Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Illogical Hatred for Sports Figures

Let me say right off the bat that I hate people who say "it's a crime that professional athletes are paid millions per year while teachers earn less than janitors." There are so many ways to attack such a statement that I feel it unnecessary; why is it my responsibility to rescue such people from the prison of their own stupidity? That said, I will say that in part such people underestimate the value of prominent professional athletes in giving us regular Joes a harmless outlet for our irrational hatreds. I'd pay them a teacher's salary just for that service alone. In that spirit, here is a list of: 1) the athletes I hate; 2) athletes I should hate but don't; 3) athletes I try desparately to hate but can't; and 3) athletes I once hated but came to love.

In the first category, for the exact same reason I hate Karl Malone and Gary Payton (see "Pay Thanks to the Sports Gods"), Alex Rodriguiz (A-Rod) heads the list. If the Yankees win the Series, I hope they do it while A-Rod goes 0-50 in the playoffs, so it will be made obvious that they could do it with the rest of their overpaid players, and that he was just a really expensive insurance policy purchased by Steinbrenner. In basketball, of course Kobe heads the list. In football, Jeremy Shockey was near the top until he questioned the sexuality of the Big Tuna, which was way too funny. Now he ranks among my favorites, even though he plays for the hated Giants. Michael Irvin, though he no longer plays, ranks probably as the player I have hated more than any other. His one redeeming quality was showing up at press conferences in those ridiculously loud suits with the bowler hat; at the time the bowler added to my hatred, but now that I look back I can't deny that it was really cool.

The two players I should hate but don't are Allen Iverson and Pete Rose. If they were any other team, I would have despised them. With Rose, I in fact did despise him until he became a Phillie and got us over the World Series hump in 1980. Iverson may not be a life-long Sixer, but I stay loyal to even the ex-Philly players, even when they want out (like Charles Barkeley). I can see why Democrats clinged to Clinton through his tawdry scandals, defending him at all costs - he was a rogue, but he was on their team.

Derek Jeter is an athlete I try desparately to hate but can't. In fact, I can say the same of nearly every Yankee from those World Series teams. I hate the team, but the players were largely classy people, and as hard as I try, I can't blame them for Steinbrenner trying to buy a World Series every year. Compare them to, say, the 1986 Mets - now there is a team that I could hate down to every player (with the exception of Lenny Dykstra, as he later made ammends by playing awesome baseball for the Phils).

Larry Bird I once hated with all of the energy I could muster, but the guy is so ugly, you have to eventually learn to love him. Contrast him with Magic Johnson, who you liked even when he was beating up the Sixers with a smile on his face. His trajectory is a little different - once he was diagnosed with HIV, all of a sudden he became this new-agey "victim-hero." Being treated with more respect by the media after that went down wasn't his fault - it says more about the media than about him. But it did sour me on the guy. Maybe if he had made a statement like the boxer Tommy Morrison - I made my bed and now I have to lay in it, I would have had some more respect for him. But instead he treated it like he innocently caught the flu. In that he may not be much different from most who have the disease, and many who have it, including him, may bear it with admirable dignity, but the innocent victim role is a little hard for me to swallow.

I also once hated Scottie Pippen, but a few things brought me around. As with Bird, his ugliness worked to his advantage over the years, but what turned me into a Scottie fan was when it became obvious he hated Phil Jackson. I remember him saying something about him never reading any of the books Phil gave him as his zen master - priceless! Zen didn't win those championships, it was Michael, Scottie, some good role players, and three guys in striped shirts with whistles!

There is one current exception to the "if you are really ugly, I will eventually let up" rule: Bill Walton. The fact that this guy was an academic all-American at UCLA speaks to the fact that everyone in college at that time was at least slightly more stoned than him. Ahh, but who knows, maybe I am just jealous of him?


Blogger the giant said...

One guy I should hate but don't is Mike Tyson. I used to love when he fought in the late 80's and mauled people. I could kinda even excuse him for the rape thing even tho I knew he was guilty(what woman of right mind would ever go into a room w/ him alone?). I thought the facial tats were ridiculous, and I can't defend his ear-biting antics, but I still thought he was the best fighter I ever saw. I think I tend to focus the hate I should have for Tyson onto promoter Don King, who I am correct in hating.

One person I shouldn't hate but do is Carl Lewis. The guy was a flat out stud, but I will never forget the look on his face when he got doored in the '88 Olmpics by Canadian Ben Johnson (who resembled Mike Tyson that day!). Lewis had all the right ingredients to make him likeable - such as growing up in my area (South Jersey), representing the US, etc. - but yet I couldn't stand him.

Obviously, these are not rational likes/dislikes, and there is no consistent alogorithm for me to like/hate any particular athlete/coach/team.

Take Duke. I hate them (in basketball). I don't necessarily dislike any particular players, and I don't dislike Coach K, but I hate the program. Rational, no, but true nonetheless.

Familiarity and association may have something to do with it. Put Carl Lewis on the Sixers or Mike Tyson on Duke and my perspective may be different...I may start liking the player or disliking the team. Who knows??

7:39 AM  
Blogger John Wolfram said...

The "team tie to hate" is an interesting concept. Sure I hated the Bulls (hey 2 college roommates from Chicago in 1986 will do that to anyone) and the Celtics and Duke and the Braves and the Cowboys and the Miami Hurricanes. I hated some of their players or coaches because they were on these teams....but others just flat out earned it. Why didn't we hate Kareem? Robert Parrish? Grant Hill? Maybe you did; I never could.

Why not hate Iverson? He's got tatoos all over, he carries a gun, he skips practice...if this guy was a Laker we would despise him. The only one we would hate more than him would be his mother. But he's one of us, so we love him instead.

It's funny how you really want to hate some guys but can't. For me this list includes Coach K, Bobby Knight, Larry Bird, Jimmy Johnson...

I wonder if ten years from now we will hate Larry Brown or Larry Bowa or Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds? I know one thing for sure: we will still hate Bill Walton.

5:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will everyone proclaiming to hate Bill Walton please admit that you are jealous of him?

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I admit, I am jealous of an overgrown tree-hugging, pot-smoking hipple with a speech impediment.

6:54 AM  

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