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Heckling, Superfans and Keeping Composure During Sporting Events

The Doe Team

by The Doe Team

| March 17, 2022

Read about heckling as a form of discourse, and learn tips for keeping trash talk sportsmanlike.

Heckling during sporting events has transformed beyond the field and has the ability to lift up a team or cause critical damage, but this blog gives tips that can help you see trash talk as a fun way to engage in discourse and maintain classic sportsmanship.

What is Heckling?

Heckling. Trash talk. Competitive incivility. These are the insults thrust upon athletes in the critical moments of the game that are meant to throw off their focus, resulting in the heckler’s home team gaining an advantage.

You might picture an 11-year-old kid from The Sandlot talking smack to the pretentious crosstown Tigers. His childish-yet-clever quips result in consistent strikeouts until the disheveled sandlot kids hoot and holler with victory.

It’s said the “Masterful Heckler” will actually influence the outcome of the game by distracting the opposition, inspiring the home team and making people laugh. It is one of the most fundamental and traditional arts of competitive sports. But has the psychological game morphed into a mode of communication that is crossing lines?

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Heckling as a Form of Discourse

Heckling qualifies as discourse in quite a few ways. The outcome, ultimately, is to be heard. Though that can be considered a watered-down interpretation of discourse, it’s a form of communication that sees bias and prejudice on both sides and typically requires an amount of commitment for and knowledge of a team.

Since heckling has been around for such a long time, rules were developed around it in order to keep it in the home of true sportsmanship. Some of the basic rules can be found in “The Portrait of a Heckler,” where the Ten Commandments of heckling list the do’s and don'ts of trash talking.

As technology advances, trash talking as a form of discourse has changed in the sports community. No longer confined to the field or court, fans can level up their own game online.

While the times change, so does heckling, and the Ten Commandments aren’t exactly applied to modern situations. That’s to say, not many play by those rules anymore.

Why Do People Heckle?

Meet the superfan: a fan so enthralled by their team and the sport that they go to lengths to participate. One of our contributors talks about his time as an NFL superfan, saying that being a superfan is borne of passion and love for the sport, and it makes his life richer.

Though it doesn’t take this level of commitment to engage in heckling, it’s usually a true fan who does. Engaging in trash talking can come from a place of deep belonging. After all, isn’t that where the love of the sport comes from? 

When you are a fan of a team, it can feel much like family through the ups and downs. When your team wins, it can feel like a personal victory, as if you were able to accomplish something so great just by being a part of this fan base, even if you don’t have the skill or talent to actually play.

As fundamentally necessary as the sense of belonging is, it can sometimes lead to a polarizing us-versus-them mentality, turning a once-healthy rivalry into a state of extreme opposition. It’s necessary to gauge your behavior when you feel your blood boil to the point of saying something out of character and out of line.

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Tips for Sportsmanlike Heckling

Loyalty to a team can turn trash talking into something darker. For example, the 2021 Formula One season saw a wild ending when driver Nicholas Latifi caused a crash in the last race that solidified a new champion. But the fans of the former champion went from modern hecklers to out-for-blood fans, going so far as to send death threats to Latifi. The online bullying that ensued isn’t a new phenomenon.

What is at stake for these fans that would cause the situation to rise to that level? Is this the dark side of superfandom or the makings of failed discourse in the sports community?

Like any mode of discourse, trash talking and heckling needs a set of loose guidelines to maintain quality sportsmanship. Here are a few points to think about as you engage:

  • Keep race, sex, gender and personal affiliations out of it. It’s not cool to make comments about who a person is, how they present or what they believe. 
  • Be creative. The whole point is to have fun and make people laugh. 
  • Let your trash talking reflect your love for your team, not simply hate for another.
  • Don’t take anything personally, and try not to let your ego get too caught up in something that you have little control over.

Next time you go to talk trash, consider these tips so you can keep yourself and others in the spirit of the game.

Conclusion

At best, heckling is funny when it’s euphemistic and clever, but at its worst, it can be the gateway to verbal and psychological abuse on athletes. Skip the harmful behavior and engage in a way that would make your team proud by treating it like good old-fashioned discourse.

Looking for more takes like this? We’ve got plenty more where this came from. Subscribe to our blog below for more.

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