Let us ‘ole timers’ be clear. There is a difference in team leadership, locker room, playing field and team bus talk from public, published, media, smack, trash, intimidating talk before, during and after competition, which become bulliten board and other kinds of inspiration for opponents and talk that is regarded as just braggadocio for others. Nobody likes ‘too cockey’.

Every blown hard thing inflated, that goes up, will immediately come tumbling down. Braggadocia in sport competition is a risk Athletes need not take, a wise many advised.

Team private leadership talk, pep talk, team meeting encouragement, praise, cheering, inspiration, reinforcement, extreme tough, do or die talk are part of the game and supported by ‘ole timers’. Talk doesn’t get Sport done. Concentration, superior mindfulness and execution do.

Walter Camp, played and coached at Yale beginning in 1878. He was the Father of American Football and saw football as the antidote to the degeneration of young men and held the football players up as proof that football turned men effective and courageous.”

Camp was as much the arbiter of football as he was the arbiter of modern manhood. “Talk is cheap”….”Football hardens men to greatness”….”makes gentlemen athletes”….”who pride themselves with sportsmanship”….

Camp said, “Play fair, but play hard and never give up. If you get whipped, Keep Your Mouth Shout and accept the issue, but be determined to change it next year.”

“Keep Your Mouth Shut,  Play Fair and Hard” were fundamental rules when football began. So what changed that doctrine in the last 140 years? Progress? [Walter Camp, Father of American Football: Football and the Modern Man, Oct 8, 2015 by Julie Des Jardins]

Walter Camp Yale Football

Mocking someone, making fun of someone, smack, trash talk, fighting words are disrespectful and NOT GOOD ‘sportsmanship’; likewise for statesmanship, citizenship, scholarship, friendship, partnership, courtship, companionship, spouseship.

Irreverent worship, the most despicable -ship, is the red line. When crossed Irreverent worship is a breach of the only pure joy, peace, holiness and sanctified order.

The suffix -ship indicates the state, quality, condition and class or, lack thereof, of a person, which can be either good or bad.  All these disrespectful, bad -ships are abominable. [English Language, Usage and Etymology]

To begin, I was taught adversarial words of any kind during sport participation, which would nowadays include ‘Trash-talk’, ‘Smack’ and ‘Fighting Words’, were out of bounds and punishable with several laps around the football field or up and down the gym bleachers. Compliments were acceptable.

When I got up after a tackle, even when ‘slobber-knocked’, to their surprise, sometimes amazement, I often patted the defender on the rear hip pads and said, ‘great hit’ and hustled back to the huddle. A few hard hits followed by my reaction, was demoralizing, opponents later remarked..

Sport participation, in my day, was a privilege and an honorable endeavor. Sports, Coaches, opponents, fans and all who made every Sport possible deserved respect. Athletes were taught to let their play do their talking or take the punishment when violated. Athletes had an unspoken honor code.

Post game hand shaking, humble in victory and gracious in defeat and off the field friendships were the standards.

Granted, millennials might scoff at the reference to the ‘good ole days’, but those days were respectful, ethical and moral days, free of government immorality, school shootings and opioid epidemics.

Might be that we should go back to ‘good ole days’ ‘better behavior’ starting at the top, then down. 2018 University of Michigan Men’s Basketball understand; their motto now is:  ‘DO MORE, SAY LESS. Bravo Michigan.

‘Trash-talk, ‘Smack’ and ‘Fighting Words’ during Sports participations and lengthy dislikes, hatred and grudges afterwards were in the ‘ole days’ and are likewise nowadays childish, immature and unacceptable. IMHMSO.

‘Trash-talk’ is a form of insult usually found in sports events. It is often used to intimidate the opposition, but can also be used in a humorous spirit. Trash-talk is often characterized by use of hyperbole or figurative language. [ “trash talk”, Definition of trash talk in English by Oxford Dictionaries]

‘Trash-talk’ can be used in many different ways and many different times. It is most commonly used in amateur and professional sports, when there are two teams or just people that may not be fond of each other or they are rivals.

