Is Trash Talk "Ethical"?
Where have all the cowboys gone, Dept.


Sports-political post below.  And this one actually is controversial.  So please avert your eyes if applicable :- )


I Change My Oil Every 50,000 Miles.  So What?

Remember, as you read, that the debate over Sherman's trash talk is ON.  SSI did not start this debate!  SSI is offering one possible route through the ethical jungle.   That's all.

Sherman's smack talk is being hotly debated.   But ... debated, based on what paradigm?  How do you establish right and wrong?  

The company that built your house put the studs 16" apart, or something.  Based on what?  Based on a code established by the government.  Behind this code is the intuition and experience of people who have built houses.  That was the platform for establishing a standard.

What is our platform, in America in 2014, for establishing what behavior is "ethically" or "morally" okay?  Fifty years ago, it was very clear:  Judeo-Christian Ethics was the basis for the standard.  Nowadays this is not the case.  I'm speaking merely from a sociological perspective.  

When Vince Lombardi won his first NFL championship, Americans generally agreed on Right and Wrong.  Perhaps they were mistaken.  The point is, the consensus was solid.  


You've got tons and tons of air time, every day, asking whether Sherman's behavior is "okay."  People would like an answer, but have little basis for finding one.  In my opinion this sets up the entire debate to fail.  On TV, the answers amount to very little more than, "I LIKE Richard Sherman's talk" or "I DON'T LIKE Richard Sherman's talk."  

At Bill James Online, he talks about an (actual) upcoming U.S. Civil War.  If you can't agree on a standard by which to resolve simple questions, with nothing at stake, what do you do with the complex ones, with life and death at stake?  :- )

Here are four possible paradigms, each of which are outside the one that we agreed on between 1650 and 1950 A.D.


Not a Lot of Trash Talk In Golf 

Mo' Dawg, who is a tournament-level golfer, stated the Case Against quite eloquently.  Thanks Dawg.  :- )

It's not like you're going to hear Adam Scott predicting a fold by Tiger Woods in the Masters.  Mo's perspective is in the minority in America in 2014, but he does a great job of stating it, no?

I wonder why, in golf and in baseball, smack talk is against code ... but in football it's so encouraged.  This includes the fans' reactions, and occurs at a moral level.  I have no idea.

As mentioned before, NFL Network had a poll as to whether Sherman should dial it DOWN or UP ... 36% down, 64% up.  This completely mystified the non-football-playing media types on the show.

Here, the paradigm seems to be one of dignity.  In golf -- present company excepted -- a big part of the culture is that here we are well-behaved, we are cultured, we have honor and respect which exceeds that of the Unwashed Masses.  I'm talking about high-class country club golf, not about Mo' Dawg.

The paradigm of "Dignity" is sometimes effective.  As you know, it is paramount in Japan.  They achieve a lot, ethically, with this paradigm.  Of course, the attitude about those who are different than they are is an example of one problem with the paradigm...


Thy Speech Betrayeth Thee, Dept.

Sherman himself comes off as shaky and conflicted when trash-talking into the microphone.  When he called Crabtree a mediocre receiver, you could hear the quaver in his voice.  I'm guessing that he is conflicted about his spiritual morals and the "malice" involved when he embarrasses a person in public like that.

Sherman will occasionally refer to being "blessed," refer to the Almighty, respond to reporters by saying "I don't hate anybody" and so forth.  He was apparently brought up in some sort of religious background, which probably helped to keep him out of the gangs that prowled his neighborhood.

Without a doubt, there would be something inconsistent about Joel Osteen "trash talking" a rival TV evangelist ... or anybody, for that matter.

Being inconsistent with your own principles is a rather weighty problem.  If that's in fact the case.  Using this paradigm -- his own beliefs and standards -- Sherman is obviously "wrong" if he sees himself as trying to live by New Testament principles. 


The Corporate America Paradigm

Seems, to me, to resolve into a question of "do I LIKE this behavior."

Grizzly pointed out that the sales of Sherman jerseys have gone wayyyyyy up, that his interviews are up, that he's much more popular now, etc.  No doubt.  And this implies, also, that most Americans sign off on Sherman's behavior as perfectly acceptable.

There you go.  Majority vote.  (Problem with this?  Each year, the young people of America find more edgy behavior to be "perfectly acceptable.")  

Using the Lady GaGa paradigm, Sherman's behavior is not only "right," it's genius.  (Not to say that Grizzle, who is evidently a very responsible senior manager in his company, himself uses a Lady GaGa paradigm!)


