“There’s hate and there’s sports hate. Real hate is not OK. Sports hate is OK.” -Bill Simmons
Whether you’re familiar with the concept of sports hate or not, you probably recognize it easily. It’s the disdain you have, or your sports-loving friend has, for a certain team, or a certain player. It’s the rival of your favorite team. It’s the team you hate to see win, and love to see lose. It’s the fan base that irritates you, or mocks your team, or just rubs you the wrong way.
When those we “sports hate” do almost anything, we dislike it. If they lose, it validates our belief that they stink, and/or are overrated. When they win, it’s either a fluke, or they cheated, or there’s no justice in sports. Regardless, they’re just the worst.
For me, it’s the New York Yankees, The University of Utah, and Arsenal (among others). It’s Kobe Bryant, Novak Djokovic, and Wojciech Szczęsny. I don’t like those teams, or those players. In my personal theater of sports, they’re the villains. As with all forms of theater, having the villains makes my experience more enjoyable. So long as they lose, of course.
The flip side of sports hate, naturally, is sports love. Or rather, sports loyalty. Or fandom. If we are to hate everything our sports enemies do, we must then support, or condone, everything our team does. Or even if we don’t condone our team’s actions, we’ll forgive any transgression as long as they win. If our favorite football team went about picking its quarterback in a way we disagree with, we’ll stop caring once the team starts winning. In truth, we’ll still love them even if they lose, but it’ll be like the love you have for your idiotic sibling.
A good example to illustrate my point here is my fandom of the Boston Red Sox. I chose to be a Sox fan in the late ’90s for a few reasons. Perhaps bigger than any other reason, though, was that they were the anti-Yankees. Usually the protagonist comes first in my sports theater, but in the case of baseball, the villain came first. I couldn’t stand the arrogant, bandwagony, buy-their-way-to-a-championship Yankees, so I fell for their rival.
In a matter of years, though, the Red Sox became a championship team, proved to be big-time spenders, and owned the biggest bandwagon in baseball. Did I immediately jump ship and find a new team to root for? Did I give up the notion of rooting for just one team? Nope. I was too far entrenched in Sox Nation. They brought me too many good memories. What I saw as unforgivable flaws in the Yankees, I just overlooked in the Red Sox. I found excuses like, “Well, they had to spend big money to compete with the Yankees.” Rather than call myself and Red Sox Nation hypocrites, I chose to believe we were at baseball war, and all means were justified. And besides, we’re still not nearly as bad as the Yankees. Right?
Okay, so what does sports hate have to do with real hate? Obviously, one can lead to the other. Some sports fans allow their sports to become real hate. However, most rational people can compartmentalize their hate to strictly matters of sports. I sports hate Novak Djokovic, but I don’t wish him any real ill will. In other words, if he were to take last place at the U.S. Open, I’d probably laugh, but if he were to lose a loved one, I’d feel sorry for him. I’d maybe even hope he does well in his next tournament. (Much to my chagrin, I even found myself rooting for the Yankees in the 2001 World Series, shortly after 9-11; of course they blew the series the one time I rooted for them. Stupid Yankees.)
The difference between sports hate and real hate should be clear. But sometimes it’s not. And this can lead to dangerous consequences. And those dangerous consequences can go far beyond sports. Because sports hate is merely another way of saying bias. Or in harsher strokes, it’s bigotry and xenophobia.
I bring all of this up because I believe The United States of America is the ultimate sports team. For starters, we’re a nation that loves its sports. We’re maniacal about rooting for our nation during the Olympics. We sing the national anthem before every sporting event, often accompanied by some form of military recognition. But it goes far beyond that. We are a people of immense national spirit. We believe we’re the best, through and through. We’re not quite Nazi Germany, but a vast amount of our citizens believe we are god’s gift to humanity, and we are the chosen people of the earth. Even if that doesn’t ring true … USA! USA! USA! You know what I’m talking about. I saw a shirt worn by an American at the recent World Cup that summed it up. It read, “Back to Back World War Champs.”
We as a country go to great lengths to vilify our international opponents, and to overlook our own weaknesses. We’re not alone in doing this, but we do it. Much like the fans of a winning sports team, we take great pride in being the best, even if the actions of our nation are less than moral. And considering we’re the most powerful country (debatable these days), or at least the most involved (not debatable), this is important to recognize.
