I love sports. I really do.
I love the combination of grace and power, skill and force; whether it is a player elevating for a dunk on the basketball court, or a running back plowing through multiple defenders for extra yardage on the gridiron. Sports can be a powerful force to unite communities, bringing people from completely disparate backgrounds together in a common cause rooting for the home team. Construction workers and PHD’s can be seen high-fiving in stadiums every weekend when their team makes a great play, but all too often sports can become a venomous outlet for the shadow side of humanity.
All too often it’s an excuse to belittle, insult, assault or even kill.
From the Roman era until today, there is a dark side of sports that exposes the bestial underbelly of so-called civilized peoples, and while we no longer condone events such as gladiatorial combat, many fans of the modern age are little evolved from the blood-thirsty fans that once screamed for the death of combatants.
The rise of the internet has provided a perfect venue for the classless behavior of many sports fans. All you have to do is read the comments section of virtually any sports article, and it becomes quickly obvious that this is more than just “a few bad apples.” The anonymity of the internet encourages people to boldly make statements that in a face-to-face situation would probably get them punched.
The way sports fans react on discussion boards, in the stands and at the tavern shows all too clearly how far we have to go towards elevating our society above pettiness and arrogance. Our hatred and animosity towards opposing teams’ fans is no different than how we treat our opponents during an election cycle. It all comes down to the belief that our own opinions are the unvarnished truth, and that our foe’s opinions are ridiculous notions.
What makes these mindsets all the more vitriolic and hateful is that we have no personal connection with the opponent.
Here are a few quotes pulled from various sports sites on the internet:
“As for you David, seriously shut the f*ck up…”
“That is plenty of reason to whine let alone b*tch you creep. Oh yeah, and Bama SUCKS!”
Not only do these actual quotes show a lack of class, they also show a lack of intelligence. Belittling someone simply because they don’t agree with your opinion doesn’t expose the target’s stupidity, it shows the ignorance of the attacker. This is the side of sports that turns so many people off, people who might otherwise enjoy watching what should be an exhibition of skill and dedication. Passion has always been an integral part of sports, but whereas the athletes themselves use that passion — for the most part — as a tool to elevate their own games to higher levels, fans often use that same emotion as a tool for hatred, contempt and disrespect.
This is a world-wide problem. Look at the riots that have broken out around soccer matches in Europe, where fans have been killed simply for rooting for the wrong team or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nor is this a modern problem. The Eastern Roman emperor Justinian nearly lost his throne because of massive riots involving fans of chariot racing (known as the Nika Riots), and only stayed in power by slaughtering close to 30,000 people to quell the chaos.
Bill Plaschke, writer for the L.A. Times, wrote this article showing that for the players, the games are just a job, while the outcome matters far more to the fans. It was an illuminating article, and it should make sports-obsessed fans think about why they are placing so much of their time, emotions and money on a game that even the players don’t seem to take too seriously.
Of course the players want to win. Of course they dedicate their lives to winning games and championships, but they know well enough that once the game is over, it is time to let the outcome go — whether it is a win or a loss. That’s why afterwards they shake hands, smile and clap each other on the shoulders. The game ends, the passion subsides and they congratulate each other, whether winner or loser.
There is a good reason why the term ‘fan’ came to be used for sports followers: It comes from fanatic (adj.): marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.
At some point this has to change. We have to evolve. We are better than being so focused on sports that we lose sight of our own humanity and common decency. The truth is that sports really isn’t that important. It can be a good thing, it can be an exciting, unifying force; but at the end of the game, at the end of the season, sports isn’t solving the very serious crises our world faces. It isn’t solving homelessness, poverty, hunger or war. When it comes right down to it, any sporting event is just a game. We get to decide how important it is for each of us.
If you find yourself getting angry, wanting to lash out because your team lost or someone has a different opinion than your own, then perhaps it is time to analyze why it matters that much, and reassess your own priorities.
Think of it this way: we all have friends who are Beaver-Believers, do we not? How many of us would call them foul names, insult their intelligence and degrade them in the same manner that occurs during on-line discussions? When we have a personal connection to someone who disagrees with us, we tend to soften the way we express our disagreements, avoiding epithets and demeaning language. We may jokingly insult our friends, but there is a huge difference between how we treat them versus to how we treat our faceless, on-line foes.
Ultimately, the games we watch on TV are beyond our control, as are the opinions, reactions and emotions of other fans. What is in our control are our own opinions, reactions and emotions; and while it may seem fun at the time to ridicule or insult someone you disagree with, it is never a positive thing, and we degrade ourselves when we act like children. We all want respect, whether it for our team or for ourselves, but respect can never be attained when self-control and dignity are lost.
It all starts with you, sports fans. You get to decide what kind of person you want to be, and as a consequence, what kind of fan you want to be.