Forty-three years ago, our high school athletic coach asked me to be the scorekeeper for the boys’ basketball and baseball teams. I spent the next few years traveling all over the state, attending games and tournaments, learning more about basketball and baseball than I had ever imagined knowing.
As the official scorekeeper, sitting in the box between the two teams, I had a front-row seat for every game. In those days, players were not allowed to verbally harass the other team. To do so was considered unsportsmanlike conduct and, if caught by the referee, carried the penalty of a personal or technical foul.
Sometime during the intervening years, when I was not paying attention to sports, the rules changed. Now, not only is “trash talk” and “talking smack” allowed, it’s expected, even condoned. The more smack you talk, the better, tougher athlete you are. Really? How does making someone else out to be a loser, make you a winner? If you are truly confident in your superiority, why would you need to inhibit the performance of your opponent? Why would you even want to, for that matter? If you successfully undermine their performance, doesn’t that also diminish the significance of your victory? If you are genuinely superior, shouldn’t your abilities speak for themselves?
Avoiding “trash” and “smack” talk should be easy. Just steer clear of sporting events. Unfortunately, this style of communicating has become pervasive. It has leaked out of the arenas and stadiums and seeped into every facet of society from radio and television talk shows to social media comment sections to political events to backyards to playgrounds. And frankly, it’s ugly. No matter what the age, gender, color, religion, political affiliation, socioeconomic background, position, or situation – it is ugly.
Not only is it ugly, it is counterproductive and destructive. We are not only exposing the worst of ourselves to each other, but to the entire world. Is it only in tragedy that we are reminded of the great good we are capable of when we come together? What is it going to take to inspire us to speak and act from the best of ourselves? We are so much more than what we have become.