Sports and Player-Hating in the Social Media Age

I, like many of my clients, have always seen sports as the perfect opportunity to enjoy some downtime. The worlds of law and sports, at their best, honor the value of the motto, "Work hard, play hard." But, as an avid sports fan, I have become troubled by a phenomenon that has changed the nature of sports in our society.

We used to focus the discussion of sports on Xs and Os. Why did they run that play? Why did he call up that pitcher? What kind of defense is that? At least for a few days following this past Super Bowl, we did exactly that (thank you, Pete Carrol). It's easy for anyone to second guess a choice, but we really have become a sports culture of so-called "experts” or “I-told you so’s” and we don’t feel scared at all about telling everyone about it via social media. 

But that has led to a culture of “hate” where people have really taken sports to a place no longer about just an escape, pure competition, and fan enjoyment, but a place of almost rather seeing someone lose than seeing someone win. And, as a person first, and a sports fan second, it is deeply disturbing to see it played out at a societal level. 

People root more now to see another team lose than they do to see their own team win. Think about this past week: we were talking about footballs, if they had enough air. Let that sink in (pun absolutely intended). We weren’t talking about the competition of sport, how sport creates a real entertainment, but we were at a level of discussion that was so insanely silly. The two weeks in New York leading up to the Super Bowl weren’t about the game itself, it became a two week outlet of “hate” of people wanting to see the Pats lose, Belichick lose, Brady lose, and channel a deep resentment (most of it well deserved) for how the NFL handles everything. They--the NFL--penalize pass interference more than they do a violation of women’s rights. A league that has annual meetings on instant replay failed to watch an instant replay, if you will, of a woman being beaten. The ultimate irony but, moreover, the ultimate fan hypocrisy. This week brought us the resolution of those deflated footballs, but, seemingly, I felt that the discourse wasn’t really about if the penalty handed to the Patriots and Tom Brady was fair; it was yet again another instance where fans, if they can even be called that anymore, could voice their “hate," their intense negative feelings about it.  For all the outrage, we all still watched the Super Bowl, had parties, and caved into our own feelings, and to all the demands of our society, celebrating sport despite its many faults, while at the same time, overtly “hating” it. 

Even winners “hate." Immediately after the Patriots win, what do I see on social media? Not “Congrats Pats” but even Pats fans saying “take that, haters," giving that “hate” right back rather than simply enjoying a win! Sport has become about “sore winning,” and is more used as an outlet for people to show anger, rage, and sadly enforce their stereotypes. 

The hate culture of sport is not limited to the NFL. Even among the Derek Jeter retirement talk, we heard “I'm not a Yankees fan….but”. Why do fans have to disclaim their feelings? Why can't we simply say “I appreciate…..”, a player? Why the need to almost apologize for appreciating a player by applying a prefix to it? It makes no sense. Most of the way people speak of opponents now wouldn’t stand to be accepted in a normal social setting, work setting, yet it has become a real prevalent part of our sports culture and society.

The sports world we live in today, is in its best sense, real reality television. People reduced to a few defining traits. Rex Ryan--a mediocre at best Head Coach--is hired, and for what, exactly? For being brash and brazen. His so-called “brand.” Do we really need each NFL pregame show to have 8 people on the telecast? But hey, they each need a “brand.”  Do Bill Cowher and John Gruden really need to coach again? And who don’t we talk about? The San Antonio Spurs. Why would we? All they do is win, no drama, no personality.

Even in New York baseball, we have Mets fans who simply care more about the “other” team in town losing more than the success of their own team. Why? 

I really miss the days when sport was..well, just sport, but we shouldn’t reduce ourselves as people to prove our worthiness as fans. The time to anoint someone, even in the trivial world of sports, as an icon in this day and age, should be reserved for the moments when he or she has given us a real reason for celebrating. Not because marketing tries to persuade us. 

Writers and commentators today try to be argumentative for the sake of being contrarian, garner interest in themselves, to work on their own brand, as well. Our definition of success has changed. The notion of being viewed as good now, has surpassed actually being good. We need to get back to the purity of the sport. We wouldn’t “hate” that, would we?