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.
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.