Saturday, November 15

Talkin' smack

I'd like to quickly dispense with the myth that in sports, opponents' pre-game comments have anything to do with a team's gameday performance.

Writers and broadcasters love this played-out story angle. Here's how it happens. First, a player says something like "I guarantee we're gonna win" or "those guys aren't very physically tough," or "what a bunch of pansies." The comments are then published in a newspaper or on TV. The other team then gets wind of what the guy said and maybe someone posts a clipping on the locker room wall. Maybe they even use highlighter. For this reason, such comments are often known as "bulletin-board material." I wonder if locker rooms really have bulletin boards? Finally, the story of the day becomes how the one team is suddenly so fired-up because they feel slighted by what the other guy said, and are thus going to come out and play great with all this extra motivation they have.

Please. This is ridiculous.

First of all, players at college and professional levels get super-jacked up for big games no matter what. They really, really don't need further motivation to want to go out and win. That's why they're elite athletes in the first place; athletic talent plus a strong competitive spirit. Have you seen, for example, Kevin Garnett? That guy head-butts the basket support before every game. He admitted to having insomnia during the playoffs. How much extra motivation does that guy need? Sure, Garnett's an extreme case, but pro and college athletes are crazy-competitive. When they get in the game and they're trying to score baskets or catch passes, no one's thinking about some boast an opposing player made five days ago.

Second of all, high-level sports games always come down to talent and execution (and some luck). It doesn't matter how much smack anyone talks - the team who performs better and gets the right breaks wins the game. Let's say that I've got a 1-on-1 matchup scheduled against LeBron James. The King can talk big all he wants, break out all sorts of smack on me, and I can get absolutely crunked for the game and have this incredible burning desire to win and prove LeBron wrong, and he's still going to absolutely destroy me at basketball.

Finally, there's some confirmation bias supporting the school of thought that "bulletin-board material" has any effect on the game. Anytime a guy does some jawing and his team comes out and plays poorly and loses, you've got a story that basically writes itself. "Hey, look, this dummy ran his mouth and his team lost." You, the fan, are going to hear about this development ad nauseum. But when a player says stuff that supposedly motivates his opponents but that player's team rolls anyway, what kind of a story is that? It's kinda like how you never hear about all the planes that land.

Next time you read or hear a sports analyst trying to work this angle, please don't believe it. These guys are plenty motivated to win regardless of what any opponent says, and sports games will continue to come down to which team performs best regardless of any pre-game sniping in the press.

No comments: