Sportsmanship down the ravine, on approval ratings and sponsors’ earnings: the charm of trash talking in sport and the personalities who use it

Sportsmanship down the ravine, on approval ratings and sponsors’ earnings: the charm of trash talking in sport and the personalities who use it

Competitive activity is subjected to ethical and equality checks to make the sport possibly more equitable and absent of uncontrollable conflicts. However, due to the character elements of certain professional athletes, we often witness verbal exchanges with content “below the belt” which, paradoxically, make it more appreciated and supported. A popular analysis of this communicative phenomenon linked to the theory of personal traits follows.


Sporting activity gives vent necessary to satisfy our primordial instincts inherited from our ancestral past as hunters and subsistence nomads (Liebenberg, 2008), it has evolved to be an element of encounter between the various Human Societies, an economic phenomenon global and simply a meeting point with the Other. With the evolution of the concept of Law and Respect in Human Culture, this then led to the birth of a real Jurisprudence in the world of Competitive Activities (Martens, 1987), which gave birth to the behavior called “sportsmanship” (“Sportsmanship”), respectful and fair behavior towards the opponent (Vallerand, Deshaies, Cuerrier, Brière & Pelletier, 1996).

Sportsmanship is an aptitude characteristic considered favorable in history, which leads the athlete to be perceived by the public as having good character openness and good judgment (Sharpe, Brown, & Crider, 1995). The sporting correct attitude is generally considered with such positivity that Philosophical Academics if it could be considered a subject of study in the field of moral categories (JW Keating, 1964).

However, with the advent and development of telecommunications, we have seen the importance of the communicative element defined as “trash talking”, that is aggressive communication where one or more subjects insult the opponent with the aim of psychologically disqualifying him for give the impression of being superior (Yip, Schweitzer, Nurmohamed, 2018).

Although a part of the psychology of communication (and of those with an attitude oriented towards ethics with salience) considers this communication as a vehicle of incivility (ibidem), another part, together with today’s scholars of Motor Sciences, consider trash talking as a normal element in sports competition, this being a psycho-aptitude and tension-releasing reaction by certain character types when dealing with tension (Dixon, 2007).

As can be paradoxically highlighted, the sports insult on the pitch and / or through the media is considered an unorthodox strategy with possible favorable results (Silverman, 1999) or certainly good both from the point of view of the results on the field and homeostatic (Gorvett, 2019).

In fact, trash talking, more than a communicative element of the frame that can create interest in the sporting event, is today considered an essential ingredient of the same event (Jarett, 2019), of which it is necessary to have a perennial and solid ability to use (Cohn, 2020).

Furthermore, as evidenced by the social and cultural status that famous trash talkers such as Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali, Tito Ortiz, John McEnroe, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Conor McGregor have achieved, controversial personalities have often been welcomed by the public, despite negative impressions that are given by behaviors such as arrogance and having no respect (Thorngate, 1976).

This occurs because often the results of their rants have the desired effect (Best, 2019), allowing them to have a good reception from the public (Ring et al, 2019). Moreover, this impression often evolves into sympathy and attraction towards this type of actor, whether it is for the ostentatious security or for the personality outside the box, since the unconditional exposure of the less acceptable sides of the human character is often welcomed, since it is a sign of rebellion against imposed Ethical and Social laws, often perceived as an imposed limit (Gruber, 2015). For this reason, some sports personalities can fall within the profile described by the Dark Triad, that is, subjects with Machiavellian, narcissistic and psychopathic behavioral traits (Pahulus, Williams, 2002).

Obviously, although trash talking is an interesting topic and sometimes, as a strategy, it creates an objective interest in the actor and the competitive activity he practices, it is basically a controversial and easily counterproductive element, which can lead to avoidable disqualifications, both sportingly and psychologically (Gracia, 2018) and it is often frustration and dysfunctional aggression passed off for safety (Edger, 2011).