Hater’s Ball: Life as a Sports Fan

Hater's Ball: Life as a Sports Fan

Charlie Balk

Hate: it’s a word that often evokes the response of, “Woah, that’s a strong word. You should just say, ‘strongly dislike.'” Personally, I love the word. Hate my teachers.

Hate my roommates. Hate tennis. And I hate the Jug. Then again, I’ve been to the Jug at least twice so far this year. And Ihated it, of course, because it’s terrible.

Last night, two girls told me that they also hate the Jug. I asked them why, and one explained that it’s because of “what it stands for,” the explanation of someone too drunk to form a coherent explanation. Shortly thereafter, I was told by one of the girls that they are going to the Jug soon and I should be there. When questioned as to why she’s going a place she hates, she acknowledged that the Jug does have a specific purpose. If I was to guess, I would say that purpose would be desperation sex.

There are a lot of pro athletes hated by mainstream America. However, in many ways we still like and need these objects of our disdain. While some of society’s hatred undeniably has racist undertones to it, the main purpose of this hatred is to rationalize and legitimize fans’ love of their favorite players

and teams.

Recently, ESPN reported that the Q Score company, which judges the popularity of products, brands and public figures, took a poll of the U.S. regarding the most popular and unpopular professional athletes. The results were not surprising, but ESPN sold the story on the fact that it’s somewhat startling how quickly LeBron James fell out of favor. ‘Bron comes in as sixth-most hated, behind Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Kobe Bryant. Knowledgeable sports fans should not be too shocked by these results. But, what’s more interesting is not what this says about the athletes; rather, what interests me is what this poll says about sports fans and society-at-large.

Sports-fandom, for the most part, is an undeniably silly pursuit. We pretend that our favorite athletes have the same loyalty to their respective teams as we fans have to our favorite teams. We pretend that athletes are heroes, with superhuman bravery, courage and persistence. We are completely delusional. We idolize them. Therefore, when certain athletes act in ways that go against this warped (but also, necessary for pro sports to exist) perspective, we turn on them for making it clear that they do not respect the traditional, sacred codes of sport.

LeBron James, just like you or me, cares most about his happiness and the happiness of his friends and family. His happiness demanded a move from his home state of Ohio to the sunny shores of South Beach. No one will ever know to what degree the decision was influenced by the prospect of winning, by the appeal of playing with two friends of his or by the attraction of living in a warm, sunny, beautiful city. But, from a fan perspective, he showed that he did not care about a natural competitiveness that would indicate to us that Wade and Bosh should be his competition, and therefore his enemies. It also showed a lack of loyalty to the place he was born, raised and paid to play for for seven years. On top of all that, I don’t think that the way he broke the news to the world helped either. This move was in some ways insulting to sports fans’ intelligence.

In the same way that fans were forced to turn on LeBron in order to maintain their traditional beliefs about sports, hatred for TO and Ochocinco serves a similar purpose. My favorite athlete is Paul Pierce. I consider him to be loyal, hard-working, team-oriented and, most importantly, a good all-around person. However, there is a great deal of evidence that indicates otherwise. Personally, I don’t know what he is. I’ve never met the guy. Regardless of how decent Paul is as a person, I can always say, “Hey, at least he’s not an attention-hungry egomaniac like that Terrell Owens or Ochocinco.” So, as long as I hate those two (which I don’t), I have rationalized my love of Pierce.

Also, interestingly enough, Paul Pierce was once pulled over in Vegas on suspicion of drunk driving about two years ago, but let off because the cops decided that he was not “drunk enough”; ironically, drunk driving is far more dangerous to human life than anything Kobe, Tiger or Vick has ever done. Their crimes, respectively, include: adultery and alleged rape, adultery and alleged drug use, and running a dog-fighting ring. While none of these people’s personal lives should be up for our judgment, they are; and we do just that: judge.

But, ultimately, we sports fans have to judge. In order to legitimize the undeserved love that we give to our favorite athletes, fans must create arbitrary criteria for exactly which icons receive this undying love and support. Those who violate the criteria thus have to fall victim to fans’ hate. Whether it is because of the athletes’ perceived lack of competitiveness, lack of loyalty, hubris or run-ins with the law, we must hate them to reaffirm our love of terrific people like Paul Pierce. Or, maybe, White America just hates all of the best Black athletes. I don’t know. Don’t ask me. After all, I’m just a delusional sports fan.