Sport's Officials' Reports of Hearing Trash Talk and their Responses to Trash Talk

The purposes of this study were to investigate the trash talk that sport officials hear by athletes and to examine the officials' responses to that trash talk. Questionnaires were completed by 646 sport officials from eleven sports. They retrospectively estimated the percentage of games in which they heard trash talk, the percentage of players they heard using trash talk, and the types of trash talk they heard. They also indicated how they responded to four different types of trash talk. Reports of trash talk were most common in ice hockey (58% of games) and football (41% of games) and least frequent in Volleyball (2%) and track and field (3%). Ice hockey and football officials reported the highest percentages of players using trash talk (23% and 17%), and Volleyball, swimming and diving, and track and field reported the lowest percentages (2%). Officials indicated that the most common type of trash talk is demeaning the skill or athleticism of opponents, and demeaning the sexuality or sexual orientation of opponents was the least common type. Officials reported that they were most punitive in their reactions to demeaning trash talk about sexuality/ sexual orientation and most lenient in their reactions to trash talk belittling skill 'athleticism and courage/toughness. Results support earlier research suggesting that there are normative rules among some athletes favoring the use of trash talk. Further, results from this study suggest that some sport officials may subscribe to normative rules regarding how they respond to trash talk by athletes.






Publication: Journal of Sport Behavior
Author: Rainey, David W
Date published: March 1, 2012

Athletes frequently violate the rules that govern their sports. Often these violations are inadvertent. As examples, an offensive lineman may miss the snap count and move before the snap of the ball in football, or a discus thrower may stumble and step outside of the throwing circle while making a throw. However, athletes sometimes consciously and purposefully violate a rule. An offensive lineman may hold a rushing defensive lineman in an effort to protect the quarterback, or the discus thrower may take a performance enhancing substance to increase her strength.

Sometimes a consistent pattern of intentional rule violations develops among athletes in a sport. Silva (1981) called these patterns normative rules. He described normative rules as standards that reflect the values, preferences, and attitudes of players and that violate the official rules of the sport. Silva pointed out that normative rules "may vary from sport to sport, league to league, and even player to player" ( 198 1 , p. 12). These intentional rule violations are often motivated by the hope of gaining some competitive advantage. In these cases the athletes hope to avoid detection, and they take the risk of getting caught because they believe the accumulated advantages outweigh the penalties they receive when they do get caught.

Researchers have described many normative rules in sport. Mclntosh (1979) examined the beliefs of amateur and professional soccer players. He reported that 54% of the amateurs and 70% of the professionals stated that it was acceptable to take down any opponent unmercifully who might score a goal, though such behavior violates the constitutive rules of soccer. Silva (1983) conducted a study in which he showed male and female participants slides of violent rule breaking behaviors from a variety of sports. Males rated the depicted behaviors as completely acceptable and significantly more acceptable than did the female participants. Studies among male ice hockey players indicate that they have a normative rule favoring fighting (Silva, 1984; Smith, 1981). There is a widespread expectation that players must fight in specified situations. Despite the fact that fighting is against the constitutive rules and results in a major penalty, these expectations are taught to younger players by older players and coaches. Other studies indicate that even sport officials subscribe to normative rules. There is evidence that baseball officials have used normative rules for calling balls and strikes (Rainey & Larsen, 1988) and for making calls offeree outs at second base (Rainey, Larsen, Stevenson, & Olson, 1993).

Another controversial behavior in sport that may be guided by normative rules is trash talk. Trash talk is defined as "verbal taunts that players direct at their opponents during contests" (Eveslage & Delaney, 1998, p. 239). Trash talk is explicitly proscribed in the rules book of most sports. For example, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rule book for football explicitly prohibits "taunting, baiting, and ridiculing an opponent verbally" (NCAA, 2007, p. 123), and officials are directed to assess a 15 yard penalty for such behaviors. Similar standards exist for high school competitions. High school sport in most states is guided by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). The NFHS "disapproves of any form of taunting which is intended or designed to embarrass, ridicule, or demean others under any circumstances including on the basis of race, religion, gender, or national origin" (2008, p. 56), and their Soccer Rules Book indicates that players who engage in taunting will be given a red card and disqualified from the game.

