When does Trash Talking go over the line?

Submitted by StephenRKass on October 21st, 2011 at 10:21 AM

Is there such a thing as trash talking going too far? I know that Rose and Webber were really into trash talking, and Michael Jordan was also a master at it.

In the ESPN article on the Gholston suspension, there is a comment about the context for the punch to Lewan:

Gholston, a sophomore and a starter, said in a statement that he was provoked to react.

I get that Glolston was provoked. I also get that on the field, some players would do anything to gain an advantage. Does that mean anything can be said? I'm thinking about next year. Can Lewan say to Gholston, when they're on the ground after a play, just the two of them, [EDIT:  My original hypothetical example was over the line for several bloggers, so I am striking / editing it. My original question, BTW, is not about what Lewan said or didn't say. I'm not speculating on that. I'm interested in whether or not trash talking can go too far.]  "You're a ******* ****** ******, and your mother is a cranked out ****** ***** who'll do anything for her next fix. She'd even **** *** if someone paid her enough." Can Lewan do opposition research and throw out insulting but true statements about Gholston's relatives or friends or history to provoke Gholston to punch again?

Obviously, we're not talking about any public statements . . . the players know that you can't do politically incorrect things. But tactically, would players do something like that? I can easily imagine that there are some guys out there that have no personal boundaries.

Myself, I think things like that go over the line and are just wrong. But I can easily imagine some guys being big enough tools to do that kind of trash talking. More than once, I've seen Lewan described here as a "nasty" player who likes to ride donkeys, and he's not an idiot. He knows that the refs will be watching for Gholston, and all he has to do is pull Gholston's chain enough to get him ejected from the game.

I guess I'm wondering if players nowadays have an internal code tacitly agreed upon about what is ok and what is over the line, and not ok.



October 21st, 2011 at 10:26 AM ^

it's been documented that a number of pro athletes do "opposition research" in order to do proper trash-talking. Jordan, Garnett, Bird, Gary Payton are a few of the guys who I've seen in print that would do such research.


October 21st, 2011 at 10:28 AM ^

I also feel that if it were bad enough that he felt a need to retaliate, his teammates would have been involved. If I acted like an idiot on national tv, I'd probably be trying to hide behind poor excuses myself. I do not see a thing wrong with trying to provoke him into a penalty. In fact, I'll go one step farther. Let's assume that he manages to go to the NFL. What do you think the opposing players are going to do? He has exposed his own weakness, let the show begin, I've been ready!


October 21st, 2011 at 10:43 AM ^

whether there's an unspoken code that players keep within, but I think that there's a point when it gets a excessive.  For example, the difference between calling someone a "n***** faggot" and a "we're gonna run right over you and there's nothing you can do the stop it".  The distinction may not be easily defined, but I'd expect our players to know the difference and hold themselves to a higher standard even if nobody else does.  This is Michigan fergodsakes.


October 21st, 2011 at 12:16 PM ^

If taunting a player on the way to the end zone is unsportsmanlike conduct than so is going over board with the inflammatory language towards another player on or off the field. It all falls under taunting and is thus, by definition, unsportsmanlike conduct. Remember, this is college athletics and things that are fine in the NFL don't always fly here. 


The game was chippy all around with both sides talking and throwing elbows, fists, shoves, etc. Nobody's to blame or everybody is to blame. I tend to go with nobody. 




October 21st, 2011 at 1:31 PM ^

Blame and punishment aren't the same thing. 


Everyone to blame: Several players on both sides get suspended


No one is to blame: Nobody gets any suspensions

In either event punishment was incorrectly distributed.


Why didn't the refs penalize the taunting by States players? Why didn't any of the Michigan players get penalties for late shots? Because it's at the discretion of the Refs, that's why. Why did they suspend him for the punch but not the helmet twist? 


I'm sorry if this offends people but my point is that if somebody says hateful things to you and pushes your face into the mud like Lewan did to Gholston and then Gholston punches him, then either they BOTH get punished or neither of them should be.


October 21st, 2011 at 1:40 PM ^

How do we know what Lewan said to him was hateful? We have only one guy (Gholston himself) saying that, just automatically assuming it's true is horribly horribly stupid. There's no way to verify what Lewan might or might not have said beyond Tom.