‘Trash-talk is used to get into opponents minds and/or insult and distract them. The ‘talker’ might or might no actually mean it. Most recognized ‘Trash-talkers’ in history are in sports.  [“The kings of trash talk”, Jackson, Derrick Z. (February 2, 2010), Boston Globe, Globe Newspaper Company, March 17, 2016] [“Sherdog’s Top 10: Trash Talkers,Sherdog 2017-10-09]

‘Smack-talk’ is also a slang term used in sports. It refers to inflammatory comments made by a person or team in order to insult, anger, annoy or be boisterous towards opponents. Although it began as a term used by sports fans and athletes, it has spread to all areas of culture, even politics, where competition takes place. In the United States, it is synonymous with “Trash-talk”.

‘Smack-talk’ is a slang term seen in chat channels in chat room, blog, and massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) conversations. The term came about in the early 1990s. It generally refers to the use of threatening or intentionally inflammatory language. ‘Smack-talk’ can also be used with bullying, whether that be face-to-face interaction, or cyber-bullying. [Social interactions in massively multiplayer online role-playing gamers, CyberPsychology and Behavior, Volume 10, pp. 575-583, H. Cole and Griffiths, MD., 2007]

An extreme example, ‘Fighting Words’, must be included in this report, because ‘Trash-talk and Smack’ often precipitate fights.

So when do boisterous, angry, intimidations, insults and threatening, inflammatory comments made by a person or team become ‘Fighting Words’. There are legal considerations, sometimes criminality, and definitions.

The suggested legal Definition of ‘Fighting Word(s)’ – a word or symbol which is likely to lead a reasonable-person-in that-situation to fight back and breach the peace.

The Supreme Court has defined fighting words as “those [words] which by their very utterance … tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” [7 Chaplinsky v New Hampshire, 315 US 568,572 (1942). The University of Chicago Law Review [72:385] [8 The fighting words doctrine is generally characterized as an “exception” to the speech protections codified in the First Amendment.]

But No clear list of fighting words exists. ” [109 See, for example, Rosen, “Fighting Word” 1 Legal Aff at 18 (cited in note 99) (arguing that no such consensus existed even by the 1940s, and that “it was hardly obvious even in the middle of World War II that being called a ‘damned Fascist’ would have provoked an average man to a fistfight”)]

“No clear limits appear to exist, leaving the designation of ‘Fighting Words’, like threats, up to the legislature and the findings of a judge or panel of judges as to whether a particular word or phrase is sufficiently likely to provoke breaches of the peace when used as a personalized insult.”

“Furthermore, the ‘list approach’ does not take into account the highly situational aspect of fighting words:

  • whether any particular word or symbol is likely to lead a reasonable person to fight back and breach the peace
  • may in fact be completely subjective
  • -despite the ‘Fighting Words Doctrine’ partially objective, reasonable-person-in that-situation standard.”‘ [111. Transcript of Oral Argument, Virginia v Black at *14 (cited in note 66)]

“Low value” is often used to describe categories of speech that the Supreme Court has held merit less First Amendment protection. [Cass Sunstein] has suggested that 4 factors are relevant:

  • First, the speech must be far afield from the central concern of the first amendment, which, broadly speaking, is effective popular control of public affairs….
  • Second, a distinction is drawn between cognitive and non-cognitive aspects of speech ….
  • Third, the purpose of the speaker is relevant: if the speaker is seeking to communicate a message, he will be treated more favorably than if he is not.
  • Fourth, the various classes of low-value speech reflect judgments that in certain areas, government is unlikely to be acting for constitutionally impermissible reasons or producing constitutionally troublesome harms.

“The category of ‘Fighting Words’ is in essence an exception to the speech protections enshrined in the First Amendments. It is one of “certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem.”9

“As court-designated “low value” speech, ‘Fighting Words’ merit little First Amendment protection in the face of the competing state interest of preventing breaches of the peace.10

“While the Supreme Court declared that fighting words is a “well defined class of speech”, whether any individual’s speech constitutes unprotected fighting words rather than expression protected by the First Amendment is anything but clear.

“In most cases, state and local judges and law enforcement decide whether a particular expression of speech directed to a particular listener in a particular situation is sufficiently likely to provoke a breach of the peace by an ordinary listener in that situation.

