I really enjoy Bill Simmons’ podcasts. They make for a great way to kill time on my commute or while running. I dig his shtick with Cousin Sal and I love the NBA stuff with Marc Stein and Ric Bucher. However, my favorites are the ones where he talks to someone from outside of the sports arena, interviews with Patton Osawlt or Louis CK really fascinated me and I can’t recommend those enough (yes, I’m telling you how I enjoy ESPN’s most popular podcast. I’m always finding those diamonds in the rough).
Anyways, I was listening to Simmons’ most recent podcast with Flea, the bassist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and they got on the subject of Sports Hate. Flea, a huge Lakers fan, talked about how he absolutely loathes the Celtics; how hating the Celtics is a ‘pure’ hate and that that hate is one of the reasons why he enjoys sports as much as he does. He also talked about that the only time he’s rooted for the Celtics was when they faced LeBron and the Heat.
I found this interesting.
With Cleveland teams all playing at a below average level, come playoff time, many fans find themselves rooting against a certain opponent rather than for a team. You know, Cavs 4 Mavs and all that.
I’m fine with this. That’s what sports is all about. You root for your team, even if it is full of jerks, and then you root against the teams or players that are your rivals or who beat you or whatever reason you choose. Personally, I usually go for either the team with the longer title drought, the underdog or against whichever team the announcers are shoving down my throat (which is a large reason why many folks ‘hate’ Tim Tebow).
Around this time every year I get into arguments with Steeler fans or college football fans, that, as a Ohio State fan/Browns fan, I should be rooting for the Big Ten (including Michigan) in bowl games and for AFC North teams in the playoffs.
To a certain extent, I agree. There’s a certain logic for rooting for the teams within your division (in the same vein, to root for the team that knocked your team out of the playoffs- well, at least we lost to the champs). It reflects better on my team that they had to compete against good teams throughout the year. I get that. It makes sense.
But when giving my Steeler buddy crap for losing to Tim Tebow’s Broncos, he piously told me how he’d root for Browns, should they ever be in, you know, games that actually matter. And since he’d hypothetically root for my team, I should have been rooting for my division opponent, the Steelers, a team geographically close to Cleveland, to win and not to get hilariously upset by a guy who can’t throw. (He also told me I should be happy as a Browns fan, since we’re one of the only teams that haven’t made the Super Bowl, so we’re unique. My response cannot be printed here).
I understand the concept of rooting for your divisional opponents in the playoffs. But that’s very easy for the fan of a team that consistently competes year-in, year-out, to say he’d root for a team from the area in which he lives… should they ever become good. But sports is so visceral, so organic that I can’t just choose who I root for. Have you tried to pick a team before a game?
The first time I tried was when the Steelers played the Cowboys in 1996 Superbowl. I had no love for the Cowboys and I knew some Steeler fans from church (and didn’t actually hate them or wish them ill will), so I told myself I’d root for my division rivals, since that might reflect well on my own team and blah blah blah. It was logical.
Then the game began. I couldn’t do it. Not even a little bit. HOW BOUT THEM COWBOYS!
Same with Michigan. I know a loss to Appalachian State reflects poorly on the Big Ten (and in turn, Ohio State). But the colors, the helmet… I will always enjoy a Michigan loss. Always. Hell, I can’t even get myself to root for Iowa in a bowl game, simply because their uniforms make them look like the Steelers.
Which brings me back to Flea and Bill Simmons. At one point in the podcast, Flea mentioned how if he meets a sports fan from Boston who doesn’t hate the Lakers, he loses respect for them. I completely understand this. One of the (many) issues that (many) Cleveland fans had with LeBron was that he wasn’t a fan of our teams. He’s from the area, but he likes the Cowboys, the Bulls, the Yankees and Ohio State (the only consistent winner in the state).
And how can you trust a guy like that?
Loving our hometown teams is a badge of pride. It’s easier to root for ‘national’ teams that wins a lot, we say. It takes character to stick with your hometown teams; there’s almost something moral about it (like, wow, sure takes a lot of guts to root for the Yankees). Many of us inherently distrust someone from the area who doesn’t root for our teams. How many people have you met that are fans of the Indians, the Cavs, the Buckeyes and… the Steelers. Drives you nuts, doesn’t it?
LeBron’s recent late game struggles has brought new scrutiny to the superstar. The Heat recently lost the Clippers and neither LeBron or Chris Paul played well down the stretch, but since the Clippers won, Paul’s late game mishaps are forgotten while LeBron’s were magnified. Fair or unfair, many fans have taken pleasure in LeBron’s late game struggles.
Flea, a lifelong Laker fan, said he rooted for the Celtics because of his natural revulsion LeBron’s Heat. Think about that. Yet, Cleveland fans are constantly being told to ‘move on’ and ‘get over it‘; that we aren’t supposed to enjoy the comeuppance of the guy who gave the city the finger on the way out the door.
Screw that. It’s sports. This is supposed to be fun, not serious. Passionately hating a team or an opposing player a big part of sports fandom (some Steeler fans get this). It’s the ying and the yang. You have an unhealthy passion for your team and illogical hatred for your opponents.
Rooting against LeBron or the Steelers isn’t petty or vindictive (well, maybe a little), it’s natural.
To do otherwise just feels wrong.
Photo courtesy of WEWS.