We need more trash talkers in sports

About 15 meters short of the finish of Sunday’s “World’s Fastest Man” race, Canada’s Donovan Bailey looked back at the United States’ Michael Johnson — who by that time had been slowed by a pulled quadricep in his left leg — and got a bad-ass look on his face.
Bailey won the race and the title with a time of 14.99 seconds. Johnson didn’t finish. A few minutes later, with cameras and a big microphone in his face, Bailey let us all know what he really thought.
“(Johnson) didn’t pull up,” Bailey said, then accused him of faking the injury because Bailey was leading at the all-important (for Johnson) turn. “He’s a coward.”
His comments were neither graceful or polite, but they were bold, and they are what sports is missing today. I could handle more Donovan Baileys, not because he won the race, but because he spoke his mind and backed it up.
Popular pre-race speculation had Johnson, with his impressive resume and reputation, wrapping it up handily. And why not? He won the 200 meters going away, shattering his own world record. He became the first man to win gold medals in both the 200 and 400. The sentiment was that Bailey simply ran the race of his life in the Atlanta Olympics, setting the 100-meter world record with a time of 9.84, and wouldn’t be able to keep up with Johnson around the turn.
But before the showdown, Bailey said he thought the event was unnecessary, because he already rightfully owned the title of “World’s Fastest Man.” After the race, Bailey said Johnson “wasn’t a sprinter” and that they should “run this race again so I can kick his ass again.”
Bailey has since apologized to Johnson, which is almost too bad. Attitude — and I don’t mean the Dennis Rodman variety, which is more clownish than anything else — has become woefully uncommon in the mass media. Usually, the winners laud the losers with compliments. He ran a great race, he’s a great competitor, yadda-yadda-yadda.
Enough. I’ll take a Bailey over that crap any day. And there are a handful scattered about here and there. Some have backed up their big words, some haven’t. But we tend to remember those who did.
Take the New York Rangers’ Mark Messier. With his team trailing New Jersey three games to two in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals, Messier guaranteed a win in Game 6. He delivered. Messier assisted on a goal and scored a third-period hat trick to tie the series, and the Rangers went on the win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
Former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl win in 1968. Former Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley guaranteed a repeat NBA championship in 1988. In each case, it took guts to do more than spew out clichÇd, run-of-the-mill BS. And in each case, they came through.
Here on campus, Gophers men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins makes an exhaustive year-round effort to shield his players from the media, apparently concerned that one of them would pull a Bailey (or a Messier, Namath, etc.) and thus provide the Gophers’ opponents with some motivation. It’s probably even more deep-rooted than that, having more to do with paranoia and distrust than billboard material.
But that “Minnesota Nice” stuff is old and tired. If there was a team that had plenty of reasons to do a little chest-pounding, it was the Gophers.
The media have to sift through notebooks full of buffoonery — the “we were lucky to come away with a 60-point win” remarks — to put together something worth reading. This is silly.
Concerned parents would no doubt say that people like Bailey set a poor example for our youth; that athletes should be gracious and measured rather than crass and loud. It’s the old-school “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” policy. It’s the Golden Rule.
But let’s not deny the relevance of outspokenness. Winners are winners, and losers are losers. If you’re willing to play by the Golden Rule, dish out all the trash you like.
Just hope it doesn’t stink.