Despite these prohibitions, there is a sense among some observers that trash talk is quite common in contemporary sport (LoConto & Roth, 2005; Rainey & Granito, 20 10). However, few studies have actually examined the incidence and nature of trash talk. Greer and Jare (2006) surveyed over 5,000 high school athletes from 14 sports. They reported that 42% of boys and 22% of girls believed it was acceptable to taunt opponents, and 29% of boys of 41% of the girls admitted using racial slurs against opponents at least once. Eveslage and Delaney (1998) observed 1 1 members of a boys' high school basketball team for one season and recorded field notes about the athletes' behaviors and speech. These authors observed that the athletes' sport-centered trash talk was part of a more general pattern of insult talk that they used with their friends in a number of settings. Earlier studies had demonstrated that insult talk occurs in settings as varied as offices (Cohn, 1993), industry (Collinson, 1988), and fraternities (Boswell & Spade, 1996), and Eveslage and Delany concluded that trash talk hi sports is an extension of insult talk and not a product of inner-city culture or modeling by professional athletes.

In the most detailed examination of trash talk to date, Rainey and Granito (2010) surveyed over 400 college athletes about their experiences with trash talk. The athletes reported that they used trash talk, and were the victims of trash talk, in about one-third of their competitions. Male athletes reported more trash talk experiences than female athletes. The most common forms of trash talk were getting ugly (swearing at opponents and calling them names) and belittling the skills and athleticism of their opponents. Athletes reported that they used trash talk to motivate themselves and to impair the motivation and performance of their opponents. Contradicting the belief that young athletes learn how to trash talk by observing professional athletes, these collegiate athletes indicated that they learned how to trash talk primarily from older teammates and opponents. Based on these findings, Rainey and Granito concluded that there are normative rules among college athletes favoring trash talk, and that the rules vary by gender, sport, and level of competition.

The general purpose of the present study is to further examine the hypothesis that trash talk in sport is governed by normative rules. Sport competitions involve complex social interactions. These interactions occur among a number of role players, such as athletes, fans, coaches/managers, and sport officials. If there are normative rules governing trash talk, there should be evidence for their existence in the experience many of these role players. Indeed, these other role players may play a part in the development and/or maintenance of the normative rules. Because sport officials have the central role in managing rules violations, it seems likely that there would be evidence of normative rules for trash talk, if they exist, in the experience of sport officials. Therefore, the specific purpose of this study was to examine the experiences that sport officials have with trash talk and their reactions to trash talk.

Based on the findings of Rainey and Granito (2010), all of the following were hypothesized: 1 ) sport officials in some sports would report hearing trash talk in a substantial percentage of competitions, 2) because it seems likely that officials don't hear all of the trash talk that athletes use, the officials would report lower rates than athletes did in Rainey and Granito (20 1 0), and 3) the rates of trash talk and the types of trash talk reported by officials would vary by sport. If these three hypotheses are supported, this would provide further evidence that there are normative rules favoring trash talk among athletes. Two additional hypotheses are that: 4) officials as a group would report that they respond differently to different kinds of trash talk, and 5) officials from different sports would report that they respond differently to the trash talk they hear. If these hypotheses are supported, it would suggest that sport officials, too, subscribe to normative rules about trash talk.

Method

Participants

Participants were 646 sport officials (537 males and 1 09 females) who were certified at the top level by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA). They were certified in one of eleven sports: baseball (71), boys' basketball (32), girls' basketball (37) football (80), ice hockey (41), boys' soccer (23), girls' soccer (43), softball (6 1 ), swimming and diving (87), track and field (87), and Volleyball (84). Their mean age was 54 years (SD =10.5 years), and they had an average of 1 8 years of officiating experience (SD = 1 0 years). The research procedures used with these participants were approved by the Institutional Review Board of the author's university, and participants were treated in accordance with the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (American Psychological Association, 2002).

Measures

A questionnaire was developed to survey sport officials about their experiences with and reactions to trash talk. In the demographics section of this questionnaire, respondents provided their gender and age. They also identified the sport they were providing answers for, as some officials are certified in more than one sport. The officials recorded how many years they had been officiating that sport, and they identified which of the six regions of the state designated by the OHSAA they resided in. They were instructed to answer all questions in the context of their most recent season of officiating, so all their responses were retrospective estimates.

