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The Rage on Conversational Competition: Smack and Trash Talk

Like it or not, verbal sparring is part of just about anything remotely resembling a sports contest. We are fed by a steady diet of obnoxious talk shows. We must constantly endure cell phoneys strutting through airports intentionally talking loud trying to impress upon people they don't even know how important they must be. They really think we all want to see their incredible "multi-tasking skills" (don't you hate that term?). With wireless technology, we now all get to hear how some insecure CEO wannabe can ream their employees or how they must certainly be bringing the service rep on the other end of the phone to their knees. And then there are the countless sports commentators grasping for the mother of all metaphors, trying desperately to be the next Dick Vitale (for some reason). There are even a few out-Rageous babblings on this very website. So let's talk about two tools of "conversational competition" commonly called "smack" and "trash talk," and see where runners might fit in.


I might be wrong, but I will go out on a limb and say that out of all the methods of expressing one's self in the spirit of competition or just plain verbal jousting, "smack" is spoken best. Why? Because it's short, sweet and coming from the right person and done at the right time, timeless quotes are often produced. You don't have to go too far to read some classics. Just check out the 10K Truth quote page.

In short, smack can be defined as clever, eloquent and spontaneous one liners, perfectly timed that adds fuel to competition (see full definition in Runnerspeak). Okay, so let's set the stage for our smack example: The game is at Lambeau Field and the temperature is a tad bit above zero. Anyone with any appreciation for some Truth conditions, either running or playing some good 'ol smash mouth football knows what I'm talking about…wind chill about fifteen below, everyone blowing on their hands…sort of like getting ready to run the 99 Steens Rim Run (see race report page).

O.K., back to the scenario at Lambeau…Not since the Fran Tarkenton days have the Vikings played outdoors. The sideline heaters behind the Vikings bench look like F-14's on full afterburner. The Packer's sideline? Several linemen are sleeveless. In Lombardi's day, you wouldn't need an energy crisis to keep any wussy heaters off his sideline. Anyone showing up for the Packers training camp quickly learn this, too. Fans? An entire row of some of the best guts in the Midwest are on proud display, protected only by the thin layer of bratwurst grease inevitably applied during the violent intake of four smothered with saurkraut and mustard in the parking lot. Given this scene, imagine if you were a Packers DB trying to do anything to get into Randy Moss' head as he breaks the huddle, blowing though his receivers gloves. This guy is good, and if you are going to direct some smack his way while walking back to the huddle, it'd better have some Truth behind it. "Hey, Moss. Is that your heater they're carrying up to your boss's sky box?"

Please note that smack is not delivered in an in-your-face manner. A respectful smacker gives the smackee an opportunity to smile and give a little back…Moss might respond with something like, "The only thing you'd better hope freezes in those skyboxes today is your boss's headset." Touche, baby.

On the playing field, the most effective smack delivered is the kind that is backed up. Some good examples are on our quotes page on this website. Imagine the scene leading up to Shoeless Joe Jackson asking a fan "Hey loudmouth. How do you spell triple?" I'll bet Jackson didn't need any classless gestures standing on third base after this particular three-bagger. Just a simple matter of fact question to the guy in the front row who now is sinking slowly in his box seat while trying not to spill his beer, with about 200 people within earshot all collectively thinking what an idiot he must feel like after popping off loudly while Jackson was in the on-deck circle. Beautiful. Or what about Muhammad Ali standing over what's-his-name laying on the canvas and bending down to the guys face and asking "What's my name?" after being sarcastically and repeatedly called "Cassius" throughout the fight. I'll bet the guy wished he'd never said anything. This is pure smack.

If you are like me, I usually can't think on my feet fast enough. Some of my best one-liners are usually delivered to myself as I am driving away in my car…long after the fact, when it's a completely moot point. But occasionally, all of us get our big chance. The key is not choking when you get it.

Trash Talk

Imagine a rapper without a brain. Without wit, all you have left is rhythm and "spews." The typical fully automatic trash talk discharge usually is interlaced with some ramblings about your athletic skills being not much better than your (or their) mother's. Just once, I would love someone's mother actually appear from out of the stands and make the play. I am going to venture to guess Trash Talk all started in pro wrestling, and metastasized from there. A loud voice is the only other prerequisite, which usually is a given with the other previously mentioned qualifying criteria (Hint: the Lion and Tin Man don't qualify). This might explain why there is so much more of it while so little true smack is spoken in our world today. Sitting next to one of these idiots at any sports contest is excruciating. Having season tickets next to one should be a form of capital punishment.

The one safe place for both trash talk and smack in running is during relays. If you run on our team, don't expect some gushing "you're looking good" encouragement as your fellow team mates lean out the window as they pass by in the van while you're hoofing up some steep hill. Typical "encouragement" comes in the form of: "Is that all you got?" or "You can open it up any time, now." Of course, all of this is in jest, and yes, you do need to be careful who you are delivering it to. You also need to know when to cool it if your runner is really hurting or might appreciate some useful information…like where they are on their leg and how far they have left to go.

But overall, and fortunately for our sport, most of the talking is done on the track, trails and hills, baby. However, there are a few examples, such as the Michael Johnson vs. Donovan Bailey 150 meter dash fiasco run a couple of years back with the winner getting some ridiculous sum of money to end their argument over who was the fastest, with Johnson ultimately pulling up lame coming off the turn. More recently, we had Maurice Green and Johnson going at it again in a season long verbal battle leading up to the Olympics and, sadly, included both of them failing to qualify for the Olympic 200 at the Trails. I believe this is a classic example of how two otherwise fine competitors can get too caught up in each other and costs each of them dearly. A 200 final with those two running at their best was something we much would have rather seen without all the trash talk which I suspect might have done nothing more than help distract themselves and the rest of us from the other runners who beat them. I'll bet you can remember Green and Johnson's names, thanks to all the hype and, yes, trash talk, right? But, in case you have forgotten, the others are: John Capel (19.85), Floyd Heard (19.88), Coby Miller (19.96), Berrnard Williams (20.03) and Kenneth Brokenburr (20.33).

So, the Rage says: Keep your smack short and sweet, and remember, trash talk can be hazardous to your heat. Just ask Green and Johnson. And that's The Truth.

The Rage 2/24/01

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   Date and time page last updated: 06/04/2004 8:02 PM