“The questions of when speech constitutes ‘Fighting Words’ and whether anyone should be punished for speaking ‘Fighting Words’ have been much dissected, with proposals ranging from abolishing the ‘Fighting Words Exception’ to radically expanding it.12 [8 The fighting words doctrine is generally characterized as an “exception” to the speech protections codified in the First Amendment.]

“As a result, any such designation would still require case-by-case analysis to see if this use of the designated ‘Fighting Word’ would fit within the exception because it took place in a situation meriting the lack of constitutional protection. As discussed in Part IV.A.2, the designated ‘Fighting Words’ approach allows a rule (the speech is criminal) and a standard (in certain situations) to replace two standards; nevertheless, the clarity of the rule can be swallowed whole by the need to define what constitutes a ‘Fighting Words’ situation, when the speech is used as a personalized insult in a confrontational situation.

[109 See, for example, Rosen, “Fighting Word” 1 Legal Aff at 18 (cited in note 99) (arguing that no such consensus existed even by the 1940s, and that “it was hardly obvious even in the middle of World War II that being called a ‘damned Fascist’ would have provoked an average man to a fistfight”)] [110 With trademarks, a federal agency exists to determine whether a mark has acquired a secondary meaning such that it could be registered. In the realm of obscenity law, legislators make such lists. See Miller v California, 413 US 15, 23-24 (1973). However, such lists, while a necessary part of any ban on obscenity, are often criticized for either providing a roadmap for evasion or in the alternative remaining a vague means of criminalizing speech.] [111 Transcript of Oral Argument, Virginia v Black at *14 (cited in note 66).] [112 See note 20 and accompanying text.]

Moving beyond the ‘Fighting Words’ extreme example, nowadays, “players and spectators ‘Talk-trash’ all the time in sports at every level. It is just another aspect of the game in many sports.” this Reporter will agree ‘Talking-trash’ is an ‘aspect’, but should not be ‘a part of the game’.

“Mentally tough athletes remain focused, composed and relaxed in the face of ‘Trash-talk’. They have the ability to fully immerse into their performance, unfazed by what others have to say.”

“The problem with Trash-talk occurs, when athletes let it affect their composure and emotional control. During the heat of the battle Trash-talk can lead to frustration and aggression, which is what we want to avoid.” [Frustration and Aggression in Sports by Mike Edger, 24 Feb 2011, Sports Psychology, Youth Sports Articles]

“”> Why do humans fight? The quick and simple explanation, “It’s human nature.”

“Men will often report striking out because of fear. They feel backed into a corner by the intensity of an argument and opt to lose control

The ‘it’s-human-nature’ argument is modified thus: ‘It’s human animal nature.’ After all,  humans belong to the Animal Kingdom Phylum, Chordata. Humans are Chordates. This phylum has some of the most familiar animals, including mammals such as humans; vertebrates and mammals; marine invertebrates. [Fabulously Detailed Animal Kingdom Classification, BiologyWise]

“An adult lion’s roar can be heard up to five miles away.” Humans and lions, both members of the Animal Kingdom are born to roar when rejoicing and fight for survival and self defense. Both are born to quiet their roar when they quietly pursue their game. There is a time and place for everything; a time and place for silence and a time and place to roar. [The Roar of the Lion, The Silence of the Lamb, Nov 27, 2016, Genesis 3:8-13 by Abraham Hong]  [Fight for Life, Born Predator Facts, National Geographic, Nov 16, 2012] [ Definition “Self-Defense 2012-06-02] [Romans 12:17]

“It’s instinctive. Freud liked this argument. As he told Albert Einstein, we will not manage war unless we manage our animal passions, our baser instincts. The reptile brain made me do it [Why We Fight: The Psychology of Institutionalized Violence, Presentation, War and Peace Lecture Series, Sonoma State University, October 2006 by Craig Chalquist, MS PhD]

“”> Frustration encourages aggression, because frustration is uncomfortable.

“Various aversive uncomfortable, unpleasable stimuli heighten hostility and aggression (Anderson et al 1996 Morgan, 2005) i.e insults, anger, arguments, pain, coupled with environmental conditions,  hot weather temperatures, disgusting scenes and odors.

