Dear Sportswriters and Athletes,
Could we come to an understanding about the reigning sports cliché of the 21st Century?
Could you folks retire “swagger” and find something else to describe that all-important quality that lies halfway between confidence and cockiness?
This needs to happen quickly because your overuse of "swagger" has dilluted an interesting notion, stripping it of its vitality. Two hundred times a day, a sportswriter types "swagger" into his copy. Every athlete or team on earth either has his swagger back or is trying to get his swagger back.
This has particular significance to the the Los Angeles Clippers as they move unsteadily through this season—especially because the guy they rely on is the Prince of Swagger, veteran point guard Sam Cassell. I have been forced to grapple with this since mid-December as the Los Angeles Times' "Clipper Blogger." Cassell is big on swagger, playing for a 17-21 team that has trouble evidencing any.
Consider a small portion of this swaggaholic addiction:
From a pre-season story about Cassell: He averaged 17.2 points and a team-leading 6.3 assists in his first season with the Clippers, but Cassell's swagger, upbeat personality and clutch shooting were considered as important to an organization that needed a confidence boost.
From a story after the Clips lost their first six road games: "Maybe our swagger on the road is too swaggerish, if that's a word," Cuttino Mobley said. "We're too cocky. We haven't established anything.
From a story after the Clips won three in a row at home last month: "We're getting our swagger back,'' Brand said.
Orlando’s Jameer Nelson after the Magic came from behind to beat the Clips in the first game of a Clipper road trip: "We talked before the game about getting our swagger back. . ."We had that swagger early in the season, thinking no team could beat us. We had to get that confidence back."
Antonio Daniels of the Wizards before the Wiz came from behind to beat the Clips in Washington: "We're not the biggest team in the NBA, but we may be the swaggiest.”
From an Atlanta Journal Constitution story after the Hawks upset the Clips in Atlanta: “Zaza Pachulia regained his swagger, pumping in 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds.”
Cassell after the next game, when he returned from a heel injury to lead the Clips over the New Orleans Hornets: `` It's about bringing that swagger. I'm going to bring that swagger every night. That's what it's all about. If we continue to do that--have that swagger, keep our composure and just play hard--the key to our success is how hard we play.''
Headline from a St. Paul Pioneer Press story before the next game on one-time Timberwolf Cassell prior to the Clips win in Minneapolis: “. . . Sam Cassell, as confident as ever, hopes to inject energy and swagger into the Clippers. . ."
I did a database search of thousands of publications and found only 354 stories that used the words “swagger” and “team” from mid-November 1996 to mid-January 1997. Same search, same dates, four years later produced 814 stories. Same search, same dates 10 years later produced another doubling: 1,773 stories.
This is not just lazy writing. (Those of you who hate cliches might enjoy a list I compiled several years ago. Hungry for more? Click here to read a rant about the overuse of the word "passion.") It sends a signal that swagger for the sake of swagger is a virtue, when in fact the pursuit of swagger can backfire. Consider what Britt Robson wrote in a Minnneapolis alternative paper in the spring of 2005, when Cassell was still with the Timberwolves, having helped lead them to the playoffs in the previous season:
"Last year, for the first time in franchise history, swagger happened for the Wolves. . . .Having the capability to go beyond the borders of teamwork, albeit for the sake of the team, is integral to creating swagger on a ballclub. But selfish players don't make a team swagger. In addition to guts, you need talent and timing. When Sammy misses those crunch-time jumpers (as has happened all too often this year). . . . it reverberates beyond the scoreboard. And even if the success rate is extraordinarily high, too much individual brilliance dissipates the sense of shared glory upon which swagger is fostered.”
Replacement cliche nominations will be taken and posted. Sample: "Baker, writing tepidly, seems to have lost his [new cliche goes here]."