Sports fans are currently experiencing an embarrassment of riches. The NFL draft just concluded against the backdrop of a player lockout. It's a month into baseball season (which means Yankee fans are expecting to win the World Series and Cubs fans are already frustrated). But right now, it's all about the playoffs. With both NBA and NHL teams competing in best of seven series, fans can get a daily dose of competition at its best. For the athletes this is what the whole season is about. Careers are often defined by playoff performance. It doesn't matter if they are sick or hurt, players will do whatever it takes to survive and advance. When it comes to pushing their physical limits this may be admirable, but what is acceptable in the mental gamesmanship that is such an integral part of professional sports?
There is a debate brewing about what is out of bounds when it comes to the verbal jabs players take at one another during games. Known as "trash-talk", this strategy that athletes use to break their opponents' concentration is generally accepted as part of competition. But recently, in both hockey and basketball, some players have questioned if comments about marriage, and more specifically divorce, is talk that should be off limits. Hockey player Patrick Kaleta of the Buffalo Sabres allegedly taunted two Philadelphia Flyers players about their recent divorces in game 6 of their series. In the NBA it was actually fans who used divorce as the subject of their taunts. In an effort to rattle San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker some fans of the Memphis Grizzlies brought a giant cutout of Parker's ex-wife, actress Eva Longoria.
Parker and Longoria divorced earlier this year amid rampant rumors of Parker's infidelity. Although Shane Battier plays for Memphis he thought the stunt went too far. Battier tweeted "This is just basketball, leave wives and kids out of it."
In the unofficial rules of sports, should marriage be given protected status? In addition to athletes, sports analysts are raising the question. Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, hosts of the ESPN show Pardon The Interruption, said Kaleta's taunts crossed the line. According to Wilbon, "You cannot go to divorce." However days later after the incident involving Tony Parker, he had a different opinion. Wilbon stated, "I'm sorry, I know Shane Battier doesn't think it's fair. I think it is." Hockey analyst Matthew Barnaby was very clear in his opinion when responding to Kaleta's trash-talk, "The reality is [you] say anything to get them mad or off their game."
Whatever your opinion about the sanctity of marriage on the field, court or ice, for some athletes what they say while trash-talking will be decided by results. In the hockey game, the players Kaleta taunted combined for 3 goals to help their team win, however, Tony Parker missed 7 of his first 8 shots and San Antonio lost. If you're trying to get the best of your opponent and he's just gone through a messy divorce, some players just won't pass that up. After all it's the playoffs, and when it comes to pursuing championships it's not how you play the game, it's whether you win or lose.