“External and internal stimuli raise overall arousal levels so that humans become more sensitive to aggression cues (Carlson et al 1990 Miller). Aversive stimuli activate ideas, memories and expressions associated with anger and aggression (Morgan, 2005).

“External stimuli, words, actions, and gestures are strongly associated with aggressive responses i.e raised middle finger in U.S.

‘Trash-talk’, Smack and ‘Fighting Words’ are external stimuli which incite aggressive responses.

There is no internal instinctive human programing for aggressive fist fighting or other aggressive actions. Humans are programed for self-defense and survival when cornered. Aggression and attack are learned behavior. Humans who were victims of violence during childhood are likely to become violent themselves (Murrell, Christoff, Henning, 2007). [introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior by Dennis Coon, John O. Mitterer, Cengage Learning, Dec 29, 2008 – Psychology- 800 pages]

What are the subtle nonverbal fist fighting cues that indicate the exchange of blows is eminent?

“When a pretty heated verbal exchange with someone a person know erupts, followed-by the other person taking a deliberate look around the vicinity, prepare for an altercation.

“Turning the head is one of the two strongest non-verbal cues of an impending fight, according to a new study by two criminologists, Richard Johnson and Jasmine Aaron, at the University of Toledo.

“In the Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior, Johnson and Aaron explained that they presented a written description of a tense scenario to their subjects. They were then given 23 actions that person might take next, and were asked to rate how concerned they would be about impending doom as a result.

“The two top choices were intuitively the most obvious concerns—invading human personal space and taking a boxer’s stance.

“Three other behaviors signaled potential violence—the aforementioned glancing around, clenching hands (making a fist), and the verbal cue of making a threat.

After those, a range of actions generated some concerns—a tense jaw, hands in pocket, pacing, neck stretches, rapid breathing, sweating, taking off clothing and yelling among them.

In general, the researchers suggest, while there’s a documented difference in how the sexes perceive non-verbal cues, “cues related to human aggression may be so primal (reptilian, limbic system of the brain) that both males and females respond the same.” [Parsing the Body Language that leads to a Fight, Michael Todd, Jul 25, 2013, Pacific Standard]

Well known Trash and Trash-Talkers were:

Muhammad Ali, “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee…his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”

Floyd Mayweather, “When I retire, I’ll get Ricky Hatton to wash my clothes and cut my lawn and buckle my shoes. Ricky Hatton ain’t nothing but a fat man.”

Barry Bonds, “I’m not arrogant, I’m good.”

Steve Spurrier, “Kentucky has a heck of a punter, I know that.”

Dizzy Dan, ? “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.”

Some say that “verbal intimidation has always been the backbone of physical competition.” This reporter and others say that verbal intimidation during competition is ‘trash-talking’ indicative of bragging, conceit, cockiness, weakness and fear.

‘Throughout history, the sports world has been flooded with colorful characters who possess a flair for the dramatic with ‘trash-talking’.

Conversely, this reporter and others say colorful characters at the same time can be ‘humble and gracious’, not ‘Trashers’.

“Some ‘Trashers’ boast, others berate. But all ‘trash-talkers’ are determined in their pursuit of vocal greatness.

“Many ‘Trashers’ run their mouths in a losing effort or before a disastrous defeat. But Pumerantz focused on ‘Trashers’ who backed up their talk with excellent Athletic performances. “These dudes made good on their promises.” Rather than ‘smack’, their bravado was history.   [The 50 Best Trash-talk Lines in Sports History by Zack Pumerantz, June 29, 2012, B / R]

What is the Psychology of ‘Trash-talk’?

There are clear examples and differences in ‘Trash-talk types:

  • historical documentation
  • competitive intimidation
  • unfounded boasting
  • and multiple variations of the three examples.

Traditionally, ‘trash-talking’ was done to either

  • incite and evoke emotions of scandal
  • put someone’s honorability at stake
  • ‘put them down’ to pursue a challenge against another person or group
  • ‘trash’ and ‘cut them down’ to win an Athletic competition

One opinion stated: “”>Trash-talking is ‘not’ actually a new phenomenon.”

