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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

3 Sports Hates

I can't take all of the credit for this idea. Though I engaged in this behavior for many years prior to the phrase being coined by the transcendentally talented sports writer Bill Simmons, it was still he who first inked a column about "Sports-Hate" (Running On Sports-Hate Empty, and yes, you should read it). But upon reading it, I finally felt validated. I had often felt the seething ire that I held deep down inside for certain sports teams, players and/or fans was anomalous. Everyone else seemed able to look at sports with a certain aplomb. They'd root and cheer when they won, perhaps even become petulant in defeat. But there was no hate, even against rivals. Sure they might say they hated a team, or a player - but if really pushed on it, it really turned out to be more of a strong dislike. They could separate the players as people from the team, or even the players as players apart from their true off-the-field persona. But not me. I hated with all the fervor of a centuries old jihad, the passion of a civil war, and the abandon of a revolution. And, as it turns out, I am not alone. Sure, there aren't a nation of us - but behind every few fans who tell you it's not that big of a deal - there is one who's fury burns with a white hot rage normally reserved for violent felons, ex-lovers and the perpetrators of genocide. And on behalf of these secret denizens of the sports landscape, I present my three sports-hates:

1. Laker Fans. It's a funny thing to have spent five years living in LA, and to not have become a Laker fan - especially when I didn't really have an NBA team of my own to supplant when I arrived there. But, a precious few weeks after first setting foot as a resident on the immortal Sunset Strip, as a function of good timing, good fortune, and healthy bit of serendipity, I was cast as a member of the Clippers Fan Patrol; the coed cheerleading team of the lowly Los Angeles Clippers, and my fate as a southern California basketball fan was forever altered. I was quickly adopted by the STAPLES faithful who forswore the purple and gold in favor of good old red, white and blue. Even as a freshly minted attorney working in Century City, I quickly found myself swept onto the earthy azure sea of the white collar-blue collar divide that seemed to separate Laker fans from their Clipper counterparts. In truth, we considered ourselves apologists for the other-than-Hollywood parts of our fair city, casting aspersions upon our building co-habitants as fame-whores, wanna-be's, and TMZ-fueled mouth breathers, who wouldn't know good basketball if it walked up and slapped them (though, unless they were 19 year old Colorado hotel employees, it was a fair bet that it wouldn't). And as I, personally, became more loathsome and aggrieved by the showbiz set, my hatred for Laker fans began exceed the level I had simply adopted from the Clipper crowds at-large. What's more, it far outpaced any animus I had for the team itself. I could see that despite their outsized swagger, the Lakers were a talented bunch. But their fans, who, apparently as a function of the inflated ticket prices, couldn't afford to wear up-to-date jerseys, were mindless, manner-less, and mouth-breathing caricatures of actual basketball fans. I don't root against the Lakers because I want those 12 players to lose, not do I support the wave of domestic violence it will doubtlessly cause. No, I root against them because their fans are the worst losers (throwing things on the court) and also the worst winners (i.e. rioting in the streets) the NBA has ever seen, and nothing makes me smile like seeing them trudge out of the arena like the collective fat kids that dropped their ice creams.

2. Yankees. For those of you who came along for last year's Tru Love ride, you'll remember that my Yankee hatred is not breaking news (For Hate of the Game). Alex Rodriguez is the most easily hate-able Major League ballplayer since Barry Bonds was testosteroning balls out of the ballpark, and the centerpiece of the Yankees roster. With one exception (their unflappable, unindictable and, ultimately, unhate-able team captain, Derek Jeter) they are a group of professional athletes who have utterly and completely bought into their own hype. They treat their pinstriped uniforms like superhero costumes and take the field with the air of returning war heroes - despite the fact that they are overpaid and overrated ballplayers, who have won far less than you might expect from looking. Watching a team this smug play our national pastime is akin to watching a teenager drive a cherry red, mint, '67 Corvette, and then bolting an exhaust pipe on it to make it sound "cooler". Meh. What's even worse is how regularly they trot out the great Yankees past - upon whose broad shoulders the current Yankees have built largely unearned fortunes, and who enjoy little if any of the massive wealth they made possible. It's clear that the smart folks up in the front office know full well that one replay of the Lou Gehrig "Luckiest Man" speech is worth vastly more than the untold hours of sound bytes, ill-considered commentary and self-aggrandizement that the current crop of pinstripers seems to exclusively produce. I don't hate the Yankees for what they are, but what they aren't and what they pretend to be. Aside from Mr. Jeter, these Yankees hardly qualify as a shadow of the great men that preceded them, and the fact that no amount of losing can convince of the same is even stronger testament to my point. No one (outside of NYC) loves a perennial front-runner that constantly whines about how tough it is being in first place.

