4 Problems In Sports That Only Exist Because Of The Fans
The only thing sports fans like more than watching sports is complaining about sports. Loud, obnoxious, sanctimonious complaining -- especially if they feel the object of their ire did something to sully the innocence, honor, and integrity of their favorite multi-billion-dollar injury factory.
Funny, then, that fans point all this pouting and outrage at actions they themselves are responsible for. And by "they," I mean "you and me." Hypocrisy is a hell of a drug, and I'm as much a dirty addict as you. But together, we can kick the habit, burn our soapboxes to ashes, turn our high horses into glue, and finally accept our roles in ...
Massive Amounts Of Cheating
Perhaps you've noticed that cheating in sports is back in the headlines recently. I live in New England and have rooted for the Patriots for over 20 years, so I've definitely fucking noticed. And I've also noticed the super-sized vitriol from both sides. Many hate the Pats for this. They've "disgraced the game," they've "never won a honest game in their lives," Brady "should be banned for life," he "doesn't deserve the Hall of Fame," and so on. On the other hand, many feel the Pats did nothing wrong, that "the balls deflated naturally due to the weather," that "Brady doesn't cheat because he's too good," "haters gonna ..." do something, probably, and so on.
Seethe with jealousy, probably.
Just about everybody, regardless of their stance, is forgetting two major things here. One: Cheating is everywhere, in every sport (including whatever team you like). Two: Athletes cheat because the fans demand it.
I'm sure you're already pouring liquid cognitive dissonance into your brain so that you forget. It's a natural reaction to realizing you root for Darth Vader and that you're Palpatine. But it's true. let's start with that first point. Playing sports full-time is one of the most physically and mentally draining jobs out there. We, as fragile lumps of monkey meat, are simply not meant to do it. So to make it through the season (and hopefully many more) pro athletes will seek any advantage, take any shortcut, and break any rule they can, not only to win, but to simply make their job possible.
Drugs of any kind are certainly one way to cheat, and still among the most popular methods of doing so. (Baseball's biggest, most profitable rivalry is nothing but juiced-up mutants in red against juiced-up mutants in pinstripes, remember.) If a pill, injection, cream, or whatever else helps athletes train longer, recover from injury faster, and stay the fuck awake during games, then sports people are going to use them. Honor, integrity, and preserving the purity of the game means jack fuck all when kabillions of dollars and all of the fan interest is at stake.
Well, they're actually all about the purity.
But then there's the less chemically-related rule breaking, as my Pats have done. And as your team has done. Sports are crooked as fuck, for all the reasons listed above. Corking bats, doctoring baseballs, doctoring footballs, doctoring basketballs, piping in fake crowd noise to rattle the opposition, altering the playing field, pushing and shoving like siblings who both want to ride shotgun, doctoring hockey sticks (at least they leave the puck alone ... for now), spying on your opponents, illegally nabbing a coach who helps you go undefeated and win a championship ... I could go on forever, but I'll stop with Don Shula and the Dolphins who cheated to get him. Both because I have more points to get to, and because extra-fuck Shula and the Dolphins. Holier-than-thou hypocrites.
Too bad you didn't cheat to get Marino some more help. Then he might have won something.
Point is, cheating is both everywhere and constant. Because though we don't come out and say, "C'MON YOU BASTARDS, CHEAT HARDER!" we clearly demand it. We want athletes to always win and always be the best, and we complain loudly when they're not (except in Houston, where fans are used to it). But it's impossible to be that great and keep your body natural and follow the rule book to the letter. So they cheat. They shoot up. They pop pills. They steal plays. They screw with the equipment. And when they get caught, we're conveniently aghast.
Unless the cheating helped our team win. Then we'll look the other way, making it crystal clear to the athletes that not only does cheating work, but that their very best customers encourage it.
Basketball legend / professional loudmouth Charles Barkley believes in two things. One is that barbecue is fucking awesome. The other is that he and other athletes are NOT role models, and our children (or, for that matter, our adults) shouldn't look to them for guidance living their lives.
But mainly the barbecue.
