There's nothing more fun than making hyper-sensitive sports fan intensely angry over a bad opinion. At 34, I've mostly aged out of that game, but I still like to dip my toes into the water now and then, and I always want to help out the developing young trolls of the world. They are the future, and this post is mostly for them.
Let's establish some ground rules. First, I'm not talking about stupid Skip Bayless-level trolls, where you stare into a TV camera and call LeBron James a mediocre basketball player, or something. That's demonstrably untrue, and in only gets a rise out of Twitter users with an IQ of 32 or below. No, I'm talking about the kind of stance that will actively annoy an average sports fan who bears witness to your drive-by takes. The kind that are so wrong, but also so irksome and off-the-wall that they can't be easily dismissed, and are therefore more frustrating.
One more caveat—I'm avoiding overtly political troll moves. Yes, if you're around liberals, you could get a reaction by insisting that Trump should carry the flag at the Olympics while riding Roy Moore's horse, and if you're around conservatives, you could drive them into a deep rage by vowing to write in Colin Kaepernick's name in the next presidential election. But that's low-hanging fruit—I want to reach as many people as possible.
The good news is, there are so many wonderful trolling opportunities in 2018 that you won't need to go political. Here are the ten best ways to infuriate the entire sports in the coming year.
10. Root for the most hated team in every sport
Let's start simple—the easiest troll move is to simply root for the best/most hated team in each league. In many cases, it's an easy call—Patriots in the NFL, Duke in college basketball, Yankees in baseball, Alabama in college football. I have no idea who that team is in hockey, so I asked my editor Sam Weinman, who has a far better understanding. He said it's the Penguins, based on Sid Crosby alone. Finally we come to the NBA, which is actually really tough. You'd think the answer would be the Warriors, because they're the unbeatable super team, but they're also extremely cool. Ditto for the Cavs—everyone loves LeBron. The Rockets have the best record, but nobody hates them, so I'm going to throw a curveball at you—in the NBA, the best troll move is to pull for the Celtics. They're really good, their fan base is the most obnoxious in the known world, and you can get extra troll points by talking about how much you love their defensive style, since scoring is overrated.
9. Insist that college basketball is the best sports product in America
This is a move that would work on me. The state of college basketball is so embarrassingly bad right now that I can't bring myself to watch more than five minutes of any individual game—and this is the sport I grew up loving the most. At some point in the last two decades, it devolved into a holding and shoving match that moves at the speed of molasses as mid-level teams tried to figure out how to compete with the blue-chip-laden juggernauts like Duke and Kentucky. The obvious answer was to play rough, slow the game down, and control the pace with timeouts and other stall tactics. The NCAA realized it had a disaster on its hands a few years ago, and instructed referees to call more fouls in order to end the defensive impasse. The problem was, nobody changed their styles, and now it's the same ugly mess but with constant foul calls. It has become worse, not better, and there's no light at the end of this tunnel—without the iconic postseason that is March Madness, I'm convinced college basketball would be on its death bed. It is utterly unwatchable.
Meanwhile, the NBA is brilliant—in my mind, the basketball being played there is the most beautiful, free-flowing, skill-oriented display in sports history. That's no hyperbole—I'm in awe at how individual athleticism meshes with team efficiency even for mid-level teams, and when I watch a squad like the Warriors, my jaw is on the floor for two straight hours. The NBA also has a growing and extremely sensitive young fan base, so if you trot out the old canard that college basketball is just more fun, you'll send them into fits of rage. Give it a try. Personally, I already hate you.
8. Start a sincere Roger Goodell fan blog
Compile inspirational quotes, publish a "Goodell tracker" that updates readers on the commish's latest moves, and write fawning "articles" that read more like unhinged press releases. Spread your message on Twitter, start a subreddit, and make a home in the comments section of every major sports website, where you argue at length with any negative interpretation of Goodell and link your blog at every possible chance. Insist that CTE is fake news. Rank every NFL owner by his loyalty to Goodell, and write fan fiction about Goodell beating up Jerry Jones inside the blue star at AT&T Stadium. Petition congress to make the act of kneeling illegal, in any context. Chase down other bloggers who insult Goodell, and file frivolous lawsuits against them.
