Trash Talkers: Do They Psych-Out Opponents?
Cornerback Richard Sherman, #25 of the Seattle Seahawks, reacts on the sideline after tipping a pass.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Seconds after the Seattle Seahawks clinched the NFC Championship, earning them a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII, the media landscape was set ablaze by an epic, trash-talking rant.
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who clinched the win by knocking down pass intended for San Francisco 49ers’ wide receiver Michael Crabtree, gave a belligerent post-game interview, threatening Crabtree and crowning himself “the best corner in the game.”
While the clip sparked a media firestorm that questioned Sherman’s sportsmanship, trash talking has always been a part of competitive sports. Jonathan Katz, a New York-based sports psychologist who has worked with many pro athletes, says the new media landscape and the 24-hour news cycle only add fuel to this fire.
“Because of the social media, Sports Center kind of world we live in, this kind of behavior -- a la Richard Sherman -- is getting air play beyond belief,” he told Discovery News. “I think, consciously or not, we’ve promoted this kind of behavior because it’s what gets front and center.”
But even before Twitter and ESPN, trash talking thrived. So here’s our roster of some of the loudest mouths in all of sports history. Click through for a mix of old and new school braggadocio that’s impossible to tune out.
Muhammad Ali heavyweight boxer trains for his fight against Oscar Bonavena on Dec. 7, 1970 in New York.Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
Heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali -- born Cassius Clay -- was not only “The Greatest” in the ring, but also the greatest trash talker of all time. His pre-fight theatrics were legendary and poetic, earning him the nickname “The Louisville Lip.” A master provoker, Ali would mercilessly taunt and heckle his opponents before bouts with a barrage of silver-tongued barbs.
"After the fight I'm gonna build myself a pretty home and use him as a bearskin rug. Liston even smells like a bear,” he said, prior to his first title fight against Sonny Liston. “I'm gonna give him to the local zoo after I whoop him."
"I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I'm so mean I make medicine sick," Ali said before in his 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” bout against George Foreman.
Katz says trash talking gets under opponents' skin, or gets in their heads, which takes them out of their game. “Clearly that’s one of the motivations for athletes to trash talk,” he said. “They think that it gives them a competitive edge in these one-on-one battles.”
Bobby Riggs plays a lob during a tennis contest with Billie Jean King in the Houston Astrodome. Allsport Hulton/Archive
As the feminist and women’s liberation movements hit their stride in the early 1970s, former number one-ranked pro tennis player and self-proclaimed “male chauvinist pig” Bobby Riggs challenged two of the best female tennis players to matches. He boasted that the women’s game was inferior to the men’s and, even at age 55, he could still out duel a top female player 25 years his junior.
In 1973, Riggs easily beat Margaret Court in the first match, causing Billie Jean King to accept his challenge after initially declining. The two then faced off at the Houston Astrodome in a nationally televised match, dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.”
“On the flip side, I think when athletes spend too much time and energy on aspects of their game outside of the task at hand, it could be wasted energy and focus, and could be better served thinking about what they need to do on the court or on the field,” Katz said.
Which is exactly what happened to Riggs. After becoming a media gadfly, reveling in his chauvinistic trash talk, King won the match and claimed the $100,000 winner-take-all prize.
Michael Jordan (C) of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket past Kerry Kittles (L) and Jayson Williams (R) of the New Jersey Nets.JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images
Any scrub player can talk trash. Being able to back it up is a whole other ball game. So when you’re arguably the greatest basketball player ever to play the game, like Michael Jordan, you can afford to run your mouth. That being said, "His Airness" was a legendary trash talker who always put his money where his mouth was.
In 1988, after dunking on diminutive Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton, a fan yelled at Jordan to dunk on someone his own size. On the Bulls’ next possession, Jordon struck his famous “Jumpman” pose as he dunked over the Jazz’s 6’ 11” center Melvin Turpin. Jordan then turned to the fan and asked, “Was he big enough?”
With three seconds left in a game against the Denver Nuggets in 1991, Jordan got fouled. With a Bull’s victory in the bag, Jordan went to the free throw line to shoot two. Before the second one, he heckled Nuggets’ center Dikembe Mutumbo. “Hey Mutumbo,” he said. “This one’s for you, baby.” Jordan then closed his eyes and sank the shot, nothing but net.
Larry Bird, #33 of the Boston Celtics, dribbles the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA Finals in June 1987 at the Boston Garden.Focus on Sport/Getty Images
As a slow player in a predominantly quick league, the Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird earned his stripes with his tenacious competitiveness, his lights-out shooting skills and his peripheral awareness of the entire court. He also talked a lot of smack and, like Jordan, could make good on his promises.
In a 1986 match up against the Seattle Super Sonics, the game was tied with 13 seconds left and the Celtics had the ball. After calling for the ball in a time out, Bird went up to his defender, Xavier McDaniel, and told him something like ‘Xavier, I’m gonna get the ball right here.’ McDaniel said he knew and he'd be waiting. Bird then followed up with, "I’m gonna take two steps back and hit a fade away jumper in your face." And that’s exactly what he did.
“The strongest and loudest comeback is really just to do your thing,” Katz said. “That’s the ultimate comeback to someone’s who’s trash talking instead of getting engaged in it.”
