Roundtable: Has 'swagger' reached its end?
November, 30, 2012
By Jared Zwerling | ESPN.com
ESPN.com IllustrationShumpert, Green, Longoria and Woodley have opinions on a word that has become ubiquitous.The year? 107 B.C.
It's hard to believe, but that's about how long ago the word "swagger" originated.
Way back then, it was used in the phrase "swagger stick," which was a vine wood staff that Roman centurions carried as a distinction of rank.
From the early 1900s all the way through the '80s, the U.S. Armed Forces had them.
But since Jay-Z first rhymed, "I guess I got my swagger back" on his 2001 track "All I Need," the word "swagger" has taken on a whole new life of its own -- without a military distinction, but with many more meanings.
After a myriad rappers started dropping "swagger" or "swag" in their songs, inevitably jocks picked it up to describe one another.
Then, even those in sports media began using the term -- surely a sign of its impending demise.
"Swagger" was initially meant to describe an authentic confidence that equates to production. Now, "swagger" seems to be used as a free-for-all expression to describe a player's personality or style of performance.
So what’s next? Will "swagger" evolve or should there be a moratorium on usage of the word?
ESPN Playbook turned to four pros from different sports who exude swagger -- San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green, Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, New York Knicks guard Iman Shumpert and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley -- to get their take.
What we discovered is that the word could be on a downward trajectory. Swag, R.I.P.?
1. What does it mean to you to have swagger as an athlete?
Green: "It's an attitude, how a person carries themselves. It means to have a certain style -- on the court and off the court. Some people have different styles, but not all styles are considered swag. It's about what society accepts as cool. You may have swag on the field or court, but not off of it. I'm not a big fashion guy, so I look at how a person carries themselves -- personality, confidence in your play or performance."
Longoria: "Swag is the ability for people to see an aura about you when you step into a room or on to the field. You can just feel the presence of someone with swag, even if you're not focused or trying to see it."
Shumpert: "Swagger as an athlete is undoubtedly doing whatever it takes to win, but making it look easy. It's an energy you bring that lets your game speak for itself. It's the way you carry yourself on and off the court that makes people want to watch you. Swagger is not about what you do; it's how you do it. It's not what you wear; it's how you wear it."
Woodley: "I think swagger is your whole mentality. No matter what I have on, my swag is always a 10 and can't nobody tell me different. Swagger is the way you feel about yourself, the way you walk, the way you talk. When you put your clothes on, it goes to another level. Even when I have a jogging suit on, I have swag, but when I put that suit on, it goes to another level -- it goes from Clark Kent to Superman, Bruce Wayne to Batman, Logan to Wolverine."
2. How do you think, or how have you been told, you have swagger?
Green: "I've been told from sources. I don't think I do. I'm conservative and not into fashion. I don't celebrate excessively or anything. I just play. Our team is probably one of the swag-less teams. We're just efficient."
Longoria: "On the field, I've been told that I play with a calm, un-egotistic confidence that I would call my swag. It isn't something that can be forced. I just feel comfortable in my uni and I guess people can sense that."
Shumpert: "Of course I have been. I think it's in my attitude and confidence. I may not always be the best dressed, but I bet everyone in the room will know I'm there. You have to have a presence. I'm not like everyone else and I carry myself as such. In order to have swagger, you have to have an aura, a vibe that surrounds you that makes everyone interested to know more. And I think I have that."
Woodley: "Hell yeah, I've been told I have swagger. It's almost like the back of my jersey says, 'SWAG.' When you sign with the Jordan Brand, that's when you know you have swagger."
3. Who was the first athlete, in your mind, to have/popularize swagger?
Green: "Allen Iverson. I feel like he really brought the rap game and industry influence to the hoops game. He really changed the look when it came to dressing off the court."
Longoria: "Michael Jordan, without a doubt."
Shumpert: "Michael Jordan, without a doubt. He had a hunger to win every single time he stepped on the court. His energy and desire is what separated him from everyone else. He was a true lover of basketball, not about the materialistic things that come with the game today. He said it best, 'It's not about the shoes; it's about what you do in them.' When you hear the name Michael Jordan, what do you think of? Exactly."
Woodley: "To me, Dennis Rodman had swag, not necessarily in the clothes, but the tattoos and crazy hair. It was swag because he didn't care what other people thought. He had the I-don't-give-a-damn swag."
4. Which athletes in any sport nowadays have the most swagger to you?
Green: "Basketball players. They are visible and able to really showcase their personalities and style. Football players have it too with their touchdown celebrations, but they wear helmets, which makes them less visible overall."
Longoria: "To me, it's different in every sport. I think to find an easy definition of swagger in a particular sport, you have to ask a group of 14-year-old boys who their favorite athlete is in that sport. Most often, guys with swag draw a crowd unknowingly."
Shumpert: "I feel basketball players have the most swag because we have less equipment on and everyone knows our faces. Basketball being the most finesse sport, in my opinion, makes it easy to steal that shine."
Woodley: "I think all of the athletes these days are starting to dress alike, so not too many stand out. No trendsetters right now."
5. Do you think the word "swagger" is misused or overused at all?
Green: "At this point, it is overused and misused. The word is supposed to be used to describe something rare or very different. It is a little played out."
Longoria: "I think it's misused a lot. Too many people try too hard to have a swagger. It needs to be organic."
Shumpert: "I do think the word is overused and misused. People are starting to use the word to brag, but seem less cocky. It's used to flaunt money and other things that a lot of people can't buy. I enjoy the fact that people can relate to me. I'm not a fan of fads or trends; I like to create my own. Originality is key; I like to create my own phrases."
Woodley: "No, it's still OK to use."
6. Is there a word you created to replace "swagger" to describe an athlete?
Green: "I haven't made anything up. I like to use 'tough,' 'solid' or 'he got game.' I don't feel like there's anything new. People recycle words. They all come back around."
Longoria: "Pro. We say a guy is ‘so pro’ if he is at the top of his game."
Shumpert: "I use the word 'swayyy.' It's more than 'swagger.' I'd like to consider it the ultimate level of perfection and extraordinaire that only certain individuals achieve. It's more exclusive. Nowadays, anyone can have swag. Not everyone has what it takes to walk in 'swayyyin' #post90s."
Woodley: "That boy's sharp, that boy's clean, or smooth. I like old-school words like that."