Sports Reveal Character (Or Lack Thereof)


Sports Reveal Character (Or Lack Thereof)
M.D. Wright

You may have heard that line uttered a time or two in your lifetime; whether  at the CYO, PAL level, college or professional — either as a fan/spectator, former player or a coach — the phrase rings true. Oftentimes, people use the phrase “Sports are the great equalizer” and use it to relate back to race relations more than talent level, ability and stratagem. But while sports are truly an equalizer racially-speaking, they have a way of leveling the playing field in several other ways. Sometimes the most athletically-gifted team doesn’t win. Sometimes the team that is most strategic and better-coached wins. That is the beauty of sports: players determine (or should) the outcomes of games, (good) coaches put their teams in the best position to determine the outcomes of the games, and officials are there to ensure that the integrity of the game is upheld (instead of compromised, which is increasingly true about the officials in the NBA; but this is another topic for another day). Sports are the great equalizer, and sports also reveal character, or the lack thereof.

When it comes to fan(atic)s, the title of this entry is ever-accurate. Fans (not to be confused with “faithful supporters”) are called fanatics for a reason: their irrational thinking often flies in the face of everything logical, defies proper decorum, and embarrasses entire ethnic groups, genders, regions of fans and supporters of teams, and most importantly — THEMSELVES — to the point where their character and integrity are called into question.

There is a stark difference between faithful supporters of a team and a fanatic:

— Faithful supporters are “diehards” just like fanatics can be, but are realistic about both their team(s) and opposing teams and players, while giving credit where credit is due — for both players on “their” team, and players on the opposition’s team — equally with criticism and ridicule, when appropriate.

— Fanatics rarely, if ever, admit that players, coaches or the team as a whole can do any wrong in their eyes, while always denigrating the abilities and successes of opposing players and teams.

Worse yet, fans allow their regional differences to play a role. Fans of teams in the south hate teams in the north solely because of a shared inferiority complex that fans of teams from the midwest possess with regards to teams from the north (east). Fans of rival teams are expected to ridicule and taunt the opposition’s fans when that fanbase’s team loses. It is expected, and partly why people have such a vested interest in sports. There is thrill of victory and agony of defeat (although the older that most people become, wins become less thrilling and losses become more and more intolerable). No one wants to fill the pain of a loss, whether as a player or coach on a team, or vicariously through the team as a fan or faithful supporter. This is reality. Without stakes, very few people would care about the outcomes of games, as they would be but mere calisthenics. However, everyone with a sound mind knows that this is not so.

Some fans can taunt losing rivals with the best of them, but are nowhere to be found when their teams lose. Others are more rational and are unwavering whether their teams win or lose, and whether rival teams win or lose — although this is increasingly rare. Other fans have become so accustomed to losing that they are cynical and jaded about their teams to the point where they virtually expect to lose and speak sardonically about their team, while merely appreciating everything about the sport when being played by other teams. With each of these categories, we can each think of fans of certain teams who fit the bill — if not specific individuals who we all know. There are levels of knowledge and understanding amongst fans, an important factor which cannot be overlooked when discussing sports, but these differences in understanding are relatively obvious within five minutes of conversing with people about the games at hand.

You also have legions of fans who jump onto another team’s bandwagon because their team experienced long periods of ineptitude and they cannot handle the adversity of sticking with their team through thick and thin. That reveals a lot about a person’s character. If they can’t stick with a team when the chips are down, you better believe that same person is liable to let you down or betray you in life.

However, there is one set of “fans” who are becoming more and more prominent in recent years. It is the person(s) who are not even fans of a sport, or may be fans of the sport, but don’t have a specific team, or may be fans of the sport and have a team that has absolutely no connection with another particular team unless there was an extremely unlikely occurrence that those two teams squared off with the stakes at their highest. We all know at least one of these people. They love to revel in your team losing solely because they want to “troll” you afterward, while getting off on seeing you upset. Or the person who only “hate” a team because of the city that they represent. This is especially true with two of the rather moribund franchises in North American Professional Sports: the New York Knicks and New York Jets. The Knicks have not won an NBA championship since 1973 and the Jets have not won an NFL championship since 1969. While the Jets have become notorious more so for actions of their players, coaches and executives outside of the game of football — which is where a great deal of their ridicule originates over the past half decade — the Knicks would be another team that “has never won anything in our lifetimes” and would only be “hated” by rival teams within the geographic sphere, or divisional/traditional rivals. You now have people who have no allegiance to any team in the NFL who “hate” the Jets because of Brett Favre, Rex Ryan, Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez. Maybe there are beefs with individual players before they became Jets, but I seriously doubt anyone would care about the Jets — whose historical trajectory is akin to that of the Washington Bullets/Wizards of the NBA, who virtually NO ONE expends any energy “hating.”

Similarly, the Knicks have people who annually come out of the woodwork (or more appropriately, come out whenever the Knicks begin assembling good teams) and spew venom towards specific players on the Knicks, or the team as a whole. They aren’t fans of any particular team, and only seem to come out whenever the playoffs are at hand. They cannot explain to you why they hate the Knicks; the only thing they can do is repeat something that a talking head on ESPN or TNT has repeated (often erroneously) so much that it is deemed to be factual. Others just flat out hate the Knicks by proxy as a result of their irrational hatred for anything involved with New York. There have actually been people who have verbally stated this to be their sole reason for hating the Knicks (and I’m sure the case is the same with the Jets). Even if they didn’t admit it, being a social sciences expert, I know it to be the case for many.

Don’t believe me? Read your News Feed on Facebook or Timeline on Twitter whenever the Knicks lose a game, and see how many of these people erstwhile never have anything to say about any game at any other time.

Furthermore, if you dare to disprove this fact — compare the Golden State Warriors (based in Oakland, California; home of underdogs in every professional sport) and the Knicks. The Warriors have not won an NBA Championship since 1975 (Knicks 1973, remember). The Warriors had a couple of decent seasons after that title, then a few middling years, up to a few highly-entertaining, but early playoff exit years, to two separate 10-year stints of complete and abject failure as an organization. So have the Knicks, almost year for year on par with the way the Warriors have failed. Knicks were decent for a few years after their 1973 title, then were middling (to flat out terrible at times) in the 1980s, then an uptick to a non-aesthetically pleasing, yet entertaining bunch in the 1990s, while self-inflicting a decade-long run of abject failure, mixed in with a couple of backdoor playoff visits. Both teams made surprise runs that ended in Game 6 of their respective conferences’ semifinals round in 2013. Both teams ran into teams that benefited from highly questionable officiating.

If you dare, please tell me then, how two teams, which are virtual mirror images of one another, on separate coasts are viewed as lovable and the “fun underdog” (Warriors) to vilified, hated and attractive to trolls from every corner of the nation, in the Knicks?

Is it a specific player or two which swings this sentiment?

Or the fact that the Knicks represent New York, a city which breeds inferiority complexes and some of the most irrational sentiments imaginable from people, and the Warriors represent Oakland, which conjures up nothing but memories of a mangled-toothed Al Davis hissing, “Jusssss Win Baby”, a baby-faced shooting assassin in Stephen Curry, and holograms of Tupac Shakur and ex-Black Panthers members?


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