Trash talk OK in NFL, no butts about it

No butts about it, trash-talking words fall on deaf ears in NFL

September 07, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Ed Reed wasn't buying it. Few of his Ravens teammates were buying it, either.

Talking about someone's momma, of course, is out of line, and bringing someone's sister into it is almost as bad. But it was nothing they haven't heard before, and it wasn't enough reason to snap, to lose control, to put yourself and your team in jeopardy at any time, in any game.

So, the insult that triggered the head butt heard 'round the world - revealed by the insulter himself earlier this week - didn't impress these men who live and work in one of the planet's great trash-talk hotbeds, the NFL.

"I'd think it had to be something real, real bad," Reed said yesterday, shaking his head at the news of Marco Materazzi's latest version of the comment that sent Zinedine Zidane over the edge in the World Cup final in July.

"I mean, it had to be something real bad to go out and head butt him like that - or [else] he was really frustrated," said Reed, who, as an All-Pro safety going up against the divas who play wide receiver in the NFL, knows a little about giving and receiving. "What could you possibly say? I don't know - in the heat of battle, you get frustrated, somebody says the wrong thing to you, you don't know what you'll do."

Actually, Reed wasn't being totally truthful. In this game and most others, players do know what they'd do - nothing. Throw a little back in their faces, keep playing and otherwise let it go.

It's how the game is played, at every level; in most places where NFL players (and NBA players, and plenty of others in sports) come from, it's how it always has been played and always will be. Much like its exuberant cousin, the end-zone or post-dunk celebration, trash talk, especially high-quality trash, is more likely to be acknowledged for its originality, not so much for its effectiveness.

"They say [Minnesota Vikings cornerback Fred] Smoot talks the most, all the time," Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton said. "But when someone talks to me, I just laugh. If someone says something, you just say, `OK, good one.' "

Rookie receiver Demetrius Williams, who said he has toned down his own talking over the years, said: "I try not to trip on it - at least not until later on.

"I might want to say something after the game, off the field," he added with a chuckle, "but never during the game."

But he did say that no one ever has made a crack about family.

"Trash talk starts from that age," said cornerback Samari Rolle, holding his hand about two feet off the ground, pee-wee level.

For most players, that's also the last time they picked a fight over what was said to them. Doing so beyond that age sends that approximate message: You're not much of a man.

Reacting, especially the way Zidane did, isn't even an option.

"Yeah, I've heard some things before," Rolle said. "But at the same time, you can't lose composure for the rest of the guys on your team. All that will do is hurt your team. You can't even listen to that.

"Now," Rolle added, "if you spit on me, that's different."

That would incite a worthwhile reaction; it happened last January on the very field where the Ravens open the season Sunday. In a playoff game, the Washington Redskins' Sean Taylor let one go at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Michael Pittman; Pittman went after him, and Taylor was ejected. Not a soul denounced Pittman, but only by the Redskins' winning the game did Taylor escape the sort of condemnation Zidane received.

"You can say what you want," Reed said, "just don't touch me."

Players mean it. It wasn't just that Zidane lost it that was so stunning; it was that he lost it over something that was said to him. There's no more likely place for something like that to happen than the NFL, yet no one can recall a mere spoken insult sparking a retaliation even close to that.

It's just talk, nothing more.

It makes much of the public's constant ranting and raving over end zone dances - not to mention the NFL's legislation of it, complete with minutely detailed do's and don'ts - seem petty, even condescending. If none of the yapping, gesturing and creative expressions bothers the players who are supposedly being disrespected, then why should it bother anybody else?

Now, if Ed Reed goes Zidane on Chad Johnson one Sunday, buries a helmet in the sternum in rage, then we should worry. If that happens, though, it likely would be for a good reason - because of trash talk's golden rule.

Said Reed: "Don't say nothin' about the momma."

david.steele@baltsun.com

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