The Hypocrisy Paradigm

All that said, I liked Michael Irvin's take the best.  America keeps demanding that TV make it Real.  We want more and more Real.  Then Richard Sherman GIVES us real -- a slight taste of what's actually happening on the field -- and we swoon away and suffer the vapors...

The NFL, on-field, is a bizarre game.  In terms of PSYCHIC violence.  What are we saying, just that we want them to do it out of our sight?


Dr. D's Paradigm

Personally, I wouldn't talk like Sherman into a TV microphone, or would try not to.  The NFL Commissioner -- and Pete Carroll -- yanked on Sherman's leash, as it were, telling him "Whoa, kid.  We don't want people to think you're a bad guy when you're not."

But, why "Bad Guy"?  What's behind that?

Remember, now, that the debate over Sherman's trash talk is ON.  Dr. Detecto did not start this debate!  It's on.  We're offering SSI's route through the ethical jungle.

Two points:


1) I believe that we all sense that the ideal is to Love Our Enemies.  All of us have consciences.  These consciences bark at us when we do things wrong, and those consciences do not accept excuses.  

If you take $500 out of the company till, your conscience does not care that somebody stole $500 from you yesterday.  Your conscience is completely impervious to excuses - did you ever notice that?  Your conscience works in terms of ideals - in terms of absolute right and wrong.  Moral relativism need not apply within your own heart.

It says here that Richard Sherman's conscience is dinging him, for causing Tim Crabtree unnecessary pain.  That's my opinion I could be wrong.  :- )


2)  Conflicting with this, we all (or most of us) are reacting to the feminization of America.

It's not acceptable to behave like a 1950's man any more.  Or an 1850's man, or a 1000 BC man, or a 50,000 BC man.  This societal requirement -- Don't Be Aggressive In Real Life -- is very recent, and is against our DNA.

We need a healthy outlet for our masculine tendencies -- aggression, physical courage, extreme ambition, etc.  Females, in my humble opinion, need an outlet for their desire to admire masculine tendencies.  (Cindy and Jennifer, my wife and daugher, loves love love Richard Sherman.)

We've been funnelled into sitting back, effetely, and watching these traits on TV.  As Richard Sherman said recently, "We do things on the field that you'd go to jail for, if you did off the field."  He cracked the audience up.

We want some courage and aggression ... no, we crave the courage and aggression in our lives.  Sherman, and the Seahawks, are behaving with complete fearlessness.  We're riveted by this moral quality of Absolute Courage, one which we see so little of in our real lives.


3)  Sherman's trash talk is, nominally, outside the boundaries of what Judeo-Christian ethics would approve of.  

But this consideration is dwarfed by the fact that, under extreme stress and pressure, he is acting like a Man.  In a society painfully devoid of them (or a society that looks on TV, at least, like it is devoid of them).

In a vacuum, trash talk is nominally unethical.  But in the context of America's societal evolution, it provides inspiration we badly need.

That's my opinion I could be wrong,





Not players.  Have you HEARD some of the things that are said by fans? Listened to the crowds at Cameron Indoor, or in any professional stadium in the land? It's RIDICULOUS. I don't go to non-baseball sporting events live.  Maybe hockey.  Hockey fans are actually pretty cool, and I enjoy watching both college and professional hockey in person (it's way better than on TV, where you can't really appreciate the speed and skill of the game).
I might be able to go to an NCAA tournament game because most of the teams playing are not rivals, so you don't get the vitriol and bile vomited out for hour after hour, spewing across seats and onto the playing surface.
But the drunken ridiculousness of the modern sporting event makes the Roman debaucheries pale in comparison. 
And we expect the players never to trash talk, never to mouth off, to be the model citizens that their fans AREN'T?  Sherman, by all accounts, was responding to previous and non-published comments by Crabtree that he carried as a spur to his motivation.  Did he cuss at Crabtree?  No.  Did he question his manhood and skill level? Yeah.  Is that the worst thing in sports?
Stick a microphone in the stands for 5 minutes.  What Sherman actually said won't register on the insult scale.  College fans distribute the cell numbers for star players so that they can get hateful texts the night before the game.  They publish bios on their families.  They chant about dead family members while someone is making a free throw.
And when all that fails, fans beat and stab and shoot other fans to death in stadium parking lots.
Demanding a white-wash (pun intended) for an on-the-field participant and allowing the fan interactions that occur to continue unabated is pathetic. Some of the things that have been said to him since his 30 seconds on a microphone are egregious.  What he did was not.
I don't want to hear any more about Sherman's "trash talk."  It was NOTHING. He - and we -deserve better from the rest of us, not from him.


