Swag: The 21st Century's Most Ill-Conceived Word Has No Place in Sports

JT TurbaContributor IApril 20, 2010

ATLANTA - OCTOBER 10: Soulja Boy attends the BET Hip Hop Awards '09 at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center on October 10, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

"Swag" may be the dumbest, most ill-conceived word of all time, specifically in regard to sports.  I wanted to see exactly what definition Urbandictionary.com applies to the word "swag"....

"1. apperance ,style ,or the way he or she presents themselves. 
  2. the way one carries their self."

Appalling. Artists like Soulja Boy, who use the word "swag" in rap videos like "Turn My Swag On", or F.L.Y.'s (Fast Life Yungstaz) "Swag Surfin'", perpetuate the use of poor writing merely by misspelling their names. 

I'll briefly elaborate on my initial thoughts upon reading this definition.  I'll also provide a brief grammar lesson before I digress to the purpose of this article: 

3,865 people gave definition No. 1 a thumbs up, despite misspelling "appearance", putting spaces before commas instead of after them, and obliterating all semblance of pronoun-antecedent agreement.  He and she are singular antecedents. The word "themselves" is a plural pronoun.  This author's grammar "swag" is abysmal. 

Author No. 2 apparently attended the same grammar school as No. 1.  1,552 people like "the way one carries their self".  Even if "their self" was a word, it would still be one word. The use of "one and their", once again, violates basic pronoun-antecedent agreement.

Kids need school, not swag.  Kids don't need lavish entertainers like Soulja boy flossin' iced out platinum and gold chains.  Kids don't need to see rappers with bling-bling.  They need REAL role models.  When I was growing up, one of my favorite ads of all time was Charles' Barkley's Ad where he states "I am not a role model"

Sir Charles was absolutely right.  Parents should raise their kids.  Not Soulja boy.  So, JT, please elaborate, what do role models or parents have to do with "Swag"? 

I'm getting there, hear me out.  The reason I loved that Charles Barkley ad was because it was created with several clear purposes in mind.  Those purposes were to combat the idolization of athletes, and to alert parents that their children were modeling themselves after pro athletes.  Let me take an alternate angle. 

In instances where there were little to no parental influences, athletes WERE the parents.  Now THAT is a scary thought.  Parental apathy is allowing rappers to supplant children's rightful role models.  Today's athletes are raising children whom they've never even met (and no, that's not a roundabout reference to Antonio Cromartie's recent paternity payout).  I was blessed with two parents who instilled values into me at a young age. 

I knew that Charles Barkley was just a basketball player, yet I still wanted to be like Michael Jordan (I hearken back to the "If I could be like Mike" Gatorade Commercial ). 

I wanted to fly and maneuver around defenders with ease.  I spent literally thousands of hours outside practicing on the basketball hoop my dad put up in our driveway.  I vividly recall counting down "3-2-1" out loud, catching the pass on the wing from Scottie Pippen, and draining the game winning three-pointer, and I visualized the crowd going wild in response.

Years later, I've come to the stunning realization that Charles Barkley's emphatic point could not carry more weight behind it.  I discovered Jordan's compulsive gambling addiction.  I came across articles about his marital infidelity. 

Michael Jordan was a phenomenal basketball player, the greatest of all time, but at the ripe young age of 26 years old, I can confidently say that I no longer desire to be like Mike.

I've since learned not to put my faith in athletes.  Tiger Woods blindsided millions across the globe and taught fans that same lesson.  I still love His Airness and Sir Charles for their respective basketball game. Not for their "swag."

Michael Jordan didn't have "swag."  He came into your house and dropped 60 on you in front of your hostile Madison Square Garden crowd. 

Michael Jordan emanated intensity and burned with desire to be the best.  He possessed the most talent of any player in the league, and utilized every single ounce of it.  Jordan hated losing, and competed every time he stepped on the floor, whether it was in a game, or at practice. 

Off the court Michael Jordan had style, he had flair, he had charm, and captured the hearts of the media.  That wasn't "swag."  Jordan was never cocky.  He was stone cold, confident, and had ice water running through his veins.  He backed everything up with his play.  Barkley was a monster on the floor. 

