Trash talking in sports can be OK if it doesn’t go too far

February 10, 2020 — by Jonathan Li

Last October, I played a water polo game against Cupertino. We were leading by one goal as the clock to half time was ticking down. One minute to go. We managed to intercept a pass, and the opponents swore vehemently. But as we prepared to swim down the pool for a fastbreak, the referee blew his whistle. He proceeded to pull out a yellow card and issue it to every player for both teams for bad language.

As sports evolve and officiating becomes stricter, trash talking has become looked down upon, especially in high school sports. There have been times when trash talking has been the reason for officials issuing penalties. Many of the greatest and most popular athletes trash talk regularly: Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green said in an interview with peaksports.com, “Everybody’s susceptible to that trash talking. I don’t care who you are.”

Of course, trash talking can turn dangerous. In 2004, the Malice in the Palace altercation between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons led to multiple suspensions and injuries. These types of situations should definitely be avoided at all costs; however, that doesn’t mean that trash talking is bad. 

Sports games are fun because of the competition and the struggle between the players to win. When tensions are high, and verbal insults are traded, the game becomes all the more interesting to watch. A competition where opponents are cordial to each other would simply be unentertaining.  

Especially in boxing and MMA, trash talking fuels the sport. Without it, the sport becomes boring and much less competitive. A large part of the reason people watch these games is to see how well fighters are able to carry out their trash talk from the press conferences that advertise these bouts. Fighters with strong personalities, like Conor McGregor, Deontay Wilder or Floyd Mayweather Jr., consistently sell more tickets, and are more profitable than other fighters. The trash talk, competitiveness and tension make up half of the fight.  

This applies to other sports and high school games as well. Games between rival schools have much higher attendance and ticket sales than other games. Here, that would be games against the Los Gatos basketball or football teams.

Personally, I’ve always found a greater drive to win games when the opponents are trash talking or name calling. It improves how well the athletes play, and the environment is just so much more competitive. Top athletes tend to perform at their best when they feel their pride challenged. 

Yet in various sports, there are strict rules and regulations placed upon trash talking. For example, in water polo if the referee is having a bad day, simply saying a bad word could get athletes ejected or yellow-carded. 

In fact, given the overblown fears surrounding trash talking, it wouldn’t be too surprising if officials started ejecting players like Green the first time they open their mouth during games. The sad part is that if games become too cleaned up, it will rob them of some of the competitive fire that makes them so much fun to watch and play. My advice to officials: Let players talk and  compete hard but make sure the trash talking doesn’t get out of hand.