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There's sort of a weird dynamic in the world of sports commentary where red-blooded sports-watching men have to tiptoe around certain subjects as delicately as Victorian gentlemen. You can't bring up race, you can't call someone a jerk and unless you're a pundit or columnist, you can't straight out say someone sucks, even if his suckage is so blatant that pre-verbal children are pointing it out.

Instead, you end up using these euphemistic code words that are in some ways almost worse than just dissing people straight out. Like:

Role-player/Journeyman/Utility player

Real meaning: A mediocre player who will never be asked for his autograph.

Sometimes a player will get subbed into a game and the commentator's first thought is, Wow, what a complete non-entity. But because it's unprofessional for some reason to call a spade a spade, they'll instead point out that he's a "role-player" or perhaps a "hard worker," which is as condescending as someone telling you that your handwriting is very good when you ask them what they thought of your story.

Via Keith Allison
Nazr Mohammed, literal live action role-player.

In basketball, you might call someone a "banger" if they are willing to get under the basket and take a lot of tough physical contact from other players. Which seems like a compliment until you notice that nobody who can actually, you know, shoot, ever gets called a "banger" no matter how much pushing they do in the paint.

Via Keith Allison
Dirk Nowitzki -- proof that Neanderthals mated with modern humans? Perhaps. Banger? No.

Basically they're evading the implied question of, "Is he a good player?" by answering, "Well, uh, he works really hard and is OK with getting hit a lot."

Occasionally, you get someone trying to throw role-players a bone by saying they "can be stars in their own way" or are an Important Part of the Team, really! Which I would think is worse than being ignored.

Other uses:

When an announcer says: "With a seventh-round pick, they'll probably be picking up a role-player."
He means: "Apparently all that's left in the seventh round this year is a bunch of useless players nobody cares about."

When an announcer says: "A journeyman center acquired last year in the [star's name] trade."
He means: "I guess this guy must have been attached to that package in that big trade last year along with the players I've actually heard of."


Real meaning: Small, probably white.

Sports are full of unusually large specimens of humanity, so it's only natural to do a double-take when you see a player much shorter than his teammates, and only natural to want to point it out. The problem is that you usually want to point it out after he's done something impressive, effectively saying, "Even though Wes Welker is so tiny you can fit him in a teacup, he was somehow able to jump up and catch the ball. Oh, good for him!"

Via Official Star Wars Blog
Sometimes news outlets will mistakenly run a photo of Warwick Davis alongside a Wes Welker story.

So you have to go about it in a roundabout way. You use words like "scrappy"or "feisty" or say he's "a real sparkplug" -- words that are ostensibly about someone's energy and enthusiasm, but would clearly never be used for a large or average-sized person. So you can pretend you're talking about how he caught the ball because he's got so much energy and enthusiasm, and not saying he caught it despite the fact that he is an adorable munchkin.

But it's kind of depressing to compare someone like Wes Welker, who is actually an average American male at 5'9", to this:

Via GeekCast Radio

To be fair, size is pretty important in a lot of sports and affects a lot of what a player can do. But why do you need to mention that a hockey player is 5'8" (and "feisty") in order to point out that he's good at avoiding penalties? He doesn't do it by ducking under them.

And is being 5'7" really some kind of Lifetime Channel handicap you have to overcome to succeed in baseball? Really?

Would you really want your MVP celebration to be commemorated with phrases like, "the little shortstop stood tall?" Did you just win the championship of Major League Baseball or the Little League World Series?

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Real meaning: Asshole

I've gone over this before regarding Chargers QB Philip Rivers. When the game is going terribly for him, he steps up by yelling at his teammates a lot. Of course, when he's winning, it's a totally different story. He instead yells at the other team a lot. Or their fans.

Via The Baltimore Sun
And don't get me wrong, some of them totally deserve it.

And as a commentator, you can't avoid saying something about it when he's doing it right in front of the viewers. So you go, "What a ... competitor! Yeah. Let's go with that. Rivers has got a real ... competitive spirit." Or maybe he's just really "passionate."

Via NeonTommy

The fans, the bloggers and the columnists can feel free to use words like "jerk," "punk," "dick" and "asshole," but commentators have to pretend they're angels with no negative thoughts about anyone.

So they have to play it like the only reason he's yelling at his own teammates is because he really, really cares about winning the game. The problem is that this implies that the other players who aren't yelling at their own teammates don't care as much about winning the game. That they're driven by a sort of laissez-faire attitude where it's OK to win or lose, as opposed to grownup self-control in the face of massive frustration.

Via michael248
Like Tim Duncan, four-time NBA champion, who clearly doesn't care very strongly about winning.

Of course it's not just Philip Rivers, whom I tend to pick on because I don't like his smug, frat boy face. Athletes in any sport are always making dick moves, and no matter how awful they are, there will always be some people somewhere excusing them as merely being "really competitive."

Via NFL.com
Andrew Bynum being competitive.


Real meaning: Hitting people hard and probably dirty.

Even if you don't know sports, you can already tell "physical" is a euphemism because how the hell is a player or team going to not be physical? While a phase shift to the noncorporeal realm would be awesome for passing through defenders, I don't think I've seen a single professional player in any sport capable of pulling that move.

But it sounds distasteful and barbaric to say, "The Lakers really need to start hitting the other team harder when the referee isn't looking," so they go with, "The Lakers really need to bring a more physical game here in the third quarter to keep pressure on the Celtics."