Participants were asked two questions addressing how frequently they experienced trash talk. They were asked "In what percentage of games did you hear athletes use trash talk?" and "What percentage of athletes you encountered did you hear use trash talk?" during the most recent season they had officiated their sport.

The questionnaire contained four questions about the content of the trash talk officials heard. These questions asked what percent of the time athletes used each of four different types of trash talk when they did engage in trash talk. The types of trash talk included belittling the skill or athleticism of an opponent, belittling the courage or toughness of an opponent, demeaning the sexuality or sexual orientation of an opponent, and getting ugly (swearing or calling names) with an opponent. These four types of trash talk had been identified in the sport sciences literature by Rainey and Granito (2010) and were the basis of their survey of the trash talk experiences of college athletes.

The questionnaire then asked the officials to indicate how they responded to each of these four types of trash talk. The officials were provided with 7 responses, ordered from least to most punitive. The seven ordered responses were: 1) I ignore it, 2) I give a warning/then I penalize all other instances, 3) I penalize each instance of trash talk, 4) I first give a warning/ penalize a 2nd offense/eject for the third offense, 5) I first give a warning/then eject for a second offense, 6) I first penalize/then eject for the 2ndoffense, and 7) I eject immediately for this type of trash talk.

This questionnaire was developed with the consultation of a panel of 6 sport officials (4 men, 2 women) who were not in the sample for this study. One official each was certified in football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, soccer, or Volleyball. These officials were mailed a preliminary copy of the questionnaire, and they returned it with their comments and suggested changes. A number of minor changes were made in the wording of items and in the organization of the items.

Procedure

The sample for this survey was developed using the directory of sport officials of the OHSAA. This directory divides the state of Ohio into six geographical regions. Except for ice hockey, the samples for each sport were drawn proportionally from the six regions of the state based upon the number of officials in each sport in each region. The investigator selected a random sample of officials with top tier certification from eleven sports. Questionnaires were mailed to two hundred officials of football, baseball, Volleyball, softball, track and field, and swimming and diving. One hundred questionnaires were sent to officials for boys' soccer, girls' soccer, boys' basketball, and girls' basketball. There were no ice hockey officials in the southeast region of the state and relatively few in the southwest and central regions, so all 140 certified ice hockey officials in the state were sampled.

A cover letter, a copy of the questionnaire, and a business reply envelope addressed to the investigator were mailed to each of the 1740 officials. The cover letter described the purpose of the study and provided a definition of trash talk. It described the steps taken to insure that responses would be confidential and provided contact information for the investigator and the university's Institutional Review Board. The letter also specified which sport the official should consider when responding to the items. The questionnaires were mailed in bulk in September, and returns were accepted until the beginning of December. A total of 106 questionnaires were returned by the postal service as undeliverable. This left an effective mailing of 1 634, of which 646 were returned. This resulted in a return rate of 40%.

Results

Reported Frequency of Trash Talk

Descriptive statistics for the percentage of games in which officials heard trash talk are reported in Table 1 . For some sports, like football and ice hockey, the percentages were quite high. For other sports, like Volleyball, track and field, and swimming and diving, the percentages were very low. Analysis with a between-subjects ANOVA (Sport) for the percentage of games that officials witnessed containing trash talk revealed a significant effect for Sport, F ( 1 0, 628) = 40.8 1 , ? < .00 1 , partial eta squared = .42, observed power = 1 .00. Post hoc multiple comparisons with Scheffe's procedure revealed that both football and ice hockey officials reported significantly more games (p< .05) in which they witnessed trash talk than all the other sports, but the reports of football and ice hockey officials did not differ significantly.

Descriptive statistics for the percentage of players that officials heard using trash talk are reported in Table 1 . The percentages were moderately high for ice hockey and football, but very low for Volleyball, swimming and diving, and track and field. Analysis with a one between subjects ANOVA (Sport) for the percentage of players that officials heard using trash talk revealed a significant effect for sport, F(IO, 628) = 12.07, p < .001, partial eta squared = . 18, observed power = 1 .00. Post hoc multiple comparisons with Scheffe's procedure revealed that officials for boys' and girls' basketball, girls' soccer, football, and ice hockey reported significantly more players (p< .05) using trash talk than all other sports. In addition, Volleyball and swimming/diving officials reported significantly fewer athletes using trash talk than all other sports.

Trash Talk and Physical Contact in Different Sports

One common dimension used to differentiate among sports is the amount of physical contact involved in a sport. A number of authors have divided sports into three categories along this dimension: non-contact sports, contact sports, and collision sports ( Keeler, 2007; Silva, 1 98 1 ; Tucker & Parks, 200 1). An examination of the results for the frequency of trash talk reported by the sport officials suggests that their reports may be related to this dimension. To test this possibility, an unplanned assessment was conducted. The officials for the eleven sports represented in the sample were organized into the three categories following Suva's (1981) coding. Baseball, softball, swimming, track and field, and Volleyball officials were coded as non-contact officials. All basketball and soccer officials were coded as contact officials, and football and ice hockey officials were coded as collision officials.

Analysis with a between-subjects ANOVA (Level of Contact) for the percentage of games that officials witnessed containing trash talk revealed a significant effect for Level of Contact, F(2,637)= 199.23, p <. OO !,partial eta squared = .3 9, observed power= 1.00. Posthoc multiple comparisons with Scheffe's procedure revealed that officials of collision sports (M = 47.22) reported a higher percentage of games with trash talk than officials from both contact (M = 1 8.79) and non-contact sports (M = 5. 15). Also, officials from contact sports reported higher percentages of games with trash talk than officials of non-contact sports ( all p < .05).

Analysis with a between-subjects ANOVA (Level of Contact) for the percentage of players that officials witnessed using trash talk revealed a significant effect for Level of Contact, ? (2, 637) = 50.06, ? < .00 1 , partial eta squared = .15, observed power = 1 .00. Post hoc multiple comparisons with Scheffe's procedure revealed that officials of collision sports (M= 1 8.97) reported a higher percentage of players using trash talk than officials from both contact (M= 11.30) and non-contact sports (M= 3.61). Also, officials from contact sports reported higher percentages of players using trash talk than officials of non-contact sports ( all/? < .05).

Different Types of Trash Talk

Descriptive statistics for the four different types of trash talk witnessed by officials in the eleven sports are reported in Table 2. The most common type reported by officials was demeaning an opponent's skill or athleticism, and the least common type was demeaning the sexuality or sexual orientation of an opponent. An eleven between subjects (Sport) four within subjects (Type of Trash Talk) ANOVA revealed that, for the entire sample, there was a significant main effect for Type of Trash Talk, F(3, 1899) = 1 00.67, ? <.001, partial eta squared = . 14, observed power = 1.00. Follow-up analysis with Scheffe's procedure revealed that officials witnessed significantly fewer episodes (p< .05) of demeaning the sexuality of opponents, than all three of the other types of trash talk. Also, officials witnessed athletes belittle the skill/ athleticism more than courage/toughness.

However, there was also a significant interaction between Sport and Type of Trash Talk that qualified these results, F(SO, 1899) = 4.31,/><.001, partial eta squared = .06, observed power = 1 .00. Follow-up analyses with Sheffe's procedure revealed significant differences for all four types of trash talk. Getting ugly was witnessed more frequently by ice hockey officials than by basketball, baseball, softball, track and field, Volleyball, and swimming officials. Also, football officials reported more getting ugly than softball, track and field, Volleyball, and swimming officials. Demeaning an opponent's skill was witnessed more frequently by both ice hockey and football officials than by Volleyball, softball, track and field, and swimming officials. Also, boys' soccer officials reported more demeaning an opponent's skill than did Volleyball and track and field officials. Demeaning an opponent's courage or toughness was reported more often by ice hockey officials than by all the other officials except football officials. Also, football officials reported more demeaning of courage and toughness than Volleyball, softball, track and field, and swimming and diving officials. Finally, demeaning the sexuality or sexual orientation of opponents was witnessed more frequently by ice hockey officials than all the other types of sport officials.

