Inspirational Lubricant Du Jour: The as-yet-unnamed liquid deliciousness comprised of Bulleit, Ginger Ale, Cointreau and Bitter Lemon that I cooked up at a party last night.
So I thought Leee Powers was gonna pick me up with some of the sports coverage here on the old BroCast tubes, but he’s apparently too busy being a pedo (pee-doh) and finding pictures of clothed dogs to do his part. As a result, it’s down to me to address the important happenings in the wide world of ball-based games. Fortunately for you all, I love sports almost as much as I love tweed and the idea of someday having dedicated glasses for all of the different spirits in my liquor cabinet. Between Paul rifling off things for which he has unaffected scorn and Jean Louise trying desperately to list off positive things within her immediate 300-sq-foot vicinity, the Haterade is flowing like wine here in Bro-land. So today’s post should fit right in.
Allow me (allow me? This is the internet! You don’t have to allow shit. I can talk about whatever I want because this blog-editing software says so-) to talk briefly about the psychology behind the hatred of professional athletes, both general and specific.
Let’s start with love, because in sports there’s much to do with hate, but more with love. The love and unabashed devotion we extend to professional athletes is usually quite simply explained: we feel some kind of connection to them. They play for our favorite team, are from our hometown, went to our college, etc. You love the guys (or gals) you love, because of some connection or affiliation that almost automatically endears them to you. In rare instances, people love certain unaffiliated athletes because they “play the game the right way” or are “great competitors.” Intelligent people feel this way about Tim Duncan. People with high tolerances for stupid faces and dumb-ass fist pumps feel this way about Derek Jeter. No one has ever felt this way about Terrell Owens.
By contrast, the hatred we harbor for certain athletes is a much more complex emotion. Most often, we hate athletes who play on teams we hate. Being a player on Team X automatically qualifies you for scorn from a certain city or portion of the population. (Being on a team that has been menacingly dubbed “Team X” probably doesn’t help either.) This is the kind of “sports-hate” that Bill Simmons has written about. We sports-hate athletes on our enemy teams, even though we (usually) wouldn’t wish anything bad upon them or their families.
But what about individual players on teams we have no reason to hate? Certain athletes irk us with their behavior. Some become odious through what they say. And plenty others just have such stupid, stupid faces.
In any case, the visceral hatred of a professional athlete whom we have never met and about whom we really know very little is a very curious and complicated emotion. Imagine someone you’ve never met completely despising you based upon some things they have read that may or may not be true and/or the fact that you work in a certain office, school, company, etc. That’s a weird thing to do, right? Your first response to such a person would probably be something like: “But you don’t even know me!”. And yet, this brand of long-distance, largely baseless disgust is exactly what we practice with professional athletes, who must simply chalk it up as a byproduct of being paid millions of dollars to do things to balls.
I won’t pretend that I can fully explain all of the factors in why sports fans feel the way they do about sports. The whole enterprise is a curious one if you really think about it, but I don’t feel like really thinking about it today. So instead, I’ll offer up three quick examples of potentially hate-able athletes (both old and new) and say a little bit about why I think people hate them so much and whether or not we still should.
Can you still be a polarizing athlete if everyone hangs out on the same pole? This is media-fueled hatred at its finest/worst. You know something is up when the incessant media coverage is forcing people to hate someone because he is by all counts a virtuous human being with solid values and an indomitable work ethic. The American Dream is cool for everyone except Tim Tebow. Look: he happens not to be very good at the one thing he wants to be very good at, which only allies him with pretty much every one of us ever. He just gets covered endlessly because people are so fascinated that, in the world of fame/money/violence/drugs/machismo that is professional sports, someone could be so publicly pious and seemingly virtuous. Tebow haters want desperately for him to be PacMan Jones and the media thus keeps a vulture-like watch on him, praying (!) for a fall that probably isn’t coming.
The two reasons I’m bummed that this dude is now on my favorite football team are a) he’s not very good at football and b) the media circus will follow him and thus threaten the Kremlin-like Belichickian Fortress of Solitude.
Verdict: Fashionably hate-able but largely due to factors out of his control; very probably a super good dude in real life. Still not good at football.
A new and sad entry into the potentially hate-able class, but he has to be discussed. This is, in some ways, hatred accompanied by sadness (at least if you’re Pats fan). Whether you like the Patriots or not, this is one of those very tough instances where you realize, as a sports fan, that your default mode is to assume that the players on your favorite teams are generally decent human beings with at-least average human values and emotions. In cases like the Hernandez one, you’re quickly shocked back into the reality that WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT THESE PEOPLE ARE REALLY LIKE AT ALL. It’s incredibly hard to accept that someone you’ve been vehemently and unconditionally supporting is actually a horrible person capable of terrible things. In case you missed it, the following five things are true about Hernandez’s involvement in this murder trial.
1) He was with the victim 24 hours before the victim’s body was found in an industrial yard that is one mile from Hernandez’s home.
2) A rental car in his name was used in some fashion to aid and/or abet the murder or cover-up. Because multi-millionaires rent cars.
3) He destroyed his cell phone and gave, it in pieces, to the police.
4) He destroyed the sophisticated security system in his home days prior to police searching it.
5) He had a cleaning crew of more than ten people come in and clean his mansion from top to bottom before police ever stepped inside.
Look out for the forthcoming Law and Order adaptation entitled “Guilty As Fuck.” Sigh.
Verdict: Definitely hate-able and probably a much worse person than we thought.
Another media victim, but this time one who is the very best person in the world at the thing he tries to be good at. LeBron might be the strangest professional athlete case study we’ve ever seen. People started comparing him to MJ because we wanted another MJ. America loves things that are the best and so we want to see the best all the time. But if he’d simply been allowed to be the best NBA prospect we’d seen in a generation, his narrative could have been totally different. He’d have been a generally amicable dude, playing for his hometown team, trying hard to bring home a championship. We turned him from Charlie Conway into Adam Banks (“Cake-Eater!”) with our expectations, and then he turned himself into Team Iceland with “The Decision.”
I’m not the first to say this, but I think it’s time to (mostly) stop the hate. The dude is a wizard on the basketball court. A true force and already one of the 10 greatest players ever. And, much though I hate to admit it, he’s now earned multiple NBA championships. It’s time to let him be good, hate him when your team plays against him, and respect his other-worldly skills in this highly specialized area.
Verdict: No longer hate-able solely on the basis of The Decision and his character; only hate-able with the same “sports-hate” you’d lend transcendent players on rival teams.
Please note that I’m not saying you have to stop hating the Heat. That the would be like asking you to stop hating Justin Bieber, which is both impossible and Un-American. You should definitely hate the Heat, who recently stole the belt from my Red Sox as the most band-wagon-ey team in America. And you can still hate LeBron James. You can hate him because he’s great and he’s not on your team. That’s it.