Rarely will my columns have any context outside of the world of sports, but it’s Valentine’s Day, so what the hell?
Today is a day of love, and love certainly abounds in the sports community as well. But more rampant than love is hate — hate for players, hate for coaches, hate for teams and sometimes even for sports themselves.
But what is the nature of this hate? What makes members of the sports community infamous?
Among the many headlines over the past few days, some stuck out. Randy Moss wants to return to football. Tiger Woods collapsed at Pebble Beach just as quickly as he rose. And Jerry Sandusky remains in the news as his trial approaches. But the common denominator here is the infamy of these sports figures, who due in large part to their own mistakes, but also because of their successes, are some of the most disliked people in sports today.
Sandusky’s case is unique in that his hatred was entirely brought about by the atrocious nature of the accusations brought against him. His alleged acts are enough to bring about the hatred he has received, and his case doesn’t really function in the same way as do many other hatreds in sports.
Moss and Woods both brought some of the infamy on themselves, Woods with his off-the-course marital transgressions and Moss with an arrogant attitude and troubles with the law. But should either’s actions bring the strong dislike both face from sports fans?
Moss and Woods, along with many other athletes who are generally disliked certainly have their own faults.
Michael Vick was convicted of brutally beating and killing dogs and participating in illegal dog fighting. Fellow football star Plaxico Burress served jail time for carrying and firing an illegal weapon in New York.
Like Woods, Kobe Bryant admitted to cheating on his wife, and Bryant was also accused of sexual assault.
All of these athletes contributed to their infamy with their off-the-field transgressions, but they are certainly some of the top athletes in their sports, and that contributes to their tarnished image.
Other than Moss, each appeared on the recent Forbes list of the most disliked athletes in sports. But joining them is another category of hated athletes — those hated based solely on their athletic persona.
Ndomukong Suh has been called a dirty player after a numerous fineable offenses culminating with his apparent stomping on an opponent after a play.
LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez, Terrell Owens and Kurt Busch have also each caught the scorn of fans, but for less tangible transgressions. James and Rodriguez have both been perceived as arrogant, especially during their respective free agency stints. Rodriguez’s $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers and James’ Decision to “take his talents to South Beach” earned them scorn in the sports world. Owens and Busch are most infamous for being cancers among their peers and are disliked for it.
But just like Woods, Bryant and the others, these athletes are at the top of their respective sports. They are easily hated because more often than not they achieve success. Fans perceive that they have been in some way wronged when one of these so-called bad athletes continues to succeed — shouldn’t karma come back to bite them?
And fans cannot be indifferent to this type of athlete. The more famous a player is, the less indifference he can be shown. Few people either love or hate Baron Davis. Not many sports fans have strong feelings toward Nick Mangold. But the most famous athletes, even those who should be inherently likeable like Tom Brady and Tim Tebow, are hated by many simply because they’re successful and famous.
James and Woods are each truly a fan’s delight because to some degree they have failed since they became infamous. James did not win a ring in his first season with the Miami Heat and disappeared in the fourth quarter in the Finals. Woods has not won a single in-season tournament since his affairs became public.
Fans truly take pleasure in the demise of these athletes — often they don’t mind if their own team loses as long as Lebron or Vick does as well. The Dallas Mavericks had to have been the most cheered for team in NBA Finals history among sports “independents,” those who didn’t have a previous rooting interest in either team. It often goes far beyond normal support for or against teams and players and becomes extreme.
So this Valentine’s Day, I suggest that as sports fans we tone back our hatreds. Love to extremes — we should cheer our hearts out for those teams and players which hold our devotion. But try not to get too wrapped up in the hatreds, because in the end, that’s not really what sports are supposed to be about.
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