“I disapprove of the player you sports-hate, but I will defend to the death your right to hate him.” – Voltaire, probably
Hate. The word itself incites to thoughts of violence.* The four letters stand out when read from paper or screen, seemingly blood red against the black and white landscape that surrounds them. Our parents tried to teach us to avoid hate, and their words have been echoed by great people throughout history, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Maya Angelou to that long haired guy from the Bible. The thing is, they’re right, at least in the real world.
Unfortunately, the moral restrictions that are beneficial to society in everyday life have been co-opted by the entertainment industry. Hollywood and music (especially rap) have spawned a sibling to South Park’s PC Principal: the Hate Police. Disliking any popular entertainer or even just a piece of their work automatically labels you as a hater. Heaven forbid you dislike a Jennifer Lawrence performance, Game of Thrones episode or (gasp!) a Beyonce album. Still, the quality of creative entertainment is objectively a subjective measurement and, unless you subscribe to J.K. Simmons’ Charlie Parker theory, probably benefits from an environment that nurtures the fragile egos of creatives.
Recently, however, I’ve been hearing alarming sentiments from all corners of the sports world. They come from many mouths, but the message is the same:
“You can’t hate Lebron,” ESPN’s talking head tells us.
“How could you hate Derek Jeter,” asks your college roommate indignantly.
“You just hate the Patriots because they win,” says a Boston fan.
Really? You can’t possibly hate those guys? What if you’re a fan of a team that was swept by the Cavaliers in the postseason two years in a row? What if Jeter’s teams dominated the MLB for years, making life miserable for the rest of the league, and you were a fan of literally any other team? Better yet, what if you believe the Captain was a very good shortstop who nonetheless forced the best shortstop of his generation to play third base, ruining positional rankings forever? In some situations, sports-hate, like voting, is less of a privilege and more of a civic duty.
To the Boston fan above I say, “Yes!” Absolutely I hate the Pats because they’re good. What’s wrong with that? Your city has won 9 titles since 2001 and you can’t even give other fans the satisfaction of hating one of your players? That’s just selfish.
Sports, unlike music and film, are adversarial in nature. Athletes shake hands to begin and end a contest, but between the whistles they are at war. Team sports are truly a zero sum game, and cheering for your team necessitates cheering against the other team. If you’re cheering for a defensive stop, you want the offense to turn the ball over. This concept is not difficult, people. When the other team’s star player crushes the hopes and dreams of your entire fan base, whether he does it with four homers or forty points, is the natural response to celebrate said athlete’s achievements? Absolutely not. The natural response is to let the sadness and anger from the loss well up inside of you and to curse that no good, dirty, cheating, overrated, bucktoothed son of a bitch with every bit of your considerable four-letter vocabulary.
I’m here to liberate you from the constricting chains of popular opinion. You are free to sports-hate anyone you want, for any reason you want. You can hate a player because they are too good or because they are not good enough, too short or too tall, too loud or too quiet. You can hate a player because of their wardrobe, their salary or their haircut.* Hate them because they play for your team or another team or a college you couldn’t get into.
Sports-hate can be expanded to include commentators, as well. Charles Barkley hates the Warriors because they play a style of basketball that he didn’t play and, frankly, one that he doesn’t understand; I hate his hatred of the Warriors because I find it ignorant and all of this is fantastic for the sport. It’s great for ratings and for the entertainment of fans. Plus it gave us this picture:
It should go without saying, but sports-hate should never extend outside the sporting world. Cheer for a poor performance, but never for an injury. Tweet that gif of Lebron treating Tristan Thompson’s elbow like a bullet from a Barrett .50 caliber but don’t be the jackass that’s on twitter talking about what you’re going to do to him (or Clay Travis, Gary Danielson, etc.) or his family after the game.
Learn to love the hate. Embrace it with open arms and don’t let anyone tell you which players you are allowed to despise. To my fellow haters, I leave you with our battle cry, appropriated in majority from poet Dylan Thomas:
Do not go gently into that dull fate Rage, rage against the dying of the hate
* Thanks, Homer
* There is one exception: thou shalt not hate Elfrid Payton for his hair. This rule exists because Elfrid’s hair is dope and also perfect and any statement to the contrary is inflammatory and thus will not be protected under the Haters’ First Amendment.