I recently introduced myself to Sir Charles down in Alabama.  I'm every bit of 6'6", and not exactly a skinny dude.  His mammoth bear paws engulfed my hand as he embraced mine for a hand shake. Talk about intimidation. 

He beasted NBA opponents to the tune of an average of 22 points and almost 12 rebounds a game over his 16-year, "swag" free career. Charles was only 6'4", but he played like he was seven feet. 

Charles played tenaciously, and without fear, in spite of his height.  Off the court he spoke freely, he said what he felt, right, wrong, or indifferent, and he did it with conviction and belief.  No swag, just grit, guts, and sheer determination.

If any player had a reason to display "swag" it was Barry Sanders.  Barry Sanders was a human highlight film .  He couldn't be tackled, made first cuts three yards behind the line of scrimmage while playing behind a porous Detroit Lions offensive line, and yet he merely handed the ball to the referee when he scored, occasionally pointing to the sky to acknowledge a higher power. 

Barry Sanders didn't need "swag".  He didn't need flashy jewelry, or long press interviews off the field to discuss how great he was.  He exercised humility, and bowed out of the NFL after only 10 seasons. 

I don't think of Barry Sanders when the word "swag" gets thrown around.  I think of Jamarcus Russell.  Russell is a goon whose contract guaranteed him $32 million.  Jamarcus is rich.  Jamarcus would probably say he has "swag"

The reality is, Russell has all the talent in the world, but Jamarcus cares less about football than bling. Why would any athlete want to relate himself or herself to urban icons like Soulja Boy and the Fast Life Yungstaz?

If "swag" referred to the late Tupac Shakur, or the Notorious B.I.G., or if it referred to Jay-Z, or some of the lesser greats such as MF DOOM (whom you've probably never heard of), or Ghostface Killah, then that might be one thing.  The common trait these hip/hop artists all possess is that they stayed true to themselves. 

The bottom line is, many athletes succumb to the hype that accompanies the ascension to the status of pro athlete.  Athletes want to be superstars as opposed to embracing their status with class, dignity, and humility.  

Charles Barkley is most certainly NOT a role model.  At least Barkley has the humility to acknowledge that he's not a role model.  Barkley asserts that parents need to take a genuine interest in raising their children.  In a recent Chicago Tribune article, John Kass writes about the world we inhabit with similar undertones.  

A world where a man cannot even take his son to an opening day baseball game without his son being subjected to public sex. I love what John Kass says in to sum up his article:

"This guy will talk about this experience for the rest of his life," said Nemeth, sarcastically. "How he did it in the bathroom at a Sox game. What a man."

Not really.

The guy in the stall isn't a man. He's protoplasm in a T-shirt, smelling of beer.

And I doubt that he's a dad.

How many athletes can we relate to the statements above?  "That guy isn't a man. He's a multi-million dollar protoplasm in a uniform, reeking of swag.  And even if he has a wife and children, I doubt he's really a husband, or a dad."

So to answer the question, glorifying "swag" in sports is a microcosm of one of the biggest problems within our world. 

Parents need to engrain Jordan's burning desire to succeed into their children's minds.  Parents need to teach children the importance of harnessing every ounce of their potential, and parents need to deliberately and methodically build into their children with quotations like, "I can accept failure, but I can't accept not trying."

Parents need to echo Jordan's words such as, "If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it." 

Children don't need swag, they need to cultivate the charisma and charm that made Michael Jordan a media darling. Athletes don't need swag.  These influential figures need to embrace the positive characteristics Jordan exemplified, and not perpetuate the negative traits that many of today's stereotypical, pompous athletes possess.

Young boys don't need to see rap videos about swag.  Boys need their parents to teach and reinforce that a flashy playboy lifestyle, countless women, or Jamarcus Russell's $32 million dollar signing bonus and bling won't make them more like men. 

They need to see Barkley's fearlessness, his grit, his determination, and his conviction when speaking about his passions.  They need to see that there is life after basketball.

The world needs more humble men and women like Barry Sanders who apply their natural talents and abilities to their every day lives, and are okay metaphorically handing the ball off in life instead of seeking attention through lavish touchdown celebrations.

"Swag" has no place in sports, because the very nature of a winning attitude is the antithesis of an attitude formed by "swag."