Good points, G.
I'm in complete agreement about the level of commonly seen fan behavior. It falls into a category far worse than Sherman's. I can certainly pontificate on that subject, if you wish. But the thread was about Sherman's behavior not fan's. And Sherman's was indeed something, if I might respectably disagree with you.
It may have been great theater, but it was (IMHO) cheap and ugly. Were it not, do you think he would have tried to back-track as quickly as he did?
I had a terrible temper on the golf course as a young man. But the fact that I was a nice guy elsewhere did not excuse my on-course behavior. I was wrong, and when I was called out......they were right. Boorish behavior is still boorish behavior.
And to the millions of young athletes watching, Sherman became a boorish role model of (IMHO) exactly the wrong things. Sherman can now visit numerous children's hospitals or record PSA's about the evils of drug use, but what most people (especially young people) will remember and emulate will be the moments we now debate.
It certainly means something. I fear that the efforts to contextualize his actions ("Hey, it was in the heat of the battle. They shouldn't have stuck a camera in his face. He's a nice guy") are doomed to failure simply because such behavior can't be limited, as it is copied, to just that context.
If it is OK for Sherman, why not the college DB....or the high school one? Or, even worse, the 4th grader on "Friday Night Tykes."
What Sherman and Crabtree exchange among themselves, on the field, is somewhat outside this discussion. I don't know what went on there. It's hard to comment on it, therefore.
I think Pete Carroll is a cutting edge coach.....maybe THE cutting edge coach in professional sports. Not because of his X and O prowess, mind you, but because of the culture he's tried to establish in Seattle. His is the new paradigm...or will be, I think.
If you've not read this article, you must. It was in the September 2nd edition of ESPN: The Magazine. It is exceptional. I made both my daughters read it. One is 15, a sophomore, and totally in love with basketball. The other is 18, a senior, and a 2nd Team All-State Volleyball player. I felt this article was so important they HAD to read it.
It begins like this: "IT'S DIFFERENT HERE," Pete Carroll says. "Have you noticed?"
For the Seahawks' sake, I wish Richard Sherman hadn't dinged up that image. But he did. I can't excuse my club-throwing as a young man. It was wrong and made me look like a complete idiot. I'm fortunate I didn't have a TV camera stuck in my face. I can't excuse Sherman's behavior either. It was wrong, "thuggish" and exemplifies the worst of sports.
In the end, I think one of the reasons I enjoy baseball so much is because you see so little of this compared to other big-time professional team sports.
I suppose that's the dinosaur in me coming out.


It's the 'betrayeth' paradigm, without question.
Sherman sounded exactly like Donald Trump...which by itself is enough to simultaneously detest him, and fall down laughing.


Football is a chance for men to compete in warlike conditions without actually killing each other. And you know what, in one sense it's a rehearsal, a sort of drama played out in public that in some small way reminds us that should a real war actually come we'd better be able to compete. In real war, men strap on their helmets with truly bad intentions. When and if it actually comes, no referee's flag is going to affect the outcome. It's no holds barred, mano a mano, brain versus brain, brawn vs brawn, tech vs tech, every weapon at one's disposal is brought to bear to defeat the enemy, because if you don't the consequences for your country might be too terrible to imagine.
Frankly, sometimes it seems like our politicians and generals are teaching our soldiers to fight wars like we now play football, with one hand tied behind our back. Part of the problem is that any more we rarely get into wars that portend possible unimaginable harm to our country. I'm not saying that's a bad thing; I'm saying that we haven't faced such a war since World War 2. The Cold War was precisely that, never a Hot War. But should a Hot War come, we'll need every Richard Sherman we can get in this country, every Kam Chancellor. And guess what? The feminist voices will be crying out for them, calling on their bad intentions to stand between them and the enemy.
One of the hardest things about the War On Terror is that it's terror has so far only reached a very few people directly. So we begin to pretend everything is business as usual...until it isn't.
Edited to add: I am aware that history shows political considerations have always affected war and constrained it's implementation. Lord knows I've read enough history of various wars from ancient times to the most recent times, biographies of presidents, generals, ambassadors, dictators, etc., etc. And the maxim is absolutely true that war is the extension of diplomacy to violent means. My post is not meant to suggest that this ought not to be. It IS meant to suggest that we have allowed impossible rules of engagement to so hamstring our soldiers that there is as much conflict within them as there is on the battlefield. We literally drive them crazy, because they know we need them to be warriors, and they want to win, and we put them in harm's way, and then we tell them we don't really want them to win. Perhaps the problem is the overall circumstance in which we deploy them. That's above my pay grade, but American's don't do well when you treat them this way. They know how to win if you give 'em half a chance.

Auto5guy's picture

I wonder if, after breaking their tables and scattering their money across the ground, did Jesus have the gall to call any of the money changers he was flogging with a cat of nine tales "mediocre"?


