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Let's talk about your mama. Not your mama, specifically, but the timeless "your mama" insult, as in "Your mama's so fat, the back of her neck looks like a pack of hot dogs." You can't possibly take such slurs seriously, even if your mama's armpits really are so hairy that she appears to have Buckwheat in a headlock.
And yet in sports your mama remains the mother of all insults. It is assumed to have cost France the World Cup final, from which French captain Zin�dine Zidane was ejected after head-butting an Italian defender who reportedly questioned, in vivid language, the virtue of Zidane's mother. This has been categorically denied by the Italian, Marco Materazzi, whose surname derives from the Latin mater (mother) and azzi (wears army boots).
As fodder for insults, your mama's promiscuity is second only to her weight problem, two sore spots that are frequently combined into one outrageous untruth. No one's mama is so big that you have to roll over twice to get off her. But veracity is not strictly the point when it comes to insulting your mama.
The point is to provoke a reaction, and by history's standard, Materazzi was lucky to escape with Zidane's head in his chest. Because John the Baptist had insulted her mother, Salome received his head on a platter.
Still, your mama has had its most lasting effect in sports, where athletes and fans have been insulting her since the beginning of time. In 1912 Ty Cobb climbed into the stands in New York after a handicapped man named Claude Lueker allegedly slandered Amanda Cobb. Cobb promptly pummeled Lueker, adding injury to insult.
To protest his ensuing suspension, Cobb's teammates staged a one-day walkout, during which the Tigers fielded replacement players. The substitutes lost 24-2 to the Philadelphia A's, setting records for single-game futility, including the 26-hit complete game thrown by Allan Travers, who went on to become a Catholic priest, a rare marriage of Our Father and your mama.
In the century that followed, your mama lost some of her shock value. Son of a bitch, for instance, is now often used as a term of endearment. Hines Ward once popped up smiling after a vicious hit from defensive back Rodney Harrison, who told the Steelers receiver, "You're one tough son of a bitch." Ward never forgot the praise.
Nearly three decades ago Darryl Dawkins named one of his dunks Yo Mama-dunking on a defender being the physical manifestation of that playground insult. Today, yo mama is so benign a dis that it's the name of an insult-competition show on MTV.
Speaking of your mama, David Wells's brawl in a Manhattan diner four years ago was set off by an unspecified insult about the then Yankee's mother. Wells would return the favor that night, describing his attacker to a 911 operator as a "little squatty mother---." In court the attacker's aggrieved mother insulted still more mothers when she reportedly shouted at Wells's legal team, "Bastards!" The case was an endless, unimaginative Yo-Mama-o-Rama.
Wells won not just in court but also in the court of public opinion, where an insult to one's mother excuses almost any retaliation. Samoan rugby star Terry Fanolua was let off with a fine after breaking the jaw of a mama-invoking man in a wine bar in England, prompting this explanation from Fanolua's lawyer: "To call a man's mother a whore in Western Samoan culture is very insulting." As opposed to ... where, exactly?