As for pushing his face in the ground? It's about the only thing Millen said that was right, that kind of stuff goes on all the time, little extra shoves after the whistle while underneath the pile. It's not an excuse to punch a guy


October 21st, 2011 at 1:54 PM ^

Is that Lewan definitely said something (that could be constrewed as racist but probably is not the case), possibly more. and he also definitely held the guy down with his face in the mud AFTER THE WHISTLE. Again, like I said, I'm not for or against anyone but if one of those guys gets a penalty than they both should, that's all I'm saying. Super unpopular opinion, I get it.


October 21st, 2011 at 2:31 PM ^

No I'm saying the opposite. We don't know what was said, and it's only been 1 person playing the racist angle (which completely doesn't make sense once you think about it for more than 2 seconds).
As for it happening after the whistle? The Lewan action took part right as Roundtree was going down, and the play he did (while not exactly sporting) isn't against the rules. There's nothing that says you can't push a player down into the ground again during the play.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqrFztA9boo this has a good angle and you can see Gholston is getting up around the same time Roundtree was taken down.

This wasn't a skirmish that happened 10 seconds after the play was dead, Lewan made a legal play and Gholston responded with a punch


October 21st, 2011 at 3:00 PM ^

"There's no way to verify what Lewan might or might not have said beyond Tom." By your own admission, he said something, that could be constued as racist. Everyone here is simply assuming that he made the connection between that and something that happened years earlier. And if he is the dumbass thug that everyone on this board seems to think he is then it's possible that in the heat of the game he didn't draw that conclusion. The onus of interpretation is not on the individual receiving words its on the person saying them. Making some reference to the past that relies on someone connecting the dots for it not to seem racist is on Lewan not Gholston. 


Furthermore, your replay shows the punch occuring just prior to the whistle or at the very least simultaneously with it, that means it occured in the same phase as Lewan's actions. 


Same result as what I said.


October 21st, 2011 at 3:49 PM ^

Well then I just don't agree with you. From where I'm standing calling Gholston Tom isn't racist. I think it's somebody making a story up from nothing. Why would Lewan be hurling racial slurs during a game? His entire backfield is black as well as half the  team, what would they think of him if they found out he was saying stuff like that. Not to mention the embarrassement for the Michigan Football Program, "Racist LT called out by Alums and Former Players". So no I don't think calling him Tom was racist in that regard.

Second, pushing a player down on the ground during a play is legal. Punching someone during a play is not. The 2 actions don't match up since Lewan was still playing within the rules. When you've knocked a guy down on the ground you're allowed to push him to keep him down. Is is necessary since the play was far away? Well maybe no, but Lewan has back to the play, so I don't think he knows exactly when Denard threw the ball. When Gholston threw the punch he was overreacting to a legal play


October 21st, 2011 at 3:41 PM ^

It is simpler than this.  Pushing, holding a guy down after the whistle, saying vile crap (not assuming Lewan did...) is not specifically codified by the Big Ten as resulting in a suspension.  Punching an opposing player is.  Period.

That is why Gholson was suspended for the punch, but not the other stuff.  That is why Lewan is not suspended, even assuming the Big Ten knows exactly what he said and even if he did hold Gholson's head down after the whistle.


October 21st, 2011 at 10:29 AM ^

Trash talk IMO part of playing sports. It is not admirable, but getting the opposing team/ players to react and do stupid things can aid your team. Not necessarily to penalize opponents, but moreso to help them make mistakes. It seems like Lewan knew how to get inside Ghoulston's head, causing him to overreact. I'm not buying the notion that Ghoulston was "really jacked up for the game and made a split second poor decision." When you get under someone's skin, they go insane and do really stupid things. Ghoulston was obviously pissed off and couldn't harness his anger without throwing a punch. I'm not sure where the neck twist came from though. Personally, I think that was just a characteristic of his play. He was dirty at Southeastern too.


October 21st, 2011 at 10:30 AM ^

Trash talking goes too far when you throw a punch.

In all seriousness, trash talking is just a means to get inside to opponent's head to gain a mental advantage that you hope translates into a physical advantage.  Trash talking goes too far when it's insulting to the opposing player and the statements are made in public.  In the trenches, or downfield after a pass breakup, fire away.


October 21st, 2011 at 10:39 AM ^


Normally you and i see things very similarly (probably cause we're close to the same age) but i think your examples went "over the line".

You should probably dial those down a bit.