If folks haven't read this, I strongly recommend it. I really don't think that Sherman damaged his reputation in any way. I mean, Ray Lewis probably participated in a murder & cover up and he's not having any trouble getting TV time after his retirement. A little public trash talk? Meh. Sherman's brother says that after Crabtree tried to pick a fight with him at a charity event last summer (real thuggish behavior), Sherman told his brother that he was going to "make a big play against him" on the field and embarrass him in public. It took seven months but he followed through.


The entire transcript:
Andrews: “Richard, let me ask you about the final play. Take me through it.”
Sherman: “Well, I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me.”
Andrews: “Who was talking about you?”
Sherman: “Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best. Or I’m ma shut it for you real quick. L.O.B!"
Man, I would hate for my kid to ever say he was the best and to tell someone else to stop their bragging, 20 seconds after he made a play to stop a touchdown and send his team to the Super Bowl. Sherman didn't kill anyone, wave a gun around, break a law, even cuss.  He wasn't even blatantly disrespectful. He was somewhat disparaging of his opponent, i.e. something I hear before and after many MMA and Boxing fights.  Except they're way worse.  Carlos Zambrano just started another brawl down in winter ball.  That's thuggish.  Sherman threw no punches, nor laid any racial epithets. Tiger Woods has said worse on a golf course playing that "genteman's game."
Of course, on Sherman's children's charity website, "fans" of the NFL felt perfectly free to spew racist garbage at a man whose crime was to call another man "a sorry receiver" and say that he shut that dude's mouth.
Calling someone a thug for daring to say anything other than glowing praise for the dude who wanted to fight his brother and that he had just beaten on the field of competition... I don't get it. He's never even cussed in front of a microphone in his life.  Even in the heat of the moment he didn't.  Melissa Leo can drop F-bombs at her award acceptance speech without getting called a thug.  Good to be white, I guess.


From a New Testament perspective, boasting is generally not highly thought of. If trash talk fits into that, then I would see a claim that Sherman's trash talk crosses over into the lower levels of poor ethics. However, I would view Sherman's offense as very low on the ethical radar. Bountygate, and stomping on an opponent, are exponentially more ethically offensive.
In regards to the Western pre-1950 ethical/moral consensus and feminization (though I think another word might better describe the current culture than feminization), it was dominated by one people group (white, Catholic males in Europe, then largely white Protestant males in the US). For any other group (non-Catholics in Europe, Non-Protestants in early USA, women in all times, non-white ethnicities in history) living under this "moral consensus" wasn't exactly a day at the park. Especially for women in history. Just looking back through my own family tree, I wouldn't want to trade places with ANY of the women, pre-1950.
Certainly there is a value to the "masculine" tendency towards aggression/forceful behavior - when defending victims of crimes, when acting on righteous indignation, when defending the country. Masculine aggression as a means to subjugate weaker parties isn't something that I, or we as a society (it appears from the historical arc), or a New Testament subscriber would lift up as ethical or to be aspired to.
I view the trend in our society towards gradually removing the masculine aggression (outside of the above "defending" scenario) as having a positive effect - likely creating a safer, more pleasant society for a larger number of the population. In football, the move to lower the level of violence (hitting) is welcome to me, and probably future generations of football players will thank the NFL for finally implementing these safety measures. Even in modern warfare we are seeking ways to use robotics/technology to replace the human aggressor/actor to avoid the myriad costs (monetarily, socially, ethically, and psychologically/spiritually) of doing such.


If it had been Payton Manning who behaved in such a manner, I still would consider it "thuggish." I made no racial implication, none was intended. Have you seen Richie Incognito's video-taped melt down in a Florida bar? That, too, was "thuggish."
Careful with your insinuation, please.
And, BTW, I did not call Sherman a "thug." I labeled his behavior as "thuggish." I have no clue who Melissa Leo is, but had I heard her acceptance speech (for whatever she accepted) I would have probably had a problem with it, too. Definitely, if it was a copy of Sherman's.
As well, I did not indicate that it was primarily his WORDS that I had concern with. Merely reading his words does not do service to his absurd theatrical performance and the bad example it sets for young athletes. I clearly indicated that it was his behavior that bothered me: It was more than his words.
Sherman conducted himself to a much higher level during the "on stage" interview later. How many people saw that, however?
I have no dislike for the man. I don't know him. I do have a large dislike for the behavior he exhibited at that moment.
I'm enough of a dinosaur that I still enjoy a bit of humility in sporting interviews.