Clearly, many sports fans disagree with Barkley, given our obsession with scolding and shaming pro sportsers every time the desire to win overtakes the desire to be nice. With every bench-clearing brawl, with every high-sticking to the head, with every instance of an athlete screaming and hollering at his poor, unsuspecting teammates because they're not playing up to the screamer's standards, fans bleat the same thing: These players are "assholes." They're "bad role models." They're "spoiled, whiny crybabies." It's about how you play the game, remember? Didn't your mama and after-school specials teach you anything?
Well, sure, they probably did. Once upon a time. But then we showed up. We started celebrating them for not treating their sport like a game and instead treating it like World War III. We love when a player's blood starts pumping with a hyper-competitive fire that makes losing not only unacceptable, but IMPOSSIBLE. And if they let that fire die down and start treating the game like, well, a game, we complain LOUDLY. "They're not giving it their all," we say. "They're settling for less than 100 percent," we say. "Why should we give you our money when you clearly don't want to be here?" we ask.
So they stay at 100 percent, boring holes in their opposition and stopping at nothing to sports-murder them to sports-death. Except too often, that competitive fire rages out of control. That's when the fighting, screaming, and childish bullshit begins. That's the dark side of the fighting spirit we ask for in exchange for our love, adulation, and six months' salary transformed into front-row tickets.
"Boys, boys! Wait 'til you get paid before you start that shit."
I'll give you an at-home example, since I'm as terrible as you. The Red Sox's Pedro Martinez was a stone-cold killer on the mound. When he was pitching, nothing else mattered except getting the next strikeout. Or, oftentimes, hitting the next guy with a 100 MPH, rock-hard leather ball to make him pay for ... something. Probably not striking out fast enough.
But he hated to lose more than anything in the world, and treated every at-bat like his life was on the line, so fans adored him. I adored him. This despite knowing full well he was an ass. Like, he body slammed Dom Zimmer -- a 73-year-old man -- in front of everybody. Zimmer's crime? He worked for the other team and might have insulted Mama Martinez. So down he went, the latest victim of a player who was simply too competitive, aggressive, and fiery for his own good:
That's no way to treat your daddy.
Then there's perhaps the most famous athlete for whom fans helped blur the line between "ice-cold opponent crusher" and "straight-up bullying asshole": Michael Jordan. Greatest basketballer ever? Aside from Monstar #4, absolutely. Smug, arrogant dickhole? Hell yes -- Jordan was the best player but the worst teammate throughout almost his entire career. He respected nobody, snapped over the slightest affronts, publicly trashed his own teammates if they weren't performing to his standards, routinely overruled his coach and yelled at him like a child screaming for sweets ... just an all-around meaniehead, really.
Note: This behavior is only acceptable when you don't suck at whatever you're doing.
But he, like so many other overly-driven psycho-jocks, was this way (and still is) because we molded him that way. We demanded nothing but the absolute best, all the time, and he gave it to us. Unfortunately, being the best can manifest into being just the worst -- something we fans just hate, hate, hate. Or at least, we pretend to.
Boring, Fan-Unfriendly Playing Styles
Fans are fickle, and they get restless easily. So when players dare to run slow, boring, uninteresting plays in the pursuit of victory, boy do the tantrums start up. WE ARE NOT ENTERTAINED.
Oh wait, no, we totally are. We just won't admit it, because the only thing cooler than complaining is self-delusion. But we absolutely love slow, deliberate, "boring" playing styles, and leagues have got the paper trail to prove it.
"You've just given us express written consent to grab you by the balls and squeeze."
Let's start with basketball, where winning teams love to intentionally foul opponents who suck at free throws. Why? Because being fouled forces them to shoot, miss, and shave valuable seconds off the clock. It's called Hack-A-Shaq (since my son's Yorkshire Terrier is a better free throw shooter than Shaquille O'Neal ever was), and boy do fans have opinions on it. Mainly, that it's a boring, unentertaining strategy that disrupts the flow of the game and is slowly eating the league.
Except ... it's really not. For one thing, the strategy works. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich personally despises Hack-A-Shaq because it's ugly and boring. But since it's helped win his team five titles, he's going to keep winning with it. As will any other team that can pull it off effectively and consistently.
What else would you expect from the Most Interesting Man In The Bizarro World?
But if fans are turning away, then Ban-A-Hack right the fuck now, right? That's the other issue: Fans aren't leaving. In fact, we're attending more games than ever before, and unless commissioner Adam Silver is threatening to shoot our families if we don't keep buying tickets, I think we're doing this on our own accord, hacks and all.
Baseball? We love to rage about pitchers taking forever to pitch -- it's probably the most despised part of the game, other than moldy $1 hot dogs. Despite rules that require pitchers to just throw the goddamn ball already (rules 8.04 and 8.05), many take 30+ seconds between tosses -- extending the average game time by almost 15 minutes in five years.
This is actually a gif.
And "It's boring," we say! "It's ruining the game," we say! We're full of shit, I say! According to recent attendance numbers, the top ten teams whose fans actually show up all average over 20 seconds between pitches. And baseball as a whole, much like basketball, is drawing more fans than ever. So unless parks are offering secret rimjobs to the first thousand people through the gates, fans clearly don't find lethargic pitching as tiresome as they claim to.
Or how about boxing and what's probably the dullest, most fan-hostile style of all: the hug? Millions of people just paid $100 each to watch Floyd Mayweather clinch, dodge, and run from Manny Pacquiao until he won by decision, and the response has been ... unkind. Much like any other time a boxer spends the whole match hugging and ducking instead of punching and bruising like a MAN.
Look at this jerk and his desire to not drool everywhere and forget his own name before he's 40. Wimp.
But read those numbers back. $100. Millions of people. All in all, that stupid, boring ripoff of a fight grossed over $400 million, the most of any boxing match ever. In second place? Mayweather vs. Oscar de la Hoya in 2007, in which Mayweather hugged, dodged, and ran his way to victory by decision. Sound familiar? This is what Mayweather does, and the complainers knew this going in. Shit, this is what Muhammad Ali did -- last I checked, members of the I Fucking Love Sweet Science community still worship his ass. So I'd say watching boxers win boxing matches by not boxing is way more popular than fans care to admit.
Oh, and speaking of money and tickets ...
Stupidly High Salaries
Yep, it's the big one, the One Kvetch To Rue Them All: Professional athletes make entirely too much money for playing silly kids' games. Granted, every last one of them plays the game better than children do (even Ryan Leaf would probably do alright in a Pop-Warner league), but they're still making millions (or billions) playing a dumb game. And that's wrong! Why can't public servants and teachers and comedy writers make that much? They're the real MVP's!
The same reason as it's been all article long -- because of us, that's why. We're the reason that even the lowliest scrub on the Jacksonville Jaguars makes as much as the President does. Lowly nobodies in non-football sports pull in even more. And before you break out that liquid dissonance yet again, I repeat: WE'RE TO BLAME.
First off, where do you think all that money comes from? The First Bank of Santa? Nope, they're too preoccupied with coal. Magical money gnomes? Nope, they're too preoccupied with underwear. The team owners? In a way, sure, but only because we chip in with our Lincolns and our Tubmans and our Benjamins. These owners aren't going to spend ridiculous money on their collection of jocks if they don't know for sure they won't make it all back and then some.
That's where we the fans, who spend so much money to watch these people play their silly games, come in. As I showed earlier, attendance is sky-high in pretty much every sport, except for maybe squash. Statistics Part The Next: The average ticket price in baseball is $29. With that alone (never mind merchandising), we give Major League Baseball over $2 billion a year to do with what they please. Why does Alex Rodriguez get $21 million of that every year? Because it's there, and we put it there.
See also: the cheating entry.
We don't do that with the professions we so often deem "worthy" of gigantic salaries. We don't buy tickets to sit and watch our kids learn algebra, do we? Nor do we max out our credit cards to cheer on cops while they arrest drug dealers.
We'll watch the latter if you give it a jaunty jingle, but only if it's on network TV.
So if you truly, madly, deeply hate athletes getting millions for meaningless play-work, the only honest way to show that hate is to give them zero of your dollars. Cut out pro sports entirely. No games, no jerseys, no bobbleheads -- no nothing. Continuing to give a team money to afford multiple nine-figure contracts and then angrily harrumphing about said contracts simply makes you look like a dirty, whiny hypocrite. And I'd hope you no longer want to be one of those. I know I don't.
Now then: May my cheating, overpaid, boring assholes beat your cheating, overpaid, boring assholes every time. Go Assholes!
For more from Jason, check out 5 Famous Snacks That Are Surprisingly Hard To Make At Home and 5 Real Art Projects That Quickly Turned Into Crimes.
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