October 21st, 2011 at 10:42 AM ^

It goes over the line when the other player turns into a bitch and tells the media.  That's the only line.  Even your hypothetical lines that are over the top are just words.  If you are so offended say the same thing back to the guy.  Now you're even. 

It's all ridiculous.

Section 1

October 21st, 2011 at 10:45 AM ^

First:  Gholston has not specified what the provocation was.  Verbal provocation?  That would not justify a punch.  Physical provocation?  No doubt Lewan got a hand into Gholston's face mask, and also held Gholston's head down as a play came to conclusion.  But of course, the Big Ten is not accepting that kind of provocation as a defense to a punch.  And Gholston knows a thing or two about getting hands into face masks after a whistle.

Jonas Mouton was physically provoked; he still got suspended.  Gholston had no defense to at least a one-game suspension.

I'm sort of loathe to talk about verbal provocation, when Gholston isn't going to specify what sort of provocation it is that he has claimed.

Second:  I'm not the thread police, and I am not suggesting that this thread be taken down, but the entire suggestion that Lewan used any sort of racial epithet against Gholston is a story that has been so completely lacking in merit (ZERO confirmation of Lewan saying anything like that; ZERO credible reporting on the subject; and a rather CLEAR alternative explanation -- the old name-joke left over from recruiting days) that it really shouldn't be mentioned at all without the sternest rebuttal, given the understandably sensitive nature of racial epithets.


October 21st, 2011 at 11:11 AM ^

First, I edited it so as not to offend yours or others sensibilities. If you wish to speculate, you may now fill in the blanks so that it reads, "You're a pretty, pretty, princess, and you're mother is a happy queen."

Second, I did not speculate on the nature of how Gholston was provoked. I really don't care whether the provocation was verbal or physical.

Third, I did not insinuate or suggest anything about what Lewan did or did not say.

My OP question, first, in general, and second, applied to what happens when Michigan plays MSU next year and Lewan faces Gholston again:  when does trash talking go over the line? Is there a verbal epithet of any kind that is unacceptable, for which a player should be disciplined?

Section 1

October 21st, 2011 at 12:01 PM ^

It was in no way aimed at you.  It was aimed at any suggestion, any notion, that Gholston can be excused or forgiven for what got him suspended. 

As I've said before, I'm unconcerned about what's best for Gholston or any other Spartan student-athlete.  I'm not interested in helping them learn, or grow, or become better-people-and-better-football-players.  I just wanted to see Gholston and Rush get suspended, and I just want to see MSU lose the next two games.  I hoped that public pressure could be built for their suspensions, and that supensions might marginally play a role in MSU losses.  There was no way of knowing if it would work; I just thought it worth a try.


October 21st, 2011 at 10:47 AM ^

was not provoked, unless playing football is "provocation" for the sake of his argument.  He acted like an asshat, his coach acted like a bigger asshat, their AD acted like the biggest asshat, and then he was used by his coaches to make an asshat statement to make them look like slightly smaller asshats.  Gholston was done a disservice by his coaches and AD by not being suspended by the program.  The Spartan difference........


October 21st, 2011 at 10:47 AM ^

     I myself have probably crossed the line on this posting board, calling Gholston a "penitentiary inmate" and Mark Dantonio "sub-human trash" probably went a little too far.

     But now I've had a chance to see that photo of Gholston smiling on several occasions, and I wonder if we haven't been a little hard on him.  This is a serious question, and while it could be interpreted as a slight, know that my intention is to lessen his culpability.

     Is Gholston operating at an intellectual level where he can be held responsible for his actions?



October 21st, 2011 at 2:20 PM ^

If that's where Lewan went.

Its sheer speculation, but it is an elegant theory.  If Gholston really is learning disabled, and Lewan was teasing him about it all game...It wouldn't excuse his actions, but it would at least explain them.  It would explain his lack of impulse control.  It would explain the secrecy of MSU's "investigation".  As I remember one of the things MSU got in trouble over under Perles was claiming that "normal" players had learning disabilities.  That wouldn't be something you want to publicize.  It would also explain why the big ten was so lenient in their punishment.  


October 21st, 2011 at 10:55 AM ^

I really really doubt that any Michigan football players would be dropping n-bombs on the field.  It's not like we are the "white" team and they are the 'black team".  If Lewan is being a racist mother on the field I can't imagine how that would look to his teammates.  


Secondly trash talk is just that trash talk.  Some people get cranked off on some of the most innocuous comments so over the line is differently for everyone.