My brother, Keith, tells a good story about a moment from the 1999 Vermont Division I high school football championship game.

Keith’s team, Mt. St. Joseph Academy, was moving the ball, and on one play, MSJ’s running back got up and shook his hand. Somebody has stepped on it as the players untangled from the pile.

A Middlebury player mocked the running back, and asked if he needed somebody to kiss his boo-boo.

“Nah,” the running back said. “You can kiss my trophy after the game.”

That was it, Keith says. Each team went to its huddle and finished the game. MSJ won, and it’s unknown if any Middlebury players approached the victors and their trophy, lips puckered.

Soon after the first games were played, the first bit of trash talk was uttered. If you’ve played any sports, you’ve heard it, or said it.

Last month, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association introduced broad new rules banning trash talking. To be specific, the NJSIAA banned statements deemed harassing, in regards to race, gender, disability, religion or sexual orientation.

The NJSIAA said the new rule is in line with the state’s anti-bullying laws. Athletes or coaches cited under the new rule will not only face suspensions from games, but incidents will be reported to the attorney general.

If New Jersey feels it has a problem that needs to be curbed, than it’s right to be proactive. I’ve covered hundreds of high school games in Maine over the years, and I’m happy to say I’ve never heard anything that rises to the level of vulgar and inappropriate hate speech.

Because I don’t hear it from the sidelines, it doesn’t mean trash talk doesn’t happen. Only the most naive would believe that. I’ve just never heard anything that made me pause, or simply was offensive.

I once saw a high school football player wave good-bye to a defender as he pulled away on a long touchdown run. The scorer was rightly given an unsportsmanlike penalty. It wasn’t offensive, just a lack of judgment by a high school kid.

If the NJSIAA thinks it’s going to rid Garden State high school sports of all trash talk, it’s running a fool’s errand. Get rid of hateful, mean-spurted, awful language, of course. But you can not, must not, rid sports of the good trash talk. The one liners that pop into your head at just the right time.

What my brother’s teammate said in that championship game almost 14 years ago was quick, off the cuff, and brilliant. For the guys who played, it’s become part of the game.

That kind of stuff is the good trash talk that comes anytime there’s competition.

Larry Bird was a trash talking virtuoso. His pinnacle may have been the 1986 NBA All-Star Game, when Bird strolled into the 3-point shooting contest and asked the other competitors which one of them was going to come in second place.

When he received his winnings for taking first place in the contest, Bird reportedly announced that his name had been on the check for a week.

Maybe we need a term other than trash talk, something that doesn’t bring to mind filth. Competitive banter, maybe, or athletic quips. There’s no place for hateful language, but if a kid in New Jersey, or anywhere, for that matter, is penalized for cracking a one-liner, then we’re taking the joy out of sports, and that would be a shame.

When I was in high school, I had a friend who, as he got into the blocks to run the 100-meter dash, was told by a teammate to try and psyche out the competition. Thinking quickly, he turned to the guy in the next lane.

“See this leg?” he said, tapping his knee. “Wooden.”

He didn’t win the heat, and probably left the other sprinter shaking his head, but I know one thing. He ran relaxed, and smiling the whole time.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

 

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