Wednesday, June 20, 2012
"I Hate Miami": Does Sports Teach Hostility?
In my travels on the internet yesterday, I stumbled upon this video in a couple different locations. It features a six-year old boy completely falling apart as he watches his favorite NBA team lose an important game. Playoffs or something, I guess. I don’t know. One thing is for sure, though. This kid really, really, really does not like Miami.
There are some things about the video that are cute, mostly in the way that kids are adorable when they act like tiny, comical caricatures of grownups. The boy wrings his hands and contorts his face with anxiety as the clock runs down. He calls out the players’ names and shows an understanding of the game that seems beyond his years. And it’s cute the way he’s clearly bonding with his dad over this shared involvement in the fortunes of their basketball team.
But when the little man starts ranting about how he hates a bunch of specific players, and how he hates Miami sooooooo much? Not very cute.
It’s one of the many spectacles I’ve witnessed that makes me shake my head and say, “Sports is weird.”
I didn’t grow up in a family of sports fanatics, which, it often seems, makes me a minority in this country. My family is from Montana, which is two states away from any professional sports teams. On top of that, my dad was in the army, so we moved around a lot, often overseas. I grew up having some vague notion that we were supposed to like a college football team called the Grizzlies, but it wasn’t something that came up very often. It was sort of like how we were supposedly Methodists. Or Lutherans. I can never remember which.
In some ways, dedication to a professional sports franchise is a lot like religion. Not just in the obvious parallels of the weekly rituals, pilgrimages, mythology, and iconography; but also in the seeming arbitrariness of how people become believers. As with religion, your belief in a certain team is often predicated on where you were born, and what team your family believes in. Some people never question their loyalty to the teams of their forefathers. Others experiment with exotic teams, ultimately settling with one that better suits them. They may end up abandoning the enterprise altogether—or returning to their original faith.
When kids get indoctrinated into the cult of whatever sports team their parents love, that’s some strong juju. As we can see from the video of this young fan, he is overcome with emotion because of a game played by a team he loves for no other reason than that he has been raised to love them. If he were reacting to characters in a Pixar movie, I doubt that his parents would be encouraging him to become ever more distraught. They would more likely be telling him, “Don’t worry, buddy—It’s just a movie.” I can’t help but be reminded of little kids speaking in tongues, or preaching hellfire and damnation, or—dare I say it?—holding “God Hates Fags” signs on a street corner.
All right, all right…I don’t really think sports fandom (or religion, for that matter) is all bad. Both institutions create community through a shared mythology, foster civic pride, and offer a common cause to rally around, I guess. I used disturbing (to some people, anyway) examples of children who have been indoctrinated into something they don’t understand simply to draw attention to what strikes me as the dark side of being a sports fan: If you love one team, you are bound to hate its competitors. Usually, this is just the fun “play-hate” of the proverbial friendly rivalry; but the more your identity is wrapped up in your love of the team, the more extreme your behavior is likely to become. You don’t have to think very hard to come up with examples of sports fans around the world rampaging through the streets in jubilation, anger, or even just anticipation surrounding the Big Game.
But I’m not really so concerned that the cute little guy in this video is going to run out and set fire to cop cars if the Thunder loses the playoffs. It just makes me sad to hear a child say he hates anyone or anything.
When I was a kid, “hate” was one of the strongest taboo words you could say, and the talking-to you would receive from Mom or Dad if you used it was much more serious than if you said "ass" or "shit". "Hate" meant that you wished utter annihilation upon whatever caused you to invoke it. I may have an exaggerated sensitivity to the power of words, but I fear that encouraging children throw the word “hate” around can only make it more likely that they’ll think feeling hatred is okay too. If a six-year old hates LeBron James because of what happens on TV, imagine how he'll react to all his peers who will eventually get between him and his real life goals.