First, let me clarify: I don’t know Novak and I concede that it’s a very real possibility that he is not loathsome. He may be kind, generous, moral and good. He is an incredible athlete, for sure, and his tennis is among the best — possibly ever. I’ve heard that he’s involved in lovely charity activities and may be a fine husband and father.
It must also be pointed out that I am not, generally, hate-filled. I counsel peace and patience to my kids and warn them about the word ‘hate’ itself.
No, we do not hate.
Unless we are talking about sports, of course.
Unless I am talking about Novak Djokovic.
I hate him in that singular, irrational crystalline way of all sports-hate. I hate his cocky, arrogant swagger, and his rubber-band-man antics.
I hate his stupid impressions. I hate his chest-thumping and his bug-eyed celebrations, index finger pointed aggressively toward the heavens. I hate his whining, his arguing, his drama, and his disrespect of the crowd. The way that he bellows and rips his shirt from his body — it all makes me shudder with visceral sports-hate.
I can’t watch him win — something he does very often. I snap the television off and huff around for awhile, distracting myself from a very clear and quivering hatred. I spend hours — weeks — watching and rooting for him to lose. Each fresh tournament, I find myself scanning the draws to see who might beat him this time. Who must beat him.
Believe it or not, I’m usually quite open and flexible about rooting for people. I like most of the players and am curious and excited about the upstarts, the new crop. But much of my energy goes into rooting against.
It’s irrational, I’ll admit. All players celebrate, they all whine and argue and kvetch. But give me Nadal’s passion filled fist pump or Federer’s articulate boasting over Djokovic’s nonsense any day.
This is just my opinion, of course, and it’s consistent with all sports-hate. In other words, it makes no sense at all.
We never actually hate the slow guy in the grocery line or the obnoxious mom at the dance recital, yet we will passionately, unabashedly, almost violently hate complete strangers who play games for a living.
That is sports. And, with sports, comes sports-hate.
It’s a very curious and potentially disturbing reality about sports fandom that we attach to our hate. You don’t see it anywhere else, really. If you hate an author or a musician, you ignore their work. You may weave a critique into a conversation at the bar, but you’re not actively wishing for the downfall of the poet laureate or the first violinist. There is a special hatred for politicians, of course, but we shouldn’t talk about that here. We don’t have the time, or the stomach, anymore.
The object of sports-hate, however, is loathsome, in a pure and uncomplicated way. He or she doesn’t play nice, makes mistakes, has a bad attitude. Maybe the costume is the wrong color. I hate the guys in blue, the guys in red must win. Players can be traded from blue to red, and enemies become heroes, all at the whim of some owner or his general manager. It’s silly and irrational — and absolute.
It’s also sort of barbaric and I’m not proud of myself.
My husband is a hockey fan, the Rangers his team since childhood. His sports-hate is such that, if the Rangers aren’t playing, he watches and roots for injuries to rival teams. This is a very nice man, civilized and good — great husband and father — wishing actual harm to others, because of a game.
His hatred of Sidney Crosby — “Cindy” — is epic. He will concede the talent, but can eloquently pick apart the very character of Crosby, in a white-hot hate rant (though I suspect things would be different if he were traded to the Blueshirts).
His baseball-hatred is equally irrational. A Mets fan since childhood, he hates (truly, madly, deeply hates) David Wright; the symbol of everything wrong with the Mets, he would tell you. His argument is long and esoteric and I won’t bore you with it here, but his whole demeanor changes around the subject of Wright. He lights up Mets’ forums, using terms like, “meat puppet” and “face-o-franchise.” Again, a very nice, smart, articulate, functional man transformed into a spewing cluster of hate over a stranger who plays with balls for a living.
Sadly, the hate is found in every corner of sport and affects all participants. From the enraged hockey dad threatening his 7-year-old’s coach, to tragic violence in soccer stadiums, emotions run unchecked and tempers flare over the games we play.
I played softball in a feel-good, alternative hippie league where I witnessed fist fights over calls, long hair and tie-dye flying. And I’ve been to enough college hockey games to know that the chanting crowd isn’t sending good wishes to the goalie’s mother.
What is this thing, this ‘sports-hate’? Is it rooted in conflict and competition, simply the war-like nature of the battle on the field? Or is it just a safe space for wild venting and vile emotions?
I don’t understand it, but I’m certainly not immune. Which is why I’m carrying a little extra bile around today, after Djokovic pitched his latest fit on the red clay of Roland Garros.
Could these things possibly matter less in the scheme of my big, noisy life? Why do I let them matter at all?
Of course, now I’ve opened the door for the Internet to unleash its special brand of sports-hate on me. Djokovic fans, Crosby and Wright fans — I know how this works. Speak sports and you trigger the haters. I’m as guilty as the next guy, so fire away.
I’m sorry if I’ve offended — I really don’t care who wins.
As long as it’s not Djokovic.