3. Notre Dame. I have a special kind of hate for the Fighting Irish. Sure I've written about it (Irish Eyes Are Crying, The Reckoning), ranted about it, called into radio shows about it, and generally let anyone who dares to watch college football with me hear all about it - but I still feel as strongly about it as I did the day it started in 1995. On that day, on the Notre Dame campus to take the field as Bill the Goat, for the first and last time in my ten years in the Navy, I felt ashamed of my uniform. I have had a lot of emotions directed at me as a function of my service, but only once did I ever receive pity; only once was I ever made to feel like I was a lower class of citizen for being relegated to public school and fighting for freedom to earn my scholarship; only once did my gold N feel like a scarlet letter rather than a badge of courage. And I haven't ever, nor will I ever, forget it. It's somehow lost in all of its private school puffery that Notre Dame is in Indiana (and not, like in a "nice" part, either). It's quickly overlooked by sidewalk alumni that the vast majority of Notre Dame's athletes are neither Irish nor Catholic (though they do seem strangely predisposed towards fighting). They toss around "Blue and Gold" as though they were the first to put the two colors together, though not only did we have the colors first, we also wore them on football uniforms before they did (look it up). The last great quarterback this Quarterback U produced was Joe Montana and they have won only one bowl game since 1995 (the Hawaii Bowl in 2008 against, er, Hawaii), and yet their fans insist, every year, they're a favorite to win the National Championship. If there was ever a school that captured the blindly self-absorbed zeitgeist of the current generation of young adults, it is Notre Dame. I don't just want them to lose, I want them to all come down with season ending injuries simultaneously - yes, seriously. I want them embarrassed, driven from the field of play in shame, and laid low in front of their friends and loved ones. I take inexplicably tremendous joy in their defeat, and the two greatest sports moments of my life have been in 2007 and 2009, when we twice drove a nation of Irish fans to tears and lamentations by beating them on their own field (on back to back visits). They remain the only two times I have cried from simply watching a sporting event - and both times, with tears of joy.

* * *
The phrase "for love of the game" is commonly tossed around (and also used as the title of an otherwise-forgettable Kevin Costner love story disguised as a baseball movie) as a constant reminder of just how visceral our connection is with sports. Because while it's easy to say that they're "just games" - most of us know better. They're microcosms, morality plays and allegories. They are us at our best and at our worst. They are brief and bright opportunities for us to be our outsized and primal selves. Whether as players or fans, we often forget our polite selves, shed our political correctness, stand up and scream with a mindless fury that reminds us just how it is we got to the top of the food chain in the first place. But as much love as their is in sports, their is just as much brilliantly pure hate. It is precisely this volatile balance that makes these games the unavoidable spectacle that they are. And for every player or fan who feels of the "love" of the game, there are countless others who ride the fury and wonder of the hate it inspires to similar or even greater highs. Lest we forget that it is great evil that begets great good, and animus which inspires amity. So like so many others, for the sake of love, the thing I love most about sports, is all the things it gives me to hate.


Anonymous said...

I had to stop reading when you got to the Yankees. I am very upset. I am at least a true New York Fan. My hockey team is the Rangers and my football team is the Bills, so it evens out with the Yanks. I do agree that A-Rod is the most hateable player since Bonds, no true New York Fan really likes him because he doesn't play for the team. Even though we disagree about the Yanks, I still love ya!!


Glenn H. Truitt said...

Too bad, Kev... you missed the best one - I don't hate ANYTHING like I hate Notre Dame...

Anonymous said...

I didn't really care for the whole Lakers fans part, as you can pretty much find those kinds of fans in any city where the team wins a lot of championships (see: Patriots). They're called bandwagon fans and they don't only exist in L.A. The only thing that makes Lakers fans any worse is the small group of people that rioted after we won. And those pretty much happened because the Staples Center isn't really located in the best part of town. If the Clippers ever won a championship I guarantee there would be rioting afterward (but this could only happen if the universe had not yet exploded if the Clippers actually won a championship)

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