“Trash-talking is engaging in accusatory strategies geared at provoking a response from a person, rival or competitor who may at times, be unwilling to engage in the battle or task.

“It’s called trash-talk for a reason; the verbal diarrhea that ensues can be quite damaging, unfiltered, and reckless in its aim; serving only to engage the other person’s anger and channel it to fuse the reactions of viewers.<”” [Boomerang Answer, A. Mushtaq, works at Social Housing Answered Aug 21, 2015]

Another weighed in: “”>Trash talk is the practice of boasting and insulting one’s foes on court or afield.

“But critics see in Trash-talk the decline of sportsmanship and consider it yet another sign of society’s general loss of civility.

As you will note further in this report, there is a difference in ‘trash-talk’ on the amateur and professional level. For example, professional sport leagues discourage trash talking with no-taunting rules.

“Those who are older know that trash talking has been part of basketball and football for a long time,” Lapchick notes.

“Jonathan Katz, a New York City-based clinical sports psychologist, is doubtful. He believes that thinking up put-downs can actually impair an athlete’s performance.

“Some players feel they can intimidate other players by getting into their heads,” says Katz, who has worked with the New Jersey Nets and several college basketball teams. [Boomerang  Answers, K. Shrestha, Astronomer  Answered Sep 16, 2017]

{mbmsrmd opined: In reality, ‘trash’ instead gets into the ‘Trasher’s’ own head. ‘Trashing’ impairs the ‘Trasher’s head’, diminishes concentration, distracts mental focus and weakens mindfulness necessary for executing their own athletic assignments.

“But many athletes are putting time and energy into something that distracts them from their own performance and playing their best.

“Playing well is a competitive Athlete’s most intimidating factor.” Actions speak louder than words.

A loudmouth bully is exactly what ‘trash talk’ shows. It exposes the ‘Trashers’ weakness, fears and impotence,

The Trasher’s Achilles’s Heal is a lack of superior mindfulness and mental toughness, when the Trasher is focused on the opponent’s mind and performance, rather than their own.

Scattered mindfulness, feeble concentration and inferior focus when ‘talking trash’ results from players’ fear of poor outcomes. mental weakness; not confidence and mental toughness. Some are Frightened.}

David was the most famous famous ‘trash-talker’. David was a well-known young biblical athlete. He was able to use a verbal attack to his benefit in a battle with a heavily favored foe.

David proclaims to his much larger enemy, Goliath, in the first chapter of the biblical book of Samuel.  “I will strike you down and cut off your head.”  And the rest is ‘trash-talking’ history. [Quora]

“The most extraordinary ‘Trash-talker’ of all time was Muhammad Ali.” He typified the complexities of ‘Trash’. Ali manifest a layer of youth and inexperience, mixed with kindness and good-will, his most prominent ‘Trash-talking’ characteristics. He backed up his words with championship boxing.

Ali was never mean, but always playful, happy and smiling, which he often, as a world champion boxer, was required to cover-up for his cold-blooded boxing fans.

“Ali was never short on words, words for his opponents, words of prediction, and sometimes he recited poetry he crafted to entertain the masses. Whenever he was interviewed, throngs of fans listened. Ali was not only a dominant fighter, but a dominant personality, cultural figure, and an iconic rhymer.

Even though a controversial conscientious objector at an early age, Ali was one of the greatest, most respected, altruistic Athletes of all time, substantiated by his non-pugilistic awards, honors, greatness and famousness during his senior years.

“Part of fighting and competing is psychological, and a big part of psychology is what we say with our mouths. Sometimes winning is mental, even in a physical arena like the worlds of fighting and sport. Coach Stevens said, it’s long been my contention that it is what we don’t say that has the lasting impact. 

Stevens continued, “The point of Trash-Talk is winning, and those who have a tendency for it will do anything to gain an edge.

“Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser,” George Patton once said. We all know Lombardi’s quotation about second place. Whatever it takes, as long as you get the ‘W.’

However, something still doesn’t sit well with us about it. It seems this mantra of win at all costs has led to the disturbing trend of ‘look at me’ in athletics.

