American Culture

Hey, sports fans – it's okay to hate on douchenozzles

There have been a lot of douchenozzles (DNs) in the news lately.

  • A jury acquitted Fat Bastard of perjury (although this is one of those verdicts that feels a whole lot more like “not guilty” than it does “innocent,” if you hear where I’m coming from).
  • Tiger choked like a…you know, given his recent history, let’s just stay clear of “choked like a ______” cracks and say that his performance in the final two rounds of the US Open last weekend was subpar. Actually, no, that isn’t right. It was over par. Way over par.
  • The jury begins deliberating on 48 counts of child rape against former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky this afternoon.
  • Tim Thomas is maybe taking a year off. How about this – take the rest of your career off.
  • Michael Vick hasn’t been in the news lately, but NFL training camp is right around the corner and many think the Eagles are a team to beat this year, so I’m sure his name will be popping up and I just want to remind everyone that in a just society people like him are put down, not awarded multimillion dollar contracts.
  • Most American fans don’t know who Joey Barton is, but he’s sort of England’s version of the Cincinnati Bengals. All by himself.
  • Then there’s Kyle Busch, who’s the Joey Barton of NASCAR.
  • As bad as it gripes me, one of English football’s biggest DNs is John Terry, a cornerstone of my beloved Chelsea FC. I hope it is found that he did not engage in racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand when the case comes to trial later this summer, but I won’t be surprised if he’s convicted. He has a history of douchenozzling (the Wayne Bridge case comes to mind, as well as his inexplicably stupid and selfish red card against Barcelona in the Champions League semis). As great a player as he has been for the club, if he’s found guilty I would be just fine with him leaving the club and seeking work elsewhere.
  • Did I mention the New Orleans Saints yet? No? Okay: the New Orleans Saints.
  • While it now seems clear that Manny Pacquiao didn’t say all the anti-gay things originally attributed to him in that interview a few weeks back, subsequent clarifications make clear that he doesn’t support marriage equality, either. I’ll let you decide how you feel about this.
  • Barry Bonds is said to want a job with the San Francisco Giants. I didn’t know they even had a pharmacy on the premises.
  • I have officially removed LeBron James from my personal list of DNs not to root for – as I said the other day, The Decision was bush league, but ultimately it was a PR crime. Nobody got shot or stabbed or punched or raped or robbed, you know? But a lot of folks I know aren’t letting go.

You get the idea. The sports world is populated with a disorienting variety of idiots, assholes, thugs, perps, political sociopaths and other sundry and assorted douchenozzlery. A lot of fans – me included – hate on them every chance we get. But it seems like no matter who we’re raging against or boycotting, somebody is telling us to get over it. That all teams are guilty. That if you only root for choirboys, there’s nobody left. That we gotta stop hating.

Because when a guy tries to cripple his opponents illegally, it’s our fault for not just “getting over it”?

I also occasionally get “it’s just a game.” Well, yeah, except that it’s a game that Americans spend how many billions of dollars on each year? What is the total attendance at live sporting events? What is the total television audience in a year of major league professional and big-dollar college sports? Just a game?

Listen, we love sports and we’re going to root for somebody. The issue is what our criteria for support are. Maybe it’s a hometown team, maybe it’s our alma mater, perhaps we follow a team because we like a particular player. Hell, maybe we just like the uniforms. There are lots of reasons to support Team A and, humans being innately tribal animals at some level, there are probably just as many reasons to dislike Team B. Not all of those reasons are especially noble, though.

If you “hate on” a player or a team because they’re a geographic rival, well, that might make you normal. As a Wake Forest grad, I hate on Carolina and Duke. I have degrees from both Iowa State and Colorado, so hating on Nebraska comes easily to me. As a Chelsea fan, I am obligated by law, I am told, to hate Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs. As a former Boston resident, you should have no problems guessing who I think sucks. And so on.

But is there anything especially moral or ethical about any of this? I’m an educated, enlightened, rational professional and artist, and as such I know that Duke and Carolina are outstanding schools. Nebraska is dull as hell to drive across but the people are quite nice. Whatever I might have to say about supporters of various English football clubs, my own favorites have a rather notorious history of hooliganism so maybe I shouldn’t climb up on too high a horse. And while the Yankees will always suck, they strive for excellence and have a history of players who were a credit to their sport, including my all-time favorite, Lou Gehrig.

I’m a progressive. I live according to as high a moral and ethical code as I possibly can. I was raised by the oldest-school grandfather you can imagine, one who made clear to me that school came first, that it was better to lose like a gentleman than to win like an ass, and that if I couldn’t play the right way I wouldn’t be allowed to play at all. So sportsmanship is engraved in my DNA.

In my mind, “hating on” douchenozzles is more than not being able to get over it, it’s a moral imperative. We have our personal beliefs and values that we live by and that we believe our society should operate according to. We’re members of organizations that promote these values and we vote for political candidates whom we believe come closest to reflecting our view of what is right and good in the world. Or, as if often the case, we vote against the worse of the choices on the ballot. Which, I guess, is another way of saying that when November rolls around, a lot of my friends are going to be stepping into the voting booth and hating on Mitt Romney.

In other words, sports fan, there is nothing even remotely wrong with pulling against an athlete because of what he or she does off the field. In fact, I’ve always felt like there was something a tad pathological about the ability to separate these things. I’m going to be honest. If I know you to be a solid, smart, upstanding citizen committed to causes that I think are important, but then I see you wearing a #7 Eagles jersey, I can’t help asking myself if maybe I have missed something.

I know that it’s hard to be black and white about all this. An NFL squad carries over 50 players and it’s just about impossible to find a team without a few DNs. I get that. And I have written before about my struggle with moral purity and sports, so I am not, in reality, as naïve as I may sound. But the next time I get to “hating” on a douchenozzle and someone tells me I need to “let it go,” the conversation might quickly turn to that person’s values. I might point out that when we glorify punks, when we cheer for criminals, when we pretend that character doesn’t matter so long as you’re helping your team win, we’re enabling. We are not only assuring that bad behavior will continue to be tolerated, we are literally paying to make sure it does.

I don’t have kids, so I don’t have to worry about the message that society is teaching them. But other parents do, and it seems only right that we’d hold our heroes to at least the standards I know we hold others entrusted with the education and socialization of the youth, because, you know, they’re the future and all.

If you want a better world, take the same values to the game that you take when you go to work and that you take home to your family. Hating on douchenozzles isn’t just an acceptable reason for rooting against a player or a team, it’s the best reason.

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