Officials ' General Reactions to Trash Talk

Officials' reactions to trash talk were analyzed with non-parametric procedures because the data were ordinal. We first examined the responses of the entire sample for how they responded to the four different types of trash talk. A Friedman test was conducted to evaluate differences in medians among demeaning sexuality (Median = 4.00), belittling courage/toughness (Median = 2.00), belittling skill/athleticism (Median = 2.00), and getting ugly = (Median = 3.00). Thetestwassignificant,x^sup 2^(3,Af=546) = 281.27,/7<.001,KendaH's W=. 17. Follow-up pair-wise comparisons were made among the four types of trash talk using a Wilcoxon test. Based upon a Bonferroni correction to control Type I errors, ap value < .0083 was required for significance. These analyses revealed that the median reaction to demeaning sexuality was significantly more punitive than the reactions to demeaning courage/toughness, demeaning skill/athleticsm, and getting ugly, au p < .001. Also, the median reaction to getting ugly was significantly more punitive than reactions to demeaning courage/toughness and demeaning skill/athleticism, both/? < .001 .

Officials ' Reactions to Trash Talk in Different Sports

Officials' reports of how they react to the four types of trash talk were analyzed to determine if officials of the eleven sports differed in their median reactions. Mean ranks for each of the eleven sports for each of the four types of trash talk are found in Table 3. Responses for each type of trash talk were analyzed with the Kruskal-Wallis (K-W) test. The analysis for officials' reactions to getting ugly revealed significant differences among the eleven sports, corrected for tied ranks, x^sup 2^ (10, N= 592) = 39.55, p <001. Follow-up analysis of this significant finding was conducted with the Mann-Whitney U test to evaluate pair-wise differences among the sports. The Bonferroni correction was used to control for Type I error, with alpha set at p <.005 for pair-wise comparisons of the 10 most divergent pairs of scores. These analyses revealed that ice hockey officials were significantly less punitive in their reaction to getting ugly than girls' soccer officials (U= 442, Z= -3 .96), boys' soccer officials (U = 205.5, Z= -3.77), track and field officials (t/=933, Z= -3.35), boys' basketball officials (U= 373, Z= -3.19), and baseball officials (U= 908.5, Z= -3.10). Football officials were significantly less punitive in their responses than girls' soccer officials (U = 925.5, Z = -4.25), boys' soccer officials (U= 450, Z= -3 .77, track and field officials (U= 2002, Z= -3.38), and baseball officials (U= 1897, Z=- 3.30).

The analysis of officials' reactions when athletes demean the sexuality of an opponent revealed significant differences among the sports, .X^sup 2^ ( 1 0, W = 592) = 3 0 .3 3 , /> <.00 1 . Follow-up analysis utilized alpha level set at ? <.005 for the 1 0 most divergent pairs scores. This revealed that football officials were significantly less punitive in their reactions when athletes demean sexuality than girls' soccer officials (U= 877.5, Z= -3.92), boys' soccer officials (U= 353, Z=3.63), track and field officials (U= 1688, Z= -3.46), and baseball officials (U= 1647.5, Z= -3.05). Also, ice hockey officials were significantly less punitive than girls' (U = 460, Z= -2.89) and boys' (U= 1 89, Z= -2.88) soccer officials.

The analysis of officials' reactions when athletes demean the courage/toughness of opponents revealed significant differences among sports, X^sup 2^ ( 1 0, N = 592) = 47.17,/? <.00 1 . Follow-up analysis utilized alpha level set at/? <0038 for the 12 most divergent pairs of scores. This analysis revealed that ice hockey officials were significantly less punitive in their reactions than officials in all of the other sports: track and field (U= 585, Z= -5.30), swimming and diving(t/= 643.5, Z=-4.81),baseball(f/=767,Z=-4.16), girls' soccer ([/=430.5, Z= -4. 11), Volleyball (U= 810, Z= -4.08), girls' basketball (U= 397.5, Z= -3.66), boys' soccer (U= 199.5, Z = -3.57), boys' basketball (U= 35 1 .5, Z= -3.43), football (U= 1017, Z= -3.4 1), and softball (U= 725, Z = -3.04). Also, football officials were significantly less punitive than track and field officials (U= 1756, Z= -4.03) and swimming and diving officials (£7= 1956, Z= -2.93).