“Ironically, this self-serving arrogance does not actually aid winning in the long run, it sets an athlete up for failure. Pride cometh before the fall.

“As much as athletes who Trash-talk might dominate on the field, do they do so off the field? Do they ‘win’ at life? Many have off-court issues, or, for that matter, even some of their on-court failures.

“Trash-Talking just seems entirely unnecessary and full of downsides. It seems like it’s always going to come back in the end somehow to haunt the offender doing the talking; bite them in the ass.

“In the long run the only way to truly build a culture of winning is through humility, respect, and the ability to listen.

“True competitors i.e. those who love competition, win or lose, will do their talking with their actions.

“They also have the same attitude of winning in their personal lives.

Greatness comes with character. Winning ultimately is about respect.

“Everyone should ‘shut up and play’.  [Take Out The Trash: Why Athletes Should Stop Talking Smack Eric C. Stevens Coach Martial Arts, Sport Psychology, Boxing]

In other research, ‘Sledging’ (in the UK is also known as ‘trash-talk’ or ‘smack’) is the name often given for the widespread use in sport of verbal intimidation.

“In general Trash-Talk is premeditated and valued instrumentally in terms of its capacity to undermine the competitive effectiveness of one’s opponent.

“Those against ‘sledging’ (Trash-Talk) adopt the Kantian position presented by Dixon (2007, 2008), that it is morally indefensible because people should be treated as ends themselves and not as objects, instruments or tools to be manipulated and overcome as means to that end.

“Some claim that Trash-Talk diminishes athletic competition because the necessary abilities required to be an effective ‘sledger’ fall outside the boundaries of athletic excellence that contests are designed to evaluate and measure.

Summers (2007), however, provides a qualified defense of sledging as a form of ‘weak’ gamesmanship (Howe, 2004).

“Trash-Talk is unhelpful because it has tended to see the problem which is of moral judgment, not the ethical thing to do, as exclusively a philosophical matter, rather than something that affects our everyday behavior in lives.

Trash-Talk “always implicitly appeals-to, and requires the opinions of other judging persons. Koopman (2006)


  • Bernstein, R. J. (1987). The varieties of pluralism. American Journal of Education, 509-525. Dixon, N. (2007).
  • Trash talking, respect for opponents and good competition. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 1(1), 96-106. Dixon, N. (2008).
  • Trash talking as irrelevant to athletic excellence: Response to Summers. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 35(1), 90-96. Howe, L. A. (2004).
  • Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 31(2), 212-225. Koopman, C. (2006).
  • Pragmatism as a philosophy of hope: Emerson, James, Dewey, Rorty. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 20(2), 106-116. Summers, C. (2007).
  • You Just Dropped the Ashes. Journal of Philos of Sport, 34(1), 68-76 Details: Alun Hardman Lisa Edwards Cardiff Metropolitan Univ, Wales.
  • [Alun Hardman & Lisa Edwards “It’s just not cricket?” Sport, wellbeing and the ethics of ‘sledging’]

“In the following research, though everyone wanted and expected an authentic boxing experience, hyper-masculinity was frowned upon in the gym and noticeably absent.

Rarely, if ever, were boxers boastful; there was no Trash-talk between boxers or misogynist locker room banter, and excess demonstrations of toughness or “show boating” were nearly non-existent.

“Jan and Bill [the owners and trainers] took great pride in this fact. (Satterlund 2006: 40) Satterlund’s participants use boxing to perform a version of masculinity which is not ‘hyper-macho’ (Satterlund 2006: 39).

“To learn to box is to imperceptibly modify one’s bodily schema, one’s relation to one’s body and to the uses one usually puts it to, so as to internalize a set of dispositions that are inseparably mental and physical […]

“In the accomplished boxer, the mental becomes part of the physical and vice versa; body and mind function in total symbiosis. (Wacquant 2004: 95-96) We are our bodies and the stories we tell are shaped by and shape our bodily practices.

“Individuals may approach boxing with awareness to, and because of, the cultural meanings about the sport. Once engaged with the sport they become conversant in the hidden curriculum of the gym, through exposure to and engagement with the narrative technologies which support the cultural meanings of the sport (Wacquant 1992: 231).

