Their constant barks have very little bite

By Monte Poole
Updated: January 16, 2011

OAKLAND — Trash talk in big-time sports was conceived by Muhammad Ali, an exquisite practitioner who still owns the patent.

Good trash talk is a skill, then, and great trash is an art. Ali was an artist.

The overwhelming majority of NFL players lack this skill. Not that it prevents them from trying.

Well aware of various ugly and clumsy attempts at trash talk, league management is taking steps in hopes of saving the players from themselves.

After a week of profanity and disrespect between playoff teams, most of it related to Sunday’s Patriots-Jets game at New England, the NFL office a few days ago sent out a memo reminding the boys among them they’re better off behaving as men — or else there might be consequences.

Thank you, Ray Anderson.

As the league’s executive vice president for football operations, Anderson is responsible for matters of discipline, including fines and suspensions. His message was simple: Should it be necessary to impose any disciplinary action, we also will take into account any evidence presented with one’s mouth.

Jets linebacker Bart Scott had better hope he’s not in the area should Patriots wideout Wes Welker get clobbered while in a defenseless position, for Scott not only crossed the line but spit on it Friday when responding to Welker’s jabs at Jets coach Rex Ryan.

Welker during an interview session made nearly a dozen ad-lib references to feet or toes, an obvious shout-out to video posted on the Internet of Ryan’s wife and a voice presumed to be Rex Ryan. The video suggested the couple enjoyed a strong, um, appreciation of feet and toes.

Discovery of the video led to national news and a story that made the rounds, drawing giggles in locker rooms around the league. Ryan, who talks more than any coach in the league, invoked his right not to discuss it.

Though Welker is a jokester who was having fun teasing the opposing head coach, Scott’s reaction to Welker’s comments was out of bounds.

“I’ll tell you what,” Scott told Newsday. “Be very careful what you say about our coach. His (Welker’s) days in a uniform will be numbered. Put it like that.”

That’s not trash talk. That’s an implied threat.

Trash talk is Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis referring to wide receiver Randy Moss, then with the Patriots, as “a slouch.”

Good trash talk is Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco promising to change his name back to Chad Johnson if he’s stopped by Revis. (Chad broke that promise.)

Great trash talk is Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory against heavily favored Baltimore — and delivering.

Superior trash talk is Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe picking up a sideline phone during a rout, pretending to call the White House and requesting reinforcements because “we are killing the Patriots.”

Any talk about an opponent’s days being numbered — in a game where one’s career can end on any play — is not trash talk. It’s menacing. It’s dangerous. It’s not much different from placing a “bounty” on someone, and it has no place in sports.

To see the number of players kneeling in prayer — on both teams — when an injured player is being attended to is to know that mortality is no joking matter in the NFL.

Anderson’s crackdown on trash talk is an addendum to the league’s 2010 crackdown on illegal hits on defenseless players. The idea is to maintain the ferocity of the game while punishing reckless disregard. It’s a fine line indeed, but most sports wisely institute rules and regulations to protect the participants.

The NFL is derisively referred to as the “No Fun League.” And in many ways, it is. The league can and does take its policing a bit too seriously. Players ought to be able to do a little dance, have a little fun during the game.

When there is cause for celebration — and I don’t mean a fourth-quarter touchdown to close the gap to 41-10 — I enjoy it. Same with trash talk.

It’s mostly about the execution. Quality trash talk comes not with malice in the heart but a twinkle in the eye. It has an element of humor. Ali usually nailed it. Ochocinco usually nails it.

Too many NFL players, like Scott, swing and miss. They needed this warning.