The 'Mama Rule': What's fair and foul with NFL trash-talking

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When it comes to trash-talking, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey considers himself an expert.

He'll call opposing players soft. He'll tell them their career is over. He'll tell them their stats, especially if they're not very good. He'll pretty much say anything he can think of to get under their skin. He'll be funny, then he'll be serious.

But he won't be personal. That's his limit.

Ramsey trash-talked receiver A.J. Green pretty much nonstop last Sunday during the first half of the Jaguars' game against Cincinnati at EverBank Field, but he did not say anything derogatory about Green's family.

"I wouldn't want him to come at my personal life, my people, so I didn't do that to him," Ramsey said. "I told y'all everything I said. I called him weak. I called him soft. I was yelling out the stats: 'You've got one [catch] for 8 [yards] right now. That's what I kept saying. It turned out to be one for 6 but I kept telling him, 'You only got one for 8; your time's almost up.'

"He started saying a little stuff back like, 'I've been doing it seven years straight.' I'm like, 'You ain't doing it this game.' "

The NFL has rules in place to prohibit the use of abusive language, which includes racial slurs, and violators can be hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. However, trash-talking is such a part of the game that players aren't penalized for doing it unless officials deem it has crossed over into abusive language.

The players end up policing themselves, and while Ramsey draws the line at someone's personal life when he trash-talks, other NFL players don't have the same limits on what they'll say to get into an opponent's head.

"You can say anything you want, stuff like that," Detroit receiver Marvin Jones Jr. said. "You can go and do the Twitter beef, all that stuff. That's whatever. But once it becomes physical, that's when it's like, 'OK, I'm a grown man and you don't put your hands on me like that.'

"I think that's the line. The physical. Once you cross that physical line, then it's like, 'OK.' To me, definitely. But I wouldn't have to deal with it because when I'm in between the lines, I don't say anything."

So someone could talk about Jones' wife or sister and he wouldn't have a problem that that?

"I haven't really experienced a lot of that in my career, just because I don't talk," he said. "Like I would take the ball off your head, fall and get up and whistle or something, like nothing happened. I think that's worse than me doing that and saying, 'Ahh, you suck.' Like I do it and this is what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to do this. We have standards to where if I make a great play, I'm going to get up and not say anything. Now, if they come and provoke me, I'll definitely talk a little bit. Why not?

"I'm not going to go crazy. I'm not ever going to go crazy. I don't care what you're talking about. You can talk about anything."

Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith, who claims to be a better trash-talker than Ramsey, says he'll say anything he can to get to an opposing player. If he has a relationship with that player -- maybe a former college teammate or they have the same agent, for example -- things can get even nastier.

"It's an emotional thing," Smith said. "If I know you, it can get more personal, but if I don't it can still go either way. It's whatever happens.

"It's trash-talking. What rule is there? ... If you want to go out there [on the field] you just better be willing to take it."

Detroit defensive tackle Akeem Spence says he enjoys seeing the effect his words have on an opposing player. It's almost a game to see what kind of reaction he can elicit.

"For the most part I'm just going to cuss, talk bad to you," Spence said. "And then the next play don't let the guy beat me, don't let him get his hands on me or nothing like that. For me, it's all fun, more so than anything. To get him riled up.

"I might get him to jump offside, forget the snap count or something like that. You never know what you'll get out of it."

That's not the case for Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. He falls right in line with Ramsey: Family is off limits.

"At the end of the day, you don't talk about people's loved ones, you don't talk about people's families because we're all fighting for one thing and that's to provide for our families," Kirkpatrick said. "There's still, to me, a line of respect for other teammates, other players."

New Orleans safety Vonn Bell says he believes there is one topic that should always remain sacred that players should never touch.

"The Mama Rule," Bell said. "Oh, for sure, because, like, you think about somebody's talking about your mama, you gotta stand up for her.

"Some people don't [follow the rule]. Some people do. But you just be like, 'You better watch your mouth. Easy there.' "

NFL Nation reporters Michael Rothstein, Katherine Terrell and Mike Triplett contributed to this report.