“Whilst the stories told are idiosyncratic to each gym, each trainer, and each boxer, they share certain narrative themes which transcend cultural and temporal frameworks.

“Boxers are a group of individuals who, according to Sugden and Wacquant, are marginalized (Sugden 1996, Wacquant 2004), and subject to exploitation (Sugden 1996, Wacquant 2002, Cannon 2006). Increasing the pool of narrative resources available to boxers may expand their sense of who they are and could be, and in some ways help to alleviate the marginalization and exploitation they might experience.

Overview: “This ethnographic project chronicles the author’s engagement as a participant observer at two boxing clubs in England, a professional gym in Sheffield, and an amateur gym in Exeter.2

“Initially, it was intended that the thesis would explore the similarities and differences in the approaches taken by these two groups to performance.

“I was interested in how actors and athletes talked about what they did, how they prepared, and how they understood their role as actor, athlete, or, perhaps, a combination of the two.

“My hypothesis was that certain actors and athletes share certain functions when performing or competing, aiming to find ways to connect to the activity and remain in the moment.

“I was interested in how these groups of people narrated this experience(s) and wondered if there was a possibility for knowledge transfer amongst the groups, across the disciplines of sports science and the dramatic arts.

“I began a literary review I started with Geoffrey Beattie’s (1998) Head to Head: Uncovering the psychology of sporting success. The text is a collection of interview transcripts between Beattie, the psychologist, and numerous sporting personalities.

“Through research on Hamed and Ingle, boxing stood out as a site where athletes are required to engage with various forms of performance. Further, boxers face the challenge of balancing their sporting and theatrical abilities.

“For a professional boxer, crowd pleasing performative techniques, such as fancy footwork, showboating, and ‘trash’ taking, are important in order to boom fights, get bums on seats and generate revenue.

“However, too much focus on the theatrical elements and boxers can receive criticism from journalists and commentators for neglecting the ‘athletic’ elements of the sport, and for bringing boxing into disrepute.

“Hamed seemingly blurred the boundaries of what is ‘real’ and ‘legitimate’ sport, and that which is ‘feigned’, performed, and theatrical. Hamed’s approach to boxing blurred the lines between the ‘onstage’ performance – in the ring, and the ‘offstage’ performance in the boxing gym.

“Hamed later defended his performance, declaring in interviews that he wasn’t really present in the ring: ‘“I was in Las Vegas, winning a world title’” (Woodward 2004: 13). Ingle supported this claim, telling reporters that Hamed was lost in the re-enactment of a fantasy about being Sugar Ray Robinson outwitting Marvin Hagler at Caesar’s Palace in 1985 (Ibid).

In an interview with Beattie, Hamed was asked whether his ring antics should be understood in theatrical terms and whether he uses character or puts on an act when boxing. It’s not an act when I’m in the ring. I can’t put it on. It just comes out. It’s just me when I’m in the ring. […] It’s the way I have to perform.

“Hamed, like Ingle, does not seek to differentiate between athletic and performative practices. Having been trained by Ingle for 12 years at the time of the Belcastro fight, Hamed had been ‘brought up’ on the Ingle approach to boxing. He had received what Beattie terms ‘the treatment’ from Ingle, the combination of physical exercises and the exposure to a particular set of narrative resources (Beattie 2002: 72).

“Hamed’s performance in the ring is habitual, having been practiced daily in training. By his own admission, the performance practices are incorporated naturally into his fights, and serve the dual purpose of psychologically disrupting an opponent’s game plan whilst simultaneously being directed at the media for the promotion of future fights; ‘“It’s all about getting bums on seats’” (Hamed in Beattie 2002: 81).

Developing into a boxer-entertainer is crucial for individuals who wish to pursue a successful professional boxing career, particularly for those who see boxing as a vehicle to improve socio-economic opportunities and sense of self. Beattie claims ‘In boxing these days great boxing skill is no longer enough’ (Beattie 2002: 87).

“The analysis of the Hamed-Belcastro event, by Beattie and Woodward, whilst flawed, demonstrates that performative elements occur in boxing both ‘onstage’ and ‘offstage’.

