March 10, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 83  

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Talking the talk: does it help you walk the walk?

By Matt Larkin
Gazette Writer

Matt Prince/Gazette
WHAT TIME IS YOUR MOM EXPECTING ME? Players from Western’s rugby team line up for a scrum with Trent University, no doubt talking about each other’s moms. But does trash talk really give either side the advantage?

“Your mother was good last night,” quipped the left winger on the yellow team.

“Not as good as your sister,” I shot back as I positioned myself for the face-off, an intimidating presence in my black uniform as a 13-year-old, 100-pound tower of terror.

Why is it I can recall this exchange perfectly, as well as the subsequent brawl that ensued when I cross-checked my mouthy opponent in the spine, yet I have no memory whatsoever of the game’s outcome?

Such an incident brings to mind the issue of trash talk in sports. Everyone is familiar with flamboyant professional sports icons such as Terrell Owens and Joe Horn, but what about the world of amateur sports? Is trash talk running rampant, and more importantly, does it have a profound impact on the outcome of a game?

Western Mustangs’ football head coach Larry Haylor views verbal jabbing as detrimental to collegiate sports.

“I find [trash talk] to be a negative influence on a game environment,” he says. “Most [Ontario University Athletics] coaches support the idea of disallowing it.”

If trash talk does occur in university sports, who or what is to blame?

“A referee has the discretion to call unsportsmanlike conduct,” Haylor says. “We need to eliminate such behaviour from our players and see referees crack down harder on it.”

“Too much yapping is tolerated in university sports, with no penalties applied,” agrees Darwin Semotiuk, a kinesiology professor at Western who specializes in university sports.

He also wonders, however, if those in leadership positions need to focus more intently on controlling trash talk.

“People responsible for coaching and administrating have chosen not to take action against its presence,” Semotiuk says. “Trash talk can be cleaned up if there’s a will to do so.”

Also considered an influence on young trash talkers are the displays seen constantly by professional athletes on television — football in particular.

“The verbal exchanges seen in pro sport are considered part of the entertainment package,” Haylor explains. “But that’s not the case in collegiate sports. We really don’t condone these things.”

“Trash talk is a mirror image of what you see in professional sports,” Semotiuk adds. “It’s disrespectful to a team’s competitors, to the fans and to the game itself.”

The actual nature of a given sport may affect the amount of trash talk that takes place within it.

“In some cases, violent contact has the tendency to raise the testosterone level a little higher,” Semotiuk explains. “We see lots of trash talk in boxing, football, hockey and so on.”

Regardless of its causes, the question remains: is trash talk an effective strategical device?

“It can be used as a motivator to excite a team’s players and enrage the competition,” Semotiuk says. “Yet it can work against you and backfire if officials disapprove.”

Haylor shares a similar stand on the necessity of gabbing on the field, claiming it’s not prominent in the game and there’s enough of an opportunity to make a statement on every play.

Dean Van Camp, the starting fullback on the Mustangs’ rugby team, feels that trash talking can be effective, but only to a certain extent.

“It’s not going to change the outcome of a game,” Van Camp says. “It’s more for your own personal enjoyment.”

He does, however, feel that tossing words back and forth during a game can serve a purpose. “It’s easy to get under an opponent’s skin, but you don’t want to put a target on your head.”

While Van Camp does not see himself as a major trash talker, he does get a word in during the odd game. “You can wait for an opponent to make a mistake, then ride him for the rest of the game. It’s expected. When it happens it’s not that big of a deal.”

There does not seem to be one defined opinion on trash talking in university sports. To many players it is simply “part of the game,” while the administrative section of athletics feels that it hinders — not helps — a team or individual’s performance.

Haylor sums up the general view on talking the talk in sports: “We want our players to be physical, but the one who keeps his mouth shut and talks with what he does is a great player.”



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