Posted: 10/24/06Sports fans be forewarned -- your world is plagued. It's been infected by something so prevalent that it's gone unnoticed by nearly everyone in sports.
This disease is more rampant than steroids, more obnoxious than Terrell Owens, more inane than comparisons to MJ, and more unintelligent than Tim McCarver (yes, Tim McCarver -- the situation is that serious). Fans and athletes alike, you are all becoming victims of the sports cliché.
A cliché often uses an alias to disguise itself (truism, axiom, adage, motto, aphorism, maxim), but don't be fooled -- they're all the same and they're all becoming the most predictable aspect of sports since JV/Varsity scrimmages. Ask any coach and he or she will say that "Defense wins championships." Read about a player in the paper fresh off another terrible performance, and A-Rod will tell you, "I need to stop thinking and react."
A recent poll on Sportscliche.com revealed that "taking it one game at a time" is the most overused statement in sports, while 45 percent of voters believe Dick Vitale is cliché-dependent and an additional 81 percent admitted that polls on sports clichés are in fact cliché themselves.
Whatever the general public may believe, clichés offer a degree of truth that everyone can understand. However, they have become so ingrained in an athlete's speech that reading an article or watching an interview doesn't offer you anything honest, new, or exciting.
A running back interviewed for his three-TD outburst might tell the reporter, "There's no 'I' in team," while a basketball star sidelined with an injury claims, "My teammates have really stepped up." Flip the situations and you can just as easily read about a running back thanking his offensive line for "stepping up" while the basketball player correctly spells out the word team.
The always-popular "effort adage" is a prime example of the cliché plague. When an athlete says, "We gave 110 percent out there," he or she is really telling you, "I received no real education whatsoever." The beauty of this saying is that, like all sports maxims, you know exactly what the athletes mean, but you never take the time to really examine what they say. Ever wonder who first decided that giving 100 percent of your effort was simply insufficient? The team gave every ounce of effort it could muster, but the coaches demanded 10 percent more. Did the ball boy get a chance? Did a drained team hand over the helmets to the cheerleaders for a few downs?
It's not that I don't understand the benefits of the sports cliché; it's just that the language of sports is becoming routine, part of a string of anticipated statements. There's nothing novel about these sayings. There's no reason to listen when most professional athletes speak. This is why Shaq needs his own interview-highlight reel/live show/presidential nomination.
Yet while Shaq has his share of absurd statements, the Big Aristotle would never utter something as ridiculous as, "The proof is in the pudding." What athletes, coaches, and analysts probably don't realize is that they're quoting the 17th century novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, which states, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." This is essentially used to say that the truth is obvious when you examine the results. But it's also commonly used to make you sound incredibly foolish. "The proof is in the pudding." Great. Now let's use our minds to discuss sports a bit more intelligently, if we can.
But, inevitably, more clichés surface. "We beat ourselves today." No, no you didn't. The scoreboard did not read "Tigers 7, Tigers 2." Last time I checked, the Cardinals scored seven runs for themselves. Maybe Justin Verlander should have pitched around Albert Pujols, but Verlander didn't throw himself a pitch, sprint home, grab a bat and Cardinals cap, and swing for the fences.
There's no denying the obvious truth behind this cliché: mistakes decrease your chances of winning. But you do not under any circumstances beat yourself. Fletcher Reede in Liar Liar beat himself. Instead, what you are doing is offering your opponent several chances to beat you and win the game themselves.
Pitching to Albert Pujols with a runner on and first base open is helping your opponent, but Pujols might still fly out. Playing zone against Ray Allen is helping your opponent, but Allen still needs to knock down his jumpers. A turnover only hurts if the other team can capitalize in the end and turn your TO's into their TD's. No team beats themselves. Period. Except the Oakland Raiders -- they beat themselves.
While truisms might convey meaning, they rarely capture the historical or the unbelievable in sports. They tread wearily through the mundane and routine. Every player recognizes that "it's not about individual awards." Every team "leaves it all out on the field." Every coach "takes it one game at a time."
In today's fast-paced world of short attention spans, athletes throw out clichés to reporters like bones to a pack of dogs. Since sports figures are under constant scrutiny, they must be careful about how they present each statement. They're followed not just on the playing field but into the locker rooms, into clubs and restaurants, and into their homes.
Thanks to this constant pressure, clichés have become the quickest and safest answers. They can't be misconstrued in the papers. So, as boring and overused as they are, sports sayings create a useful, ready-made language impenetrable to the media.
So it's the media which is at fault for this plague in its over-analytic nature. And the media, as we all know, will analyze absolutely anything. Just look at this article. As much as I hate to admit it, the proof is in the pudding.
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