“The relationship between Hamed and Ingle, and the manner in which Ingle trains his boxers, was the reason why the Wincobank gym was researched. This project is interested in the manner in which the boxing experience is narrated. It argues that the narration of experience is a performance of identity.

[Narratives of Performance: An Interdisciplinary Qualitative Ethnography Investigating the Storied Lives of Amateur and Professional Boxers Submitted by Paul Solomon Lennox, to the University of Exeter as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Drama, August 2012]

A segment of Athletes who Trash-Talk might have an Inferiority Complex.

Another research investigation described the psychology behind this process stems from the theory of the Viennese psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, who coined the term inferiority complex. According to Adler, people who feel inferior go about their days overcompensating through what he called “striving for superiority.” Trash-Talking in some instances involves this process.

The only way these inwardly uncertain people can feel happy is by making others decidedly unhappy.

To Adler, this striving for superiority lies at the core of neurosis.

We now think of this striving for superiority as a feature of narcissistic personality disorder, that deviation in normal development that results in a person’s constant search to boost self-esteem.

The 2 kinds of narcissists are the 1. grandiose (who feel super-entitled) and the 2. vulnerable (who, underneath the bravado, feel weak and helpless).

Some may argue that at their core, both types of narcissists have a weak sense of self-esteem, but the grandiose narcissist may just be better at the cover-up.

In either case, when you’re dealing with someone who’s making you feel inferior, there’s a good chance that narcissism is the culprit.

Narcissism doesn’t always reach pathological levels, but it can characterize people to more or less of a degree. Using the concepts of “overt” and “covert” narcissism instead of grandiose and vulnerable, some personality researchers believe that they can learn more about the type of narcissism you might spot in everyday life.

University of Derby (U.K.) psychologist James Brookes (2015) decided to investigate the way that people high on these tendencies actually feel about themselves both in terms of self-esteem and self-efficacy, or one’s confidence in their ability to succeed.

Using a sample of undergraduates—an important point to keep in mind—Brookes analyzed the relationships among overt and covert narcissism, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. The two forms of narcissism were not related to each other, supporting the idea that these two subtypes have some validity. Examining which were more related to self-esteem, Brookes found that those high on overt narcissism in fact had higher self-esteem: Their need to feel “special” seemed to play the most important role for these self-aggrandizing individuals.

Covert narcissists, for their part, had lower self-esteem scores.

Looking at self-efficacy, or the feeling that you can reach your desired goals, the overt narcissists also won the day, compared to their more hypersensitive and insecure counterparts. In particular, for overt narcissists, the need to have power over others seemed to give them the sense that they could accomplish anything.

The Brookes study provides some clues, then, into what makes up the narcissistic personality. It can also offer insight into the ways you can interpret the actions of narcissistic friends, coworkers, or partners through examining their insecurities:

The insecure person tries to make you feel insecure yourself.
When you start to question your own self-worth, is it typically around a specific person or type of person? Is that individual always broadcasting his or her strengths? If you don’t feel insecure in general, but only around certain people, it’s likely they’re projecting their insecurities onto you.

The insecure person needs to showcase his or her accomplishments.
You don’t necessarily have to feel insecure around someone to conclude that inferiority is at the heart of their behavior. People who are constantly bragging about their great lifestyle, their elite education, or their fantastic children may very well be doing so to convince themselves that they really do have worth.

To sum up: Being able to detect insecurity in the people around you can help you shake off the self-doubts that some people seem to enjoy fostering in you.

Taking the high road, and not giving in to these self-doubts, may also help you foster feelings of fulfillment both in yourself, and in the insecure people you know and care about.


Brookes, J. (2015). The effect of overt and covert narcissism on self-esteem and self-efficacy beyond self-esteem. Personality And Individual Differences, 85172-175. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.013

About the Author:  Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., is a Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her latest book is The Search for Fulfillment.

In Print: Abnormal Psychology: Clinical Perspectives on Psychological Disorders (link is external) Online: University of Massachusetts Profile(link is external)

[4 Signs That Someone Is Probably Insecure… and what narcissism has to do with it. By Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D., Nov 17, 2015 Psychology Today]

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