Reggie Miller, #31 of the Indiana Pacers, argues with a referee as he returns to the bench during a game against the Detroit Pistons.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
As the video below attests, back in the early 1990s, the rivalry between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks was “biblical in proportion”: the wholesome and holy team from the Midwest against the vile city slickers from Sodom and Gomorrah.
Hero, or public enemy number one, was Pacers’ shooting guard Reggie Miller, who broadcaster Ahmad Rashad called “one of the greatest trash talkers in the history of the game.” Miller was ruthless at getting under opponents' skin, and often caused players to lose their cool, like the time the Knicks’ John Starks got thrown out a playoff game in 1993 after “head butting” Miller, who sold the flop convincingly. Even Jordan -- normally not one for fisticuffs -- threw a couple vengeful punches at Miller during an on-court fight.
During a 1994 playoff game in New York, Miller engaged in what would become his most famous trash-talking episode with none other than filmmaker Spike Lee, an ardent Knicks fan. After torching the Knicks with jump shots, Miller repeatedly gestured and jawed to the courtside seat where Lee sat. The defining moment of the animated back-and-forth was when Miller stared down Lee and put his hands around his throat, indicating that the Knicks were choking.
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson argues with his trainer Tommy Brooks after his fight with Orlin Norris, which was stopped and declared a no-contest after an accidental foul at the end of the first round.JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Mike Tyson was just as lethal outside of the ring as he was inside. Legal troubles, substance abuse and violent ear-biting tendencies aside, “Iron Mike” was almost nightmarish when it came to trash talking.
“There's no one that can match me,” Tyson said before fighting Lennox Lewis. “My style is impetuous, my defense is impregnable and I'm just as ferocious. I want your heart! I want to eat his children! Praise be to Allah!"
Enough said. Of course, Tyson has a laundry list of bloodthirsty pre-bout quotes, but most of them are too obscene to print.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr., attends the 2013 Soul Train Awards in Las Vegas.Johnny Nunez/BET/WireImage
Boxing’s pre-fight media scrums are tailor-made for lippy prizefighters and promoters who love nothing more than to poke the hornet’s nest of hype. Standing tall as a denizen of this domain is Floyd Mayweather, Jr., whose list of chest-thumping quotes is as big as his ego. Here are a few of his best:
“Ricky Hatton ain't nothing but a fat man. I'm going to punch him in his beer belly when I see him.”
“I’m running my mouth a lot and I’m looking for a guy to shut me up. If you don’t shut me up, I’m going to keep running my mouth.”
“To be honest with you, I normally beat guys with my C game and I don’t have to pull my A or B game out.”
Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco looks on from the field before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.George Gojkovich/Getty Images
Known as Chad Ochocinco after he legally changed his name to (erroneously) reflect the number 85 on his jersey in Spanish, NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson was just as famous for his publicity stunts and brash antics as he was for his play on the football field. And with 3.65 million Twitter followers, Johnson was never without an outlet or audience for his escapades. In 2011, CNBC ranked him as the most influential athlete in social media.
Johnson was a notable talker, but his on-field performances took center stage, like the time he wore a homemade “Future Hall of Fame 20??” induction jacket on the sideline. His elaborate post-touchdown celebrations were almost art: using the pylon as a golf ball putter, imitating the Riverdance jig, giving the football CPR and proposing to a Cincinnati cheerleader (who said yes).
Antics like these weren’t appreciated by NFL brass, as Johnson was repeatedly fined throughout his career. After one touchdown he held up a sign that read “Dear NFL, Please don’t fine me again!!!” They did, for $10,000.
NFL player Terrell Owens attends a function in Dallas, Texas.Christopher Blumenshine/Getty Images for GQ
No to be overshadowed by “Ochocinco,” former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens talked just as much trash, was just as flamboyant and rivaled Johnson as the league’s preeminent touchdown celebrator.
Once after scoring a touchdown, “T.O.” pulled out a Sharpie from his sock, autographed the football and handed it to a fan. In Green Bay, Owens scored then grabbed a cheerleader’s pom-poms and danced for the crowd. In Dallas, Owens disrespected his former team by posturing and spiking the ball on the Cowboys’ star logo at midfield.
Katz says antics like such are exactly what sports shows love to put in in their highlight reels and players know that. “If I score a touchdown on you, just hand the ball to the ref and then run back to the sidelines, that’s not getting me any airtime,” he said. “If I’m yapping away, that gets attention.”
Kevin Garnett gets into an argument with Nazr Mohammed.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
He may be in the twilight of his career, but Brooklyn Nets center Kevin Garnett, who also played for the Boston Celtics, brings new light to the game of trash talking. Proving that no subject is too sacred or taboo, Garnett raised the bar with some of these wince-inducing jabs.
Apparently having firsthand knowledge, Garnett famously told Knicks player Carmelo Anthony that his reality TV star wife, La La Vazquez, tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios. Though the incident prompted “Melo” to wait for “KG” after the game by the Celtics bus, the two never came to blows.
Garnett’s most below-the-belt moments are as follows. He once called Piston’s player Charlie Villanueva a “cancer patient.” Villanueva suffers from alopecia universalis, an autoimmune skin condition that causes hair loss all over the body. And finally, rumor has it that Garnett once told Spurs center Tim Duncan “Happy Mother’s Day, Mother******,” knowing full and well that Duncan’s mother died of breast cancer the day before his 14th birthday. Ouch.
Who's your favorite, or most loathed, trash-talker? Tell us in the comments below.