immortal Dan Hawkins, "This ain't intramurals, brother."
Give me honesty, bravado and yes, trash talk. Yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever.