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Thursday, January 25, 2001
Updated: September 13, 6:26 PM ET

Jive trash talkin'


By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

We must record that contrary to popular rumor, it wasn't Mike Tyson who first said, "Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman! Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread!"

Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders can certainly sell wolf tickets.
Which is serious trash.

Tyson did threaten to eat the children of an Englishman named Lennox Lewis, world heavyweight champ. This qualifies Tyson as qualified at trash talking, talking smack, selling wolf tickets.

It does not make him particularly original, or even fearsome, unless you're some naive housewife.

Really, if you are a competitor in any field of human endeavor, you haven't lived until you've been called "be-atch" by one of your opponents. Talking trash works for everybody, against everybody. And it works on everybody. Just a question about which line of insults you're vulnerable to. But yo, everybody has their weak spot, their G spot that makes them lose concentration, become more susceptible. And that is what the real cash trash talker is trying to do. Anybody who actually means what they say in the area of trash talking is an emotional child unworthy of our attention. We're not talking about them today, or any other day.

"These two are for your mama."

"Say hello to your wife and my kid."

One insult was taken from real life, from an NBA game, just before a deep jump shot by either Gary Payton, or Allen Iverson, or Kobe Bryant, each of whom will massage you with tales of your ineptitude while dropping 40 on your ass. The second line was uttered by a character played by former big-league pitcher Pete Vukovich in the movie "Major League." Come on, admit it, the last one made you laugh.

Or, at least think.

Or hesitate between the two.

And that is what true trash talking is designed to do.

When Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' incessant and profane chatter finally got into running back Eddie George's shaven head, and George all but handed the football to Lewis for an interception return for a touchdown in the AFC divisional playoffs, we had no idea why he did that. Because he was distracted. Because Lewis had gotten underneath his helmet, in his dome. He started talking back to Lewis. Trying to match him. He lost.

Muhammad Ali
When it comes to talking trash, Muhammad Ali was definitely "The Greatest."
Offensive football players don't have a lot of reason to talk smack. Getting into the end zone is smack talk enough. Even those little choreographed celebrations bespeak of a break in concentration. An old running back once told me, "The cheerleaders were there to celebrate. I was there to score. So I didn't get excited about getting into the end zone. I'd been there before. And I was always planning to go back soon."

That is called a cool way to talk trash. That's cerebral trash. Doesn't often work on defenders. They can't figure it out. They are much more susceptible to being called "be-atch" or something. The exception was Deion Sanders. Back in the day, Deion could sell wolf tickets because he didn't need to concentrate on playing. He was that good. He was concentrating on being noticed, getting paid. A lot of today's talkers just want the spotlight, They have no idea of the true value of trash talk.

The whole object of trash talking is to get the listener mad, make him confused, take him out of his game.

Apparently, it works on most of the viewing audience, who seemed to get much more outraged than the participants in the game, who've been hearing this stuff all their lives and are fairly inured to it. Most especially if you are a black player, you are expected to play without uttering a peep, to try to win the game without offending the tin ears of all these unprejudiced viewers who are taking a Karl Malone elbow to the chops and wouldn't know what to say about it -- other than "OW!" -- if they did.

I don't even know why I'm writing about trash talking, frankly, because the best of it is rated X for incredibly offensive and wonderful profanity that I wish I could repeat here, only the members of ESPN.com's Page 2 Wrecking Crew want to keep their jobs and won't hear of it. And to that I say ... who's your daddy?

I mean, who's your adopted daddy.

Because we all know your biological daddy is Pete Vukovich in the movie "Major League," Be-atch.

That's sort of how it works.

Recently there have been some racial connotations given to trash talking, like only the brothers do it. Well, only the brothers seem to get mad when they are the recipients of it, that's for sure. Even the gracious and mild-mannered Dr. J, Julius Erving, went gangk when Larry Bird told him during a game that if Doc didn't do better, he, Bird, was going to drop 50 on his old ass that very night. Doc pondered this true fact disguised as trash talk and then quickly measured Bird for a choker necklace with one of his big hands.

The King of Trash Talk -- beside the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk, whose quote opens this mess -- was and probably remains the Maestro, Muhammad Ali. The man was a fountain of rich, thoughtful abuse, and don't think it was limited to opponents in the ring. Long after he had retired and I met him on a bus that was headed for his former training camp in Deer Lake, Pa., Ali smiled at me and greeted me with this line:

"Just another n----r, trying to get bigger."

Like that was going to make me get off the bus or something, take me out of my game. No way, baby.

When Ali faced the impossible task of besting the bone-grinding Giant, George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974, Ali played rope-a-dope and absorbed George's intimidating blows and then told George:

"Is that all you got, George. I mean, is that it?"

George admits that in his mind at the time, he thought, "Yeah ... that's about all I got. That's about it."

And George ended up flat on his keister, and Ali ended up an even greater legend.

That's called conversational trash talking. There's also emotional trash talking, profane trash talking, I'm-the-one-who-is-really-afraid-trash talking, all kinds of it.

And you ain't heard nothing yet. Wait till they mike up the flotsam and jetsam in the XFL.

So never underestimate the power of the flapping jib.

And never pay much attention to it either.

The guy doing the most trash talking is usually the same guy one with other hand on your wallet and his finger up ...

Well, never mind where his finger is. If you weren't so easily distracted by his trash talk, you'd already know where his finger was, and wouldn't have to ask. If you have to ask ... game over.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."