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Why do people bother to hate professional athletes?

Apr 28, 2014, 9:39 AM EDT

Carlos Gomez AP

Got a comment from longtime reader DelawarePhilliesFan in the Carlos Gomez video thread this morning:

There is this interesting streak in Craig….it seems to me to be part contrarian, part defense lawyer, part some sort of big brother protectorate….probably some other things too. As soon as people don’t like a player, he has falls in LOVE with that player and goes on these defense missions.

There is some truth to that, of course. I do tend to be drawn to underdogs or hated figures and I do like to mount unpopular arguments. Just part of how I roll.

However, I think there is a much more interesting question about all of this than why I defend unpopular or hated players like Carlos Gomez: Why, on Earth, do players like Carlos Gomez inspire hatred in the first place?

I get it when an athlete is truly an awful person. Like, in real life. If they’re a criminal or if they’r violent or whatever, obviously, people hating them is understandable.  But I am generally baffled at the vast majority of athletes who get placed in the villain role. It’s sports. And while, yes, sports can inspire emotion, I don’t get people who allow it to inspire negative emotion. Or, at the very least, people who hold on to that negative emotion long enough to form character judgments about athletes and to continue beating some drum against them.

Sports are great, but they pale in importance to stuff in real life. And if aspects of them are so unpleasant that they inspire you to hatred or even sustained disapproval — if an athlete angers you to the point where you feel the need to go on about it and let it color your opinions of the game — why on Earth don’t you disengage? Who wants to hate things they don’t have to?

UPDATE: A reader just sent me a link that I think goes a long way to explain all of this.

UPDATE II: This wonderful piece by John Thorn explains a lot of it too. This stuff just fascinates me.

  1. kylewo - Apr 28, 2014 at 2:45 PM

    That’s a good question. I find myself “hating” players from teams I consider to be arch rivals. I’m sure that’s fairly normal. I found myself having a negative visceral reaction to Carlos Gomez’s latest dust up. Then I thought about it a little more. I actually couldn’t choose something sillier to get bent out of shape about. I think it’s just because I’m a Cardinals fan, and had a heated rivalry at one time with the Brewers. Having said that, I will never stop hating Brandon Phillips.

  2. anxovies - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    I always marveled at the venality of the hatred for Alex Rodriguez before and after Biogenesis. I guess a significant portion of the haters are people with personal or psychological problems who have focused on him, but from the sheer numbers it seems likely that many of them are otherwise decent, normal people. What he is alleged to have done is rather contemptible, but no more so than Braun, with his protestations of innocence, or other players who have failed to take responsibility. It can’t merely be that he achieved batting records that cheated great players before him, McGwire cheated Babe Ruth and he is on the way to senior statesman status. Melky almost won a batting title. Neither player has been targeted by MLB and nobody is ranting about them in the chat rooms. Rodriguez is apparently somewhat unlikable, but very few of his present or former teammates have said so. I get that people don’t like him because he supposedly cheated, but I just don’t get the excesses from the fans and MLB.

    • anxovies - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:50 PM

      I should say McGwire cheated Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.

  3. yahmule - Apr 28, 2014 at 7:51 PM

    I guess I’m the only one here who enjoys a little good hating now and then.

  4. musketmaniac - Apr 28, 2014 at 9:18 PM

    we need a Seinfeld renaming for sports hate. obviously/ hopefully the same hate for David Ortiz or Ryan Braun is not the same Ann Frank had for the Nazis. SPATE pretty simple. I spate Nancy Kerrigan, oops that sounds like I want to hate f..k her. I Spate Ryan Ludwick ok that works, That’s sounds like I want him have horrific( non life threatening) injury. that works, but I’ll need a different gender based word, suddenly this has a Latin thing goin on, hopefully we’ll do better than spanglish

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