The Loop

The Loop

Why it's good to (sports) hate

December 09, 2020

Leon Halip

It is said that hate is a weak emotion, a sign of failure. This is a beautiful notion and a simple notion but a notion as wrong as Santa in a speedo, at least when it comes to sports. Forget failure; in this arena, it is good to hate.

Fix that look on your face. Fans love to hate, do we not? The appetite is so great that the simplest of transgressions, real or perceived, serve as kindling for a fire we never let die.

Those that doubt this assertion clearly missed the flames produced on Tuesday afternoon. Please, type “Buckeyes-Wolverines” into your social media bar of choice and bathe yourself in the waters of malice that flow from both tributaries. Ohioans despise Jim Harbaugh so much they’re convinced “The Game” was canceled not by COVID-19 but cowardice. Those with Ann Arbor geotags are arguing the merits of Indiana football. Even by 2020 standards, that is a wild sentence to type.

Granted, this is a rivalry, perhaps the rivalry, and rivalries tend to emit a special kind of nasty. But sports animus is not restricted to fierce opponents and feuds. Sports hate is rich because sports hate is universal.

There was disappointment that Major League Baseball would play in empty stadiums this summer because that meant the Houston Astros would escape the wrath they so rightfully deserved. Nick Kyrgios is not so much a tennis player as he is a wrestling heel. Golf’s black hat managed to get jeered in Australia and Hawaii, and one of his wins made a commentator question the existence of God … and that’s just the stuff we’re allowed to print. It is a venom endless in scope and depth.

Now, these feelings are not associated with those of sound mind. It is here that we’ll note “fan” is short for “fanatic,” which certainly applies to any base so blinded by zeal to accuse someone of manipulating a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic rather than focus on who that pandemic is impacting. (To be fair, if anyone WOULD do that, if would be Harbaugh, right?) Frankly it doesn’t seem healthy to expend so much negative response on a diversion when there are matters of far greater severity and importance that warrant this energy, a sentiment underlined this year.

Only the case can be made that 2020 has done the opposite. Yes, most fans are in need of perspective, and as much as we enjoy them sports should not be the fulcrum of our lives. But one of the main—and disconcerting—lessons of this year has been how little control we actually possess. We can be compelled to act on the horrors and injustices and cries for help, with the freedoms and rights and abilities to do so. And yet the reality often is there’s only so much we can change. That can be a hopeless feeling, one that leads to resentment that spirals into poison.

Sports are not the panacea to life’s ills, but they can be palliative. As much as the games and competitors do their part, the pent-up aggression and worry are given an outlet, a release thanks to the villains.

There is a line. Just as it serves a release, one must know when to turn the valve off. These are not just avatars or characters in a drama but humans with lives of their own. Sports hate is not always rational (think of all the athletes knocked for the audacity to switch teams) and it can lack originality (the most loathed player in college basketball is perennially an undersized guard at Duke who slaps the floor on defense). However, what ultimately makes sports hate okay is that it does not discriminate. It allows itself to be equally offended, however misguided that may be. It may not be sophisticated but it is a hell of a lot better release option than most alternatives.

So when the next batch of sports hate inevitably flares up, be it from a superstar forcing his way out of a market or the College Football Playoff committee doing College Football Playoff committee things, don’t feel weakened or embarrassed about the four-letter feelings that come forth. True, some may believe anyone who lives not by what he loves but what he hates is a sick man. Which, come to think of it, is a perfect summation of sports fans.