even trash talking is contextual


“Right now I’ve got just two rules to live by.
Rule one: don’t taunt elephants.
Rule two: don’t stand next to anybody who taunts elephants.”

Howard Tayler


Michael Jordan once said, “Larry Bird is the greatest trash talker and mind-game player of all time. He taught me everything I know about getting in folks’ heads.”


Yeah. I am gonna get in trouble on this. I am going to weigh in on the John Cena hand gesture women’s basketball Angel Reese Caitlan Clark trash talking issue.

There are several foundational thoughts before I get into the crux of the issue:

  1. I have never liked any trashtalking. I have always preferred the stoic athlete. I found JJ Reddick insufferable, John McEnroe boorish and Deion Sanders an unnecessarily showboating asshat. All successful athletes who I just thought did shit they didn’t have to do. The closest I came to accepting trash talking was maybe the Larry Bird/Michael Jordan type. One-on-one in someone’s ear type. No showboating, just kind of their competitive dickedness on the field of combat.
  2. I have seen almost all hyper competitive great athletes create a narrative. Me against the world. Some bulletin board comment. Some perceived slight. It doesn’t matter. Many of the most competitive create a story which they can use to deflect some of the other distractions attempting to dent their ‘zone.’ They use their narrative to fuel the performance.
  3. I don’t care if it is sports, business, politics, whatever, context matters. A word, or a gesture, is only comparable in context. Without context we have flattened some important things to an almost absurd false comparison.

So lets get to the kerfuffle. Simplistically it has been dumbed down to John Cena’s “you can’t see me” hand gesture and a black player and a white player. Even typing it that was makes me think America is purposefully getting dumber on a daily basis.

Which leads me to the context.

  • Iowa’s Caitlin Clark used the “You can’t see Me” move after her sixth 3 against South Carolina
  • As the title game came to a close, LSU forward Reese celebrated the win by doing John Cena’s “You Can’t See Me” move on Iowa’s Clark

Haggle if you want, but one used the gesture while they were in a playing zone as a reflection of what they felt at the moment. The other used the gesture to taunt an individual player reflecting what they felt at the moment. The former felt like celebrating skill, the latter felt like a taunt. That said (part 1). I’ll admit. The Angel Reese use didn’t sit right with me (see #1 as a reminder on how I feel about trashtalking). That said (part 2). Is one better than the other? Not for me to judge. But my point is the point. Context matters.

Which leads me to personal narratives. Angel Reese, as did several of her LSU teammates, created a “disrespect” narrative prior to the game. I suggest create because no where I can find Clark disrespecting LSU. In fact, all Iowa had done up to that point was suggest they had the ultimate respect for LSU. That said. A narrative is a narrative and noted earlier, it is an incredibly useful tool for a competitive athlete to get in a ‘zone;’ to compete. It worked. LSU played well and won. But. The trick to narratives is that at some point the narrative becomes not of use. In this case, LSU had the win. And at no point in the game had anyone on Iowa shown any disrespect to LSU. At some point you need to shut the narrative down and accept the moment for what it is. I tend to believe this is also a reflection of maturity. But. That’s just me.

In the end. I don’t really care about two great athletes making some gesture, which used at the right time is kinda fun, or how they trashtalk or do not trashtalk, or even the color of their skin. What I do care about is the idiotic simplistic comparisons which create unhealthy narratives which get distorted in public. It ain’t the color of their skin, it’s the color of the moment, i.e., the context which should be driving the discussion. Ponder.

Written by Bruce