Imagine in your mind somebody who is especially devoted to America. Go ahead, close your eyes and imagine. Picture somebody who is likely to put a “Support the troops” sticker on their vehicle. They have multiple shirts featuring the American flag. And when they sing “God Bless America,” they put just a little extra heart into it. There’s a decent chance you also just envisioned somebody who likes sports — specifically football and baseball, America’s past time sports. Am I right? Maybe, maybe not. But I’m guessing I’m right.
I need look no further than my own Facebook feed to see American bias, or sports hate. While news items such as American drones killing innocent children seems to barely draw any interest from my predominately-American (and Christian, no less) Facebook friends, Russia’s (and Vladimir Putin’s) actions in recent months have been simply appalling to my acquaintances. Without so much as a hint of irony, the Americans I know are downright angry that Russia would suppose to interfere with Ukraine, once countrymen of Russia. (Note: If you’re reading this, and don’t understand the part about irony, go ask your foreign friends. Please say you have foreign friends.) To be clear, I am vehemently opposed to meddling with other countries business without their consent, but I don’t isolate this opinion to the countries that I hate.
I can’t totally blame my friends for their obvious bias. They oftentimes are merely responding to the world around them. American media, as is the case in many countries (albeit less progressive countries) is obviously biased towards America and its interests. Just like a local sports talk radio program is going to prop up its local teams and vilify its opponents, so it is with most American news sources. But that doesn’t make it right.
Recently, I’ve seen this bias — this sports hate — extend to our allies. Or in sports terms, Americans are now defending another team in their same conference, Israel. I have as much interest in diving into Israeli-Palestinian politics right now as I want another colonoscopy, but it suffices me to say that clearly both sides here are at fault (even if that might be hard to discern by watching American news).
Regardless. Nothing justifies the reactions I have seen in recent days to the tragic deaths of innocent Palestinian children. The same is true of the occasional statements of a similar nature I’ve heard regarding children killed by American drones (or suffering foreign children associated with any of America’s rivals, for that matter, but I need to learn how to pick my battles). I’ve seen Americans go so far as to say, “It’s their fault for being there, so they’re not innocent.” Which, if you’ll remember, was what Osama bin Laden said about the civilians killed during 9-11.
How did we come so far in our unbridled hate? How is it that our biases seem to completely erode our judgment of right and wrong? You may feel as I do about the Red Sox and the Yankees, in that “we’re still not nearly as bad as Country X.” But whereas misjudging my favorite baseball team doesn’t really mean that much in the grand scheme of things, justifying, or misjudging, your country’s (and its allies’) wrongdoing means everything to those involved.
Understanding whether one supports their country, or political party, or any other group the way one does their sports team, is vitally important, because unlike with sports, lives are at stake. Innocent lives. Parents who hold their dead children in their arms don’t care about the scoreboard, or really anything else. They just want their baby to be alive again.
In those moments of parental agony, pause and think what you would feel. Would your mind be worried about international politics? Would you, in that moment, consider the pros and cons of each warring side? Would you be worried about the scoreboard? No, you wouldn’t. You would want your child back, simple as that. And whatever seemingly important series of actions that led to that tragedy would seem trivial. Obsolete. Because they are. Nothing is of more value than the life of a child. Nothing. Eventually, the shock would wear off, and your thoughts might turn to revenge. Not revenge founded on politics, or some insatiable urge to be a terrorist for the sake of being a terrorist, but revenge fused into your very blood as a parent, or loved one. Is that revenge justified? Probably not. Is it understandable? Absolutely. No matter who you root for.
Nobody should get to choose which children’s lives are more important than another’s. Nobody has that right. A child in Palestine’s life is equal to a child in Israel, Ukraine, America, Netherlands, Mexico, Yemen, Iraq, or wherever. Only a deep rooted bias would compel an otherwise rational person to think this way. Or maybe it’s just hate spawned from sports hate. Regardless, it’s not okay to be biased in how we view the world. Because unlike most sporting competitions, there doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser.
Hear the plight of those caught in the crossfire—people who, through no fault of their own, live amid a very real chaos from which we comfortable Americans have been insulated. Imagine living their life for a day. Mourn with them as their child is killed from an attack. Consider their pain. Make it your own.
“Perhaps you’re interested in learning about [their] history, or perhaps not. But you can still see those “on the other side” as children of God—as human beings like you and I, with the same unalienable rights, love of friends and family, and aspirations for peace and prosperity. And that means something. -Connor Boyack