7. Accuse Stephen Curry of using steroids
Curry is the perfect target, because it would enrage his fans on two fronts—on one hand, he's a beloved figure, and the kind of guy everyone wants to believe is above steroid use. Secondly, his physique and his style makes it totally absurd to accuse him of doping. Tweeting something like "would Curry's three-point percentage be anywhere near as high if he wasn't on roids?" is just great troll material.
6. Taunt Canada mercilessly during Olympic ice hockey
Canadians like to believe that they're nicer people than us (true), have a better country with less crime and more community spirit (true), better health care (true), and generally live happier, more fulfilled lives (true). But my God, they take their national sports seriously. I've never seen Canadians online more angry than when the U.S. women's soccer team beat them at the Olympics on the strength of Abby Wambach harassing the referee into awarding a delay call (start at the 2:48 mark here). And that was women's soccer, which pales to ice hockey in the Canadian national consciousness. That's their main sport, and they are not used to the ugly, cynical, troll-y way Americans experience sports online today. If Canada starts losing to the U.S. (or any other country) can beat the Canadians, just deluge every Canadian you know with crying Jordan memes, Nelson-from-The-Simpsons "ha ha" .gifs, and any other cheap insult in your arsenal. Insult their masculinity, call them inherently weak. You could ruin their lives for a full year. They are not ready for our kind of national sickness.
5. Predict that Roger Federer is the next Harvey Weinstein
Don't offer any evidence. Just say it's your gut feeling, and when asked to explain, just say, "come on...look at the guy." Refuse to budge. You will be amazed at the pure uncut fury of the Federer fan base. They're nuts, and Federer's classy behavior is second only to his tennis skill in their estimation of him as a living god. They would be willing to murder you for suggesting that Nadal is the better player, so for this? Make sure you use an anonymous Twitter/Reddit account, or you'll get doxxed and skinned alive.
4. Call for a return to the BCS math system
Credit to my friend Spike for this idea—there are a few people who think the current four-team playoff in college football is adequate, and there are lots more people like me who think it should be expanded to eight or 16. There are even a few regressive sorts who think there should be no playoffs, and that we should return to the old bowl system. But right now, I believe that there are literally zero Americans who long for a return to the old BCS math system, where weird inscrutable computer percentages dictated who played in the national championship game. Everyone recognized it as a flawed and temporary transition to something better, so if you treat it as the filet mignon of CFB systems, you'll be roundly despised.
3. Root adamantly against Tiger Woods' comeback
There are no good people on planet Earth who are rooting against Tiger Woods' success in 2018—even if, like me, they have predicted his failure and now live to regret it. This is not going to be an easy troll, but if you're truly committed, you'll loudly cheer every bogey at Augusta, every flubbed chip at Riviera, every botched drive at Sawgrass. If he gets injured again? Insist it's for the good of the game. And if anyone asks who you are rooting for, just tell them you haven't been able to enjoy golf since the retirement of the people's champion: Colin Montgomerie.
2. Back Iran at the 2018 World Cup
I mean, it's possible we'll be at war with them by then, so there's that. Even if we're not, it's always a solid troll move to root for a political enemy. There are going to be a thousand articles with titles like "Disappointed Team USA fan should adopt Iceland at the World Cup!" There will be argument for almost every country in the tournament, but if you're the guy jumping on the Iran train? My friend, you will be trollin' alone. 10/10 troll—in a normal year, this would be a no-brainer for no. 1.
1. Cheer for the Russians at the Winter Olympics
But this is not a normal year.
Pulling for Russia may seem political, but it really cuts across the whole spectrum. Everyone hates Russia. Liberals hated Russia less before this year, but now that they've screwed with our elections, the left has reached the same level of antipathy as their conservative counterparts who still retain their nostalgic Cold War grudges. When you factor in that they're guilty of a "state-backed doping program" that is "without precedent in Olympics history," that the country itself is banned from the Olympics, and that the athletes who receive exemptions have to compete as "neutrals," there is absolutely nothing redeeming about Team Russia. Chances are extremely good that the "neutrals" who remain are also guilty of doping, but have just beaten the system. That's why cheering them on is such a potent troll move—across America and the rest of the world, you will be totally despised, and the anger you inspire will be legendary. Come February, don't miss this terrific trolling opportunity.