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. 
 

21 comments:

  1. Wow, that is pretty bad. and sad.

    Hate was also one of the worst thing you could say in my house. My Mom would say that Hating someone is saying you wish they were dead. Then she would ask if we really wished they were dead.

    We got in the habit of saying "I don't care for....." really quick.

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    1. It's interesting how powerful a word can be. It's also interesting that as much as I defied my parents and questioned their values as a punk-ass kid, I never really got over my aversion to using that word.

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  2. I'd hate to see how he felt after game four (which, in case you don't know, the Thunder lost).

    I agree with you about the word hate, I used to get a thorough ticking off from my mum if I ever used it (never more so than the time I said I hated her. Woops.)

    Religion is the opiate of the masses, and I don't think you're the first to suggest that sport is the new religion. That should give an idea as to how healthy the fanaticism over sport is.

    Still, I'm hoping it'll somehow be Thunder in seven ;-)

    Great post.

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    1. That's probably one of the reasons I don't watch sports. There have been times when I cared about a team a little bit (college mostly), and I found myself getting upset about them losing. Who needs that extra drama in their lives? Not a 6-year old.

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  3. Great post, as always.

    While I do like watching sports, I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a fan. At least not anymore. In my younger days I definitely got my panties all bunched up about the ol' local sports teams and especially my college teams. Hate was a word I threw around a lot about the stupid rival college's team. What I've figured out is that I am simply a whole lot happier person now that I couldn't give a shit. And I like sports more now that I am not invested in the us/them thing.

    Funny thing is I could see it working the same way with religion.

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    1. That's great that you are recovering from your toxic relationship to your local sports team! I'm really interested in how those relationships develop. I should interview people.

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  4. This is a great post.

    I am an unhealthy fanatic of my favorite NFL team and it is actually something that I have tried to work on. Not because it has made me hateful or anything but because too often I find myself depressed after losses for extended periods of time which is ridiculous. Granted when they do win it can put me a great mood all week. But sports are entertainment and should really only bring enjoyment.

    The funny thing is that I have been a fanatic since I was a kid but it had nothing to do with my family. My family were casual sports fans but the whole fanatic part of it I totally came up with on my own. I think one of the reasons for taking the losses so hard is because I have been such a fanatic for the majority of my life that it is as if the team is a part of me and I end up taking the losses personally. Which again is ridiculous.

    I have 4 yr and a 2 yr old and have thought a lot about how fun it will be to enjoy sports with them but I am also very leery of turning them into a fanatic like me. Which I really don't want. So I'm going to do my darnedest to not let that happen. Wish me luck.

    P.S. Hate is a big time no no word in our family too.

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    1. I just don't have the energy to have an extra emotional roller-coaster in my life. Sounds draining.

      Good luck w/ the kids. Maybe the way they react to sports will temper your intensity.

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  5. The "H" word...

    To me this fanaticism is in the same league as tweeners who go all ridiculous for some pop star or other celebrity. IMHO, parents could get a handle on this kind of idol worship early and teach a proper amount of enthusiasm and/or respect for sport, rock star, whatever. Seeing a mom and dad aim a camera on a 4 yr. old, again -to me-, suggests they are teaching him to perform this kind of behaviour for amusement. Good luck with that later on. The kid isn't instructed on how to handle his disappointment and gets lots of attention (now from us as well)- how is this interpreted as anything other than grand and acceptable?

    As far as religion, yup, I'm a church lady. Go every Sunday and sometimes in the middle of the week. I taught my kids my preferred route to heaven as *I* believe it is true. That said, I trust them enough to explore this religion and others, do their own research, and decide for themselves if this is malarkey or something that works for them also.

    I *DO* believe that forcing a team, genre, education, religion, uniform, political party or any other situation upon a person only reduces they're ability to choose wisely for themselves when it really matters. (That said I would shed many many tears if any of my children decide to become republicans. They will still be allowed in the house, we'll just keep the good desert in the fridge until they go home.)

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    1. I like your attitude, Church Lady!

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  6. The little guy was obviously tired and needed to go to bed. (How late are these super-playoff-game-things on tv, anyway?)

    But it was also something of a set up, not unlike the 3 y.o. egged on about her Justin Bieber tic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTCm8tdHkfI

    troutfang

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    1. The 3-year old was cuter. I suppose Mom could have done a better job of comforting her though. Those make good companion videos: "Love" and "Hate" through the eyes of kids.

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  7. For me, this video isn't disturbing because of his reiterations of how much he hates everything Miami, but more so how his parents continue to egg him on (no doubt a bit of staging here) and how they find his crying over it acceptable. I'm all for screaming at the TV, maybe even throwing something (preferably non-breakable) through the room when your team loses, but hasn't this kid seen A League Of Their Own? There's no crying in baseball...and certainly not in watching a basketball game or any sporting event for that matter.

    As for using the word "hate", I waffle on this. While I understand what the definition of the word is, I am also a big believer in contextual definitions. Right now, I don't have to worry about my boys using the word, so I don't know how I will react the first time I hear it. I suspect it will roll right off my back unless I believe it is intended to be hurtful. I suppose this means I will be walking a tightrope of acceptable ("I hate peas" or "I hate the Dallas Cowboys") and unacceptable ("I hate you" or "I hate Johnny") uses of many words.

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    1. Yeah, that's a tightrope I'd rather not walk. Kids have a hard time with the idea of context. Witness all the times my kids have screamed "I farted!" at restaurants.

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  8. Sports don't teach hostility. Parents teach hostility.

    I hate you for even THINKING this.

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    1. Good to hear from you, Frank! Hate you right back.

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  9. I'm not going to watch the video, because it sounds pretty stupid after reading your post about it. I like that, growing up, my family watched the U. of Alabama football games--where my grandparents graduated from college, my parents graduated from college, and I graduated from college--but the older I get, the less I give a shit about wins and losses (of course, these days, we don't really lose very often). I'll instill the same in my children as well as I can: fun to watch and enjoy as a family, but not worth ruining a weekend over a loss.

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  10. I'm with Muskrat -- staged or not, I'm thinking I need to now watch it. But I share your sentiment, Beta. There's got to be a way to maintain a balance between healthy competitiveness and good sportsmanship.

    Meanwhile, my daughter is busy idolizing Katniss Everdeen, apparently fantasizing about winning the Hunger Games by killing 23 other people. What??

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    1. Need to "not" watch it, I meant to say.

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  11. I absolutely think this little boy is mimicking behavior he has seen. Dad may have been quiet and unconcerned during the game part of the video but my guess is he's usually ranting and raving. We all know people who take their sports a little too personally. They yell and scream at the television, the officials of whatever game are all "idiots". etc etc etc. I've seen people throw things at their television during a sporting event. Geez parents can we keep our wits about us and model more of a "good sport" approach??
    Kids learn by example.....words and actions.

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  12. We're serious sports fans in our house and my five year old has caught the bug. When we caught him saying he hated the New York Giants (we're Pats fans, I hate them too a little bit, but I keep it to myself in the interest of good parenting) we used it as an opportunity to teach him about good sportsmanship, losing gracefully and respecting yourself and your worthy adversary enough to know that you won't always win and it is your opponent's job to beat you, it's your team's job to stop him.

    It was working really well until my Dad came over and gave him a dollar when he said he hated the Yankees.

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