The analysis of officials' reactions when athletes demean the skill/athleticism of opponents revealed significant differences among sports, X^sup 2^ ( 1 0, N= 590) = 44.02, p <.00 1 . Followup analysis utilized alpha level set at p <.0038 for the 12 most divergent pairs of scores. This analysis revealed that ice hockey officials were significantly less punitive in their reactions than officials in all of the other sports: track and field (U= 630, Z= -5.02), boys' soccer (U= 205.5, Z= -3.85), girls' soccer (U= 430.5, Z= -4. 1 1), swimming and diving (U= 675, Z= -4.67), baseball (U= 790, Z= -4.01), Volleyball (17= 769.5, Z= -4.40), girls' basketball (U= 769.5, Z= - 4.40), boys' basketball (U= 366, Z= -3.36), softball (C/= 722.5, Z= -3.03), and football (U= 1059.5,Z=-3.14).

Discussion

The results of this study provide further evidence that there are normative rules among athletes favoring the use of trash talk. The data supported the first hypothesis, that officials in some sports would report hearing trash talk in a substantial percentage of contests. Officials for all eleven sports reported some incidence of trash talk, with officials from ice hockey and football reporting the highest frequencies. Consistent with the findings of Rainey and Granito (2010) demeaning the skills/athleticism of opponents was the most common form of trash talk reported by sport officials. The mean percentage of games for which trash talk was reported did vary widely by sport, from only 2% in Volleyball to 58% in ice hockey, with an average among the eleven sampled sports of about 16%. These differences support the second hypothesis of the study and are consistent with the results of Rainey and Granito (2010). It is clear that the norms for trash talk vary by sport, and this finding reflects Suva's (1981) original conception of normative rules as very localized. Officials' responses to the questionnaire also indicate that it is just a minority of the athletes who engage in trash talk. The means reported ranged from 23% in ice hockey to less than 2% in Volleyball. This further supports the results of Rainey and Granito (2010), who concluded that a small number of players account for the trash talk on most teams. This also reflects the observations of other investigators and commentators in the sport media who have suggested that many teams have designated trash talkers, usually players who have athletic credibility and well-developed skills at trash talk (Eveslage & Delaney, 1998; Koss, 2005; Staffo, 1996; Taylor, 1992). The data also supported the third hypothesis, that officials would report less trash talk than athletes did in the study by Rainey and Granito (2010). While athletes in that study reported using trash talk, and being targeted by trash talk, in about one- third of contests, the average percentage of games that officials reported hearing trash talk was about half that. This difference can be at least partially explained by the fact that athletes are aware that trash talk violates the constitutive rules and make efforts to avoid detection, and much of trash talk is probably out of hearing range of officials or simply covered by crowd noise.

The data from this study also provide preliminary support for the proposal that the responses of sport officials to trash talk are guided by normative rules. This is suggested by two different findings. First, there is evidence that officials make distinctions based on the content of trash talk and are more tolerant of certain types of trash talk than others. Officials reported that they respond in a more punitive way to trash talk about sexuality or sexual orientation than to all other forms of trash talk. Also, officials reported that they were more punitive in their responses to getting ugly than to trash talk about an opponent's skill or toughness. As an example, across the entire sample, only 3 percent officials reported that they would immediately eject a player for trash talking about skill or toughness, but 1 1 percent reported immediate ejection for getting ugly, and 15 percent reported immediate ejection for demeaning sexuality. Second, there is evidence that officials' reactions to trash talk vary by sport. Consistently, ice hockey and football officials were most lenient in their reactions to trash talk, and boys' soccer, girls' soccer, track and field, and swimming and diving officials were least tolerant. Even though all of these certified OHSAA officials operate under the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations, it seems that different cultures exist in different sports about responding to trash talk.

It is not clear how trash talk among athletes and the responses to trash talk by sport officials are related to one another. It is tempting to conclude that the differences in trash talk by athletes in different sports are caused by the differences in the way officials from those sports react to the trash talk. For example, one might want to conclude that trash talk in football is so common because football officials are tolerant of trash talk and that it is rare in Volleyball because those officials do not tolerate it. However, the research design of the current study cannot support such conclusions. Furthermore, other variables may contribute to the normative rule for trash talk in any sport. For example, the results of the current study and of Rainey and Granito (2010) suggest that football and ice hockey are two sports in which trash talk is very common. Both of these are collision sports, sports with frequent, intense physical contact. This physical contact may lead to high levels of hostility, missing in other less physical sports. Such hostility, in turn, may lead to verbal aggression in the form of trash talk. The results of the analysis of differences in frequency of trash talk among non-contact, contact, and collision sports are consistent with the possibility that the amount of contact in a sport is related to the amount of trash talk in that sport. Another factor that may contribute to the amount of trash talk is the proximity of officials to athletes. A Volleyball official, situated in an elevated position at the net, is very close to all the athletes who might talk to one another. Such proximity alone may deter trash talk. In contrast, a football official may be many yards away from players, creating more opportunity for undetectable trash talk. So, while it is possible that officials' responses to trash talk help to shape the trash talk of athletes, other variables probably play a role, and the role of officials' reactions to the trash talk is unclear.