misterjonez's picture

There's just no way around that. We're at the top of the food chain for many, many reasons, and one of them is our innate aggression. I do think when speaking in terms of cultural direction, one really does need to speak in binary terms. Direction can be fairly well defined as the progressive, relative distance between two points (where you are, and where you'd like to go, for example) so when speaking in terms of direction one does need to understand that it can, fairly simply, be reduced to a binary question:
Are we getting closer to Point A, or further away?
I think most of the people who have contributed to this particular discussion are speaking in those terms: have we moved further toward the aggressive (i.e. masculine) end of the behavioral spectrum or away from it? What you're bringing up when speaking about how to HARNESS aggression, to me that comes off as a separate (but linked!) set of topics: morality, ethics, values, etc..
I think that easily 90% of people would agree that less violence would be better for everyone. But it's a complex issue when you talk about breaking down what are fairly fundamental components of at least half the world's population's basic, physiologically-driven character and trying to refocus those energies into something you view as more productive/desirable. Respecting the complexity of the issue is an important aspect of devising a better solution to any problem. Which is to say nothing of the likelihood that any group, no matter how powerful or enlightened, could universally impose its own morality/ethics/values on the world, however benign such changes might be, or even whether or not the new system is abjectly superior.
Say, for example, you've got a son who's physically average for his age. He starts having trouble with some of the other kids at school because only about half of the other parents agree with your philosophy (which, for the sake of argument, let's say is what I grew up with: take the high road, don't descend to their level, let the authorities sort it out, etc..). The end result is that your kid ends up getting whaled on by the 'bullies' and really not much happens to curb their behavior because, as previously elucidated, only about half of the other kids' parents agree with your family's philosophy - the other half are of a 'dog-eat-dog' mentality. (I, personally, had very little trouble in high school, being 6'2", bench-pressing 310lbs as a sophomore and competing, albeit poorly, on the wrestling team...but plenty of my friends faced the outlined scenario and *I* had to get their backs on more than one occasion since it was clear no one else would help them - including the supposed authorities).
I'm not trying to be condescending (far from it!) but when I look at the general direction of society, which is no longer 'shackled' by religious morays and values, I see a necessary shift toward the AGGRESSIVE end of the spectrum in order for people like me just to hold serve with what the world will be dishing out. If 90% of the parents at the aforementioned high school agreed in general terms on conduct, they could fairly well police the aberrant 10% without much difficulty. But when the divide is closer to the middle of the group, it becomes necessary to take protective measures purely for the purposes of holding onto what one already has, in terms of freedom and opportunity for success.
When you continue this train of thought with an eye toward global social, political, and economic situations, it becomes pretty clear that the complexity of the issue is a serious hurdle. If an entire country becomes less aggressive (which is, as you say, generally considered to be a positive trend throughout human history) then how will their neighbors behave? Will they follow the example? Possibly. Will they try to exploit a perceived weakness? Probably. Again, we're speaking in general, historic terms about how our species has proven it will behave in a given circumstance.
Said all of that to say (as Doc would put it): I generally agree with your post above; it's 'how I roll out of bed in the morning,' if you know what I mean? It's basically how I came pre-programmed genetically and socially via my particular upbringing. I actually do take small issue with saying that men have historically held as much power as modern culture would like us to think (any husbands in the audience out there wanna speak as to the influence a wife can have on a man's decision-making?), but even allowing that bit to stand for the purposes of the discussion...and I'm sure some people will get angry about this, but it's a natural direction of the many successful matriarchal societies have there been throughout human history? I'm not speaking to superiority vs. inferiority, so hold onto your breath for a second and re-read what I've already written. What I'm asking, without any malice whatsoever, is this: Is feminization (or, if you prefer, 'demasculinization') of an entire society a viable, successful strategy in GENERAL terms?
Obviously a lot of people think it is. And obviously a lot of people think it might not be. But above all of the conjecture, and beyond all the hyperbole, I think the body of human history gives us a fairly extensive record to peruse in order to find the answer for ourselves. I honestly don't know the answer. I do know there have been a few long-standing tribal societies which were essentially matriarchal, but most of the decentralized cultures of the world (matriarchal OR patriarchal) have gotten hammered into the ground by the various empires of their day in a New York minute.
So the big question, again, is this: Is minimizing the 'masculine' characteristics of an entire society a generally good idea? I think the direction should be, as you *seem* to suggest, less about removing the masculine behavior and more about accepting it within the confines of a societally agreed upon code of conduct/morality. Like, say, the one found in the Judeo-Christian philosophy... ;-)
Unfortunately there are no perfect solutions, only perfect problems...well, something like that anyway. I do think that this particular vein of discussion is one which goes largely ignored in the 'mainstream' areas of the global media, but I think it deserves some examination.

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