Last night, I spoke to our league’s coaches about not letting trash talk get to them. I told them to follow my mom’s advice and let such talk “roll off your back like water off a duck.” There is one group who could have used my advice more: the El Toro High School.
At the same time I was talking to the managers, the El Toro High School boys basketball team was playing rival Trabuco Hills for a league championship. El Toro dedicated the game to Brent Sirignano, a student who was seriously injured in a car accident. The students wore green ribbons to show their support for him. From what I heard, the Trabuco Hills fans found the green ribbons a perfect target. They started talking smack about Sirignano. This enraged El Toro fans. Things got uglier from there, as in “sheriffs were called” ugly.
I’ve seen teams do some pretty scummy things to smack down their rivals. In 1979, legendary Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray excoriated us UCLA fans for shouting over the USC’s quarterback’s audibles. But ridiculing a kid who in a coma is the lowest thing anyone can do.
Still, how do you react to that? Do you lose your temper? Do you let it throw off your game? Do you get into fights in the parking lot? Or do you shrug it off, and let those fans embarrass themselves?
The incident is a perfect example of what I told the coaches at our meeting:
When people talk smack, there’s a reason for it. They want a reaction. They want to intimidate you or throw you off your game. What would be even better for them is if they can provoke you. They want to get you to do something that would get you thrown out of a game or even have your team disqualified.
And those Trabuco Hills fans got the reaction they wanted. They won the game.
It’s hard, especially when you’re a teenager dealing with such pain, to maintain such self-control. But giving into the anger gives those people a victory. It’s important to develop the strength to protect your dignity and composure in the face of such horrible trash talk. This will give you a tremendous moral victory, and it will give you the strength to deal with the more serious life-and-death situations facing you.