Conclusions and Directions for Future Research

Preliminary data, based on studies with athletes and with sport officials, suggest that there are normative rules among athletes favoring the use of trash talk. However, there are a number of issues that need to be clarified in future research. One has to do with the content of athletes' trash talk. There were no specific items in either the current study or in Rainey and Granito (2010) that addressed racial slurs, though such comments had been identified by Greer and Jare (2007) as a behavior among some athletes. It is likely that some instances of getting ugly (part of which is name calling) involved racial slurs, but given the social significance of such behavior, it should be addressed directly in future research. Another important issue is possible generational differences in responses to trash talk by sport officials. It has been suggested (Greer & Jare, 2007; LoConto and Roth, 2005) that trash talk is a behavior that has gained more acceptance over time. It is possible that older, more veteran officials respond to trash talk differently than younger officials, especially those who are past athletes who used trash talk themselves. Future studies should examine this variable.

It is also true that both sample and methodological limitations of the current study indicate a need for caution when drawing conclusions. The collection of sports sampled in this study was not comprehensive, and a number of very prominent sports that might experience extremes in trash talk (such as lacrosse, wrestling, golf, and tennis) are missing from the sample. The sample of officials was also very small for some of the represented sports. For example, only 23 officials represented boys' soccer. All of the officials were from one state and are regulated by the same professional organization. Given the localized nature of normative rules, it is possible, even likely, that officials from other regions of the country would have other norms for trash talk. It is also true that the sample of officials for this study and the sample of athletes in Rainey and Granito (2010) came from the same state. Any consistencies in the results of the two studies may be limited to that state. For example, both athletes and officials reported that demeaning an opponent's skill or athleticism was the most common form of trash talk, but that might not be true in other locales. Finally, while officials were sampled proportionally to their representation in the six regions of the state, and while the overall sample size is large, the return rate of the mailed questionnaires was modest at 40%. Because officials responded anonymously and no backup system of identification was used, it was impossible to do targeted re-mailings to those who had not responded. Thus, future surveys of sport officials should sample a broader range of sports, provide larger samples from different geographical locations, and utilize enhanced survey techniques, such as preliminary mailings, targeted re-mailings, and even incentives for responding.

Even with these improvements, survey data are always self-report and retrospective, so such data are best characterized as respondents' estimates of trash talk. Thus, even the results of ideally conducted surveys would have to be considered exploratory, and they would need to be confirmed by more objective procedures. One promising methodology would be observational studies that simultaneously collect data about the trash talk behavior of athletes and the reactions sport officials. Such studies would generate more objective measures of the frequency and nature of trash talk by athletes and of the responses of officials to trash talk. This method also might reveal patterns in trash talk episodes that are not evident when collecting data from athletes and sport officials separately. For example, joint observation might reveal if trash talk evolves during contests and how that occurs, or it might suggest how different types of responses by officials influence athletes' subsequent trash talk. Also, the use of multiple observers in such studies would provide the opportunity to assess the reliability of measures. There may be technical obstacles to overcome in obtaining observational data for some sports, especially those with large playing surfaces and significant crowd noise, but observational studies will help assess the tentative conclusions from the current study and from Rainey and Granito (2010), and they may provide a deeper understanding of the dynamics of trash talk transactions between athletes and sport officials.

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Author affiliation:

David W. Rainey

John Carroll University

Author affiliation:

Address Correspondence to: David W. Rainey, Psychology Department, John Carroll University, University Heights, OH 44118. Email: Rainey @ JCU. Edu Phone: 216-397-4465

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