Via CBCSports
Your average hockey headline.

There's a lot of nuance to the term, though, so while one fan might really be asking his team to push opponents around and stand their ground in a legal and honorable way, another fan might be asking for nut shots.

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Rebuilding Phase

Real meaning: This team sucks.

One thing a commentator really can't say is, "This team really sucks and isn't worth watching even for laughs," because they're working for a broadcasting network whose bread and butter depends on convincing people every game they broadcast is totally exciting and worth watching.

Which can be quite a tall order at times.

But when the team is literally falling down in front of you, you've got to say something about it, so you might point out that the team is in a "rebuilding phase," or going through a "transition." If they have a lot of new recruits, you can point out that they are a "young team." The real problem might be that the coach sucks or the management sucks or the players all have drug problems, but it's safer to go with "rebuilding."

And a player that's part of the "rebuilding" might be a "project," which basically means that, sure, he doesn't seem to understand how to play the game, but he's fast and strong, and we're sure there's got to be something he can be trained to do, like maybe holding a clipboard.

Via Brady Quinn Fan
And possibly even writing on one!

But this really gets into wink-and-nod territory when a team has been "rebuilding" for over 10 years, in which case another angle is to say that they are a "blue-collar" or "hard-working" team. This is similar to calling one person a "role-player" in that you're basically saying that they've accomplished absolutely nothing over many, many years. But hey! You're totally sure they are trying their best.

And as a sports commentator, you can't help but want to express your incredulity, and possibly disgust, at the team's fans that keep showing up to these train wrecks day after day, but instead of asking, "What is wrong with these people?" on network TV, you just remark on how "loyal" they are.

Racial Code Words

One big thing nobody can talk about in sports is race, even though pretty much everybody thinks about it. You don't have to be a racist to have some preconceptions buried somewhere. Even if you take two average, non-racist people and have them listen to the same play-by-play broadcast, they'll have different opinions on how the player performed depending on if you told them he was black or white.

In that study, when listeners thought he was black, they tended to think he was more "athletic" and performed better, but thought the white version of the same guy showed more intelligence and "hustle."

Via Keith Allison
However, participants' heads imploded when told the player was Blake Griffin.

If the fans can't help having different expectations of different races, then commentators certainly can't either. That's why a black quarterback who is able to move deftly in the pocket has a lot of "athleticism," while a white QB is clearly showing his "imagination." A hockey announcer might call a Canadian player's lack of toughness for what it is, while chalking another player's wimpiness up to his "European" origins.

And since only nonwhite players are expected to be fast and athletic, logically, only white players can be "deceptively fast." Like Toby Gerhart, Harrison Jones, Matt Jones, Brady Quinn or Jordan Shipley. The implication is something like, "It was surprising that he outran that cornerback because his skin color is very light!"

I did find a "deceptively fast" quote about the Steelers' Mike Wallace, who is black, but I think what happened was that they got him confused with 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace:

Which makes a lot more sense I think.

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Gimpy/Dinged Up /Got His Bell Rung

Real meaning: He's got what anyone outside of sports would call a serious injury.

Sports by nature is all about toughness, so there's a lot of pressure not to quit, even when half of your splintered shinbone is sticking out through your skin. If you decide to walk off the field, you're not being sane and smart by giving your injury a chance to heal now so that you can give your team 100 percent (or 110 percent) a month later instead of watching the playoffs from your hospital bed. No, you're being a little baby girl.

Via Getty Images
"Wah, wah, I tore my ACL."

Part of telling yourself (and peer pressuring others into thinking) that a major injury is no big deal is to use childish slang terms. You didn't fracture your ankle, you're just a bit "gimpy." You didn't rip a vital tendon, you're just "dinged up." When everyone essentially refers to player injuries as "booboos," there's a real pressure not to be seen sitting out because you are nursing an "ouchie."

In last season's NFC championship game, Jay Cutler left the field with a knee injury and fans ended up burning his jersey because they seemed to think he was just sitting out because it was fun to watch his team lose a game that would lead toward the most important goal in his life. Never mind that you could see his knee wiggling in his socket as he limped off the field.

External injuries sometimes can look bad enough that even fans and commentators will remark on how bad it is and excuse the guy for getting off the field, but concussions are another story. Even though evidence has shown that the buildup of just minor head collisions every football player experiences through the course of their career will inevitably lead to irreparable brain damage, fans and commentators still often say a player just "got his bell rung," or "got his cage rattled," as if it was a funny little injury that only hurt his confidence, or his pride.

Via Talk Nerdy To Me Lover
Like getting slapped by a monkey.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia, after being hit by two 240-pound men, taking a shot to the head, and hitting the ground with his head, so that he was unable to get up for minutes afterward, dismissed it as being "dinged" and getting his "bell rung" and went right back into the game.

Using goofy kid-like terms makes it sound like he's just walking around with Looney Tunes style stars floating around his head where the only worry is whether he's got the mental toughness to shake it off and continue to perform with confidence.

As opposed to, say, having to worry about long-term brain damage leading to a condition almost identical to Alzheimer's or causing suicidal depression.

Shucks, he just got his bell rung, is all.

For more from Christina, check out 5 Reasons Women Are As Shallow As Men (According to Science) and 5 Topics Guaranteed to Elicit (Condescending) Advice.

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