‘It is what it is’

By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY

The Sports Quote of 2004 is a simple, five-word line used by many athletes and coaches to sum up troubles of all sorts and send an instant message that it’s time to move on:

“It is what it is.” The phrase is not new. Although the origin is uncertain, it has been around for years.

For three seasons as coach of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, John Fox has made it the favorite among his many short, sweet, motivational sayings. He’s hardly alone.

In 2004, in a sports world full of complexities, “It is what it is” has joined the ranks of familiar sports clichés such as, “We’re playing them one at a time” and “There is no tomorrow.”

“It is what it is” has become the all-purpose alternative to the long-winded explanation.

What better way to sum up the November spat between the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons that led to a brawl between Detroit players and Indiana fans in the stands? “Obviously, you never want to see something like that happen, but it is what it is,” Pacers guard Reggie Miller said.

What more can you say when you’re an NFL player such as defensive back Robert Griffin of the Cleveland Browns and you have just lost 58-48 to the Cincinnati Bengals?

“It is what it is. We gave up too many big plays — deep balls, long runs,” Griffin said after that November game.

Don Powell, psychologist, sports fan and author of Best Sports Clichés Ever!, has a theory why the phrase has become popular.

“I think this cliché is a newer sort of cliché. You have athletes becoming more philosophical than they used to be,” says Powell, a resident of West Bloomfield, Mich., whose nickname is Dr. Cliché.

Powell says the phrase means, “It’s happened. ‘I’m going to forget about it. I’m going to move on. … There is nothing that can be done about it.’ “

Like all popular clichés, he says, it is brief. “It’s almost like a form of shorthand. … We all know what the clichés mean,” he says. In a stressful situation, it can be instantly comforting and positive, he adds.

“I think there’s kind of a subconscious, psychological reason why we like clichés,” Powell says. “It has to do with the psychological concept that familiarity breeds comfort.”

Powell describes Bill Belichick, who has coached the New England Patriots to two Super Bowls, as the reigning “king of clichés” among coaches.

He says Belichick makes frequent and effective use of sayings such as, “We’re playing them one at a time. We play within ourselves. We’re a blue-collar team. We just want to keep it rolling. … We do all the little things. Each player has a job to do and goes out and does it.”

It’s no surprise to Powell that Belichick drops an occasional use of, “It is what it is.” The phrase is not limited to sports.

On the November Tuesday when President Bush was re-elected, the early exit polls were not positive for him early in the day. “Well, it is what it is,” Time quoted Bush as saying.

Another definition of what that means is in a song written by John Barlow, former lyricist for the Grateful Dead. His song is titled, It Is What It is. Some sample lyrics:

“If you need an explanation, there’s a quick and easy answer -Stop thinking for a moment and give this one a try ‘Cause it is what it is, what it is, what it is, what it is.”

In all sorts of situations, the same quote kept popping up in 2004:

“I didn’t know we were scoring that much, but it is what it is, and we do what we do.” —Shawn Marion, during a high-scoring streak by the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. (Associated Press, Dec. 16)

“It is what it is. We’ll deal with it.” —Bill Belichick, coach of the NFL’s New England Patriots, on offensive coordinator Charlie Weis becoming Notre Dame’s head coach. (AP, Dec. 13).

“No Cincinnati questions. I’m not worried about that. It is what it is.” —New England Patriots running back Corey Dillon, before facing his former NFL team, the Cincinnati Bengals. (AP, Dec. 12)

“It is what it is, and I want to move on with the team we have here.” —Kobe Bryant of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, in the midst of a controversy over the status of injured forward Karl Malone. (AP, Dec. 8).

“It is what it is, and we’ve just got to make the most of it.” —Claude Terrell, offensive tackle for college football’s New Mexico Lobos, on accepting a bid to play in the Emerald Bowl against Navy. (AP, Dec. 1)

“It is what it is. I can’t control it. I can’t think about it.”— Skip Prosser, men’s college basketball coach at Wake Forest, on his team’s No. 1 ranking. (AP, Nov. 23)

“We showed up and gave 100%, and it is what it is.”— NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, after finishing second in the Nextel Cup championship. (AP, Nov. 22)

“Never in a million years did I think we would be 1-5 at this juncture, but it is what it is.”— Mike Minter, safety for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, on his team’s start this season. (AP, Oct. 24)

“It wasn’t pleasant, but it is what it is.”— Shortstop Barry Larkin, after learning he would not be asked back for another season after 19 years with baseball’s Cincinnati Reds. (AP, Oct. 13)

“It is what it is. We’ll make the best of it.”— University of California football coach Jeff Tedford, on his team playing four of its first five games on the road. (AP, Sept. 3)

“It is what it is and you got adrenaline and all that stuff.”— Kerry Wood, Chicago Cubs baseball pitcher, on being ejected following a flap with an umpire. (AP, April 17)

“Somebody sort of egged me on, and it is what it is. I can’t take it back. You just learn from it.”— NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, on an exchange of words with a television cameraman after Gordon’s private plane made an emergency landing in Cincinnati. (AP, March 20)