High school smack talk in the digital age

High school smack talk in the digital age
December 21, 2012, 10:15 am
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"Can’t wait to see this game Saturday! I’m pretty sure Katy was ranked high last year and didn’t even make it past La Porte…"

"See ya Saturday! Can’t Wait! Can’t wait till Steele exposes yall’s true colors."

"F*%$ Katy Football plain and simple… Pu@#ies."

Trash talk has always been a part of sports, trying to get in the head of an opponent and give your team an advantage has been part of the landscape of sports for years. Usually between friends, or if it’s at the stadium, shouted towards the players from the stands.

With the proliferation of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, the barriers to the players have been lifted and present a new set of challenges for players and coaches alike.

“I have coaches that track it,” Katy head coach Gary Joseph said. “My thing with our kids is I don’t want them to get caught up in that stuff.

“The important things are the things that are real. And we have to face the realization every day. I think that that’s one of the tings that we really push to our kids is being genuine.”

A coach may worry less now about a quote given to a reporter that could be pinned on an opponent’s locker room wall. Instead it’s the ill conceived, off the cuff tweet or status update meant to be funny or made out of frustration. Where coaches could once control the access his team had to a wide audience, with Twitter and Facebook their ability to filter is removed from the equation. Mix the impulsive nature of 15-18 year old kids and a medium that has no reset button and the possibilities can be frightening.

“There were some things said from (third round playoff opponent) Elsik players that were tweeted that we picked up,” North Shore coach David Aymond said. “And they were all promises about what they were going to do to some of our players and on and on in the form of, like I said promises.  Words are words, it’s about 48 minutes on a football field on a game night. That’s what it’s about.”

“What we do is we remind our players that a lot of times on social media, on a social network, is going to give someone else an insight into your personality," Aymond continued. “Therefore, if you put something out there it needs to be something honest about you. Not anything that you build, not anything that gives them motivation and inspires them and gets them ready to play. It needs to be humility, it needs to be factual, it needs to be things that don’t draw attention to self. That if there’s any focus off the social media it should be on team.”

Message boards are one thing, the playground for fans to vent their frustrations and brag beyond reality frequently goes past the realm of good taste but it has a built in safety net. It’s an arena that’s designed to provide a measure of anonymity, where people can go and push the limits without fear of what’s written landing back at their feet. There is no such buffer with Twitter and Facebook, they were designed to broadcast personal messages from the important to the inane. Today’s kids have grown up with the two sites as a part of their lives and may not see there’s lines they can cross with their friends that they can’t be online.

Twitter and Facebook flaw is the lack of context of what’s written. Are one player’s comments about another team shared by his teammates? Was a similar message sent from the coaches to the team? How should another team react to what it reads? What if it’s not players, but fans that write the messages? What recourse does a player have? Smack talk generally used to stay within the boundaries of the playing field, it now reaches through cyberspace where challenges, promises and threats are out for the world to see. It can start to get dangerous when everybody knows who called out whom.

“I’m not going to say we, most guys on the team, they look at it,” North Shore linebacker Zac Whitley said. “But me, personally I don’t pay attention to that talk. I use it as a hype to myself. 'OK, I’ll show them on the field,' that’s how we talk, we use our pads instead of our mouths.”

“All you can do as a coach is talk about it to your players and educate them about the importance of consequences,” Aymond said. “The consequences of certain mistakes that you make. That once it’s in print it’s indelible and will live forever. You can’t take it back even though it was a mistake. It’s not hearsay it’s writtensay, and therefore it’s tabloid.” 

With the distances between schools, there might be a better inclination to reach out and tweak someone. But with the majority of the kids, the thrill of the chase of a state championship, and perhaps more importantly, the lack of familiarity, takes some of the edge off the opponent.

“We don’t do that,” Lamar quarterback Darrell Colbert said when asked about any talk between Allen and the Redskins prior to their state title game Saturday. “We did that with Bellaire. That was a rivalry. But playoffs, there’s no need for that, there’s no need for the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or that talking. We just show up on the field to play."

The tweets at the top of the article were pulled from Katy defensive end Matt Dimon’s account. Dimon, like most of the high school players, deserve credit for displaying a maturity and clarity that is often lacking from those that send them.

“I don’t mind what people say about me,” Dimon said. “I’ll just go and play my game and they can say whatever they want about me.”