When it comes to arguing about sports, winning isn’t everything. It isn’t even the only thing, despite whatever quip Vince Lombardi re-blogged from Henry Russell Sanders. Sure, making your buddy look ill-informed and bumbling in a debate can cause a small rush of pleasure, but do you really want to be a winner all the time? Sustained domination makes you Goldberg, and nobody ever liked Goldberg.
No, the key to debating about sports is to lose some of the time. Allow yourself to appear illogical, confused, and incapable of using the the time-honored Rule of Three to bolster your arguments. Underdogs make for the best narratives, and, as sabermetrics have conclusively proven, narratives are truly what’s valuable in the sports world. So why position yourself as an insufferable know-it-all punching down at the less-knowledgeable little guy? Consider your narrative. Protect your brand.
The challenging aspect of all this, obviously, is taking all the knowledge about sports you’ve accumulated over the years and ignoring it. Learning how to play dumb is difficult (which is why loquacious athletes rarely excel in professional sports). If you’ve spent years memorizing facts and perfecting the the canons of rhetoric, throwing all that training out the window and starting from scratch seems daunting, but, as a person with plenty of experience being wrong about spots, I’m here to limply hold your hand through the process.
Step one: Say you’re young (no, not all the steps will be in the form of forced rhymes…or will they?)
Young people don’t know anything about sports. How could they? They’re young! By virtue of having existed for fewer years on this earth, young people are always incorrect. If you want the person with whom you’re debating to run rhetorical circles around you, there’s no easier way than to admit you were born too late to remember when basketball was played in short shorts, when the NFL still allowed defensive players to do more than tepidly hug receivers, and when baseball players never cheated or used drugs or did anything that could be classified as morally reprehensible.
If you’re too young to remember such glory days, you’re clearly too young to have a cogent opinion about, say, what LeBron’s protective mask signifies in relation to the performative “mask” he must adopt in order to cope with the pressure of being the biggest sports superstar in an era of unprecedented fan and media scrutiny.
Nobody wants to hear you talk about that.
Step two: Make small errors regarding terminology
You want to know how to instantly tell if someone doesn’t know the first thing about firearms and ergo shouldn’t be listened to during a debate on the Second Amendment? If they use words like “clip” and “assault rifle” and “the government is not coming for my guns.”
Vulgar misuse of language invalidates an opinion, so it’s a tactic you should readily adopt if you hope to lose an argument about sports. Confuse flankers with split ends with slot receivers. Fumble with the distinction between offsides and icing. Use the word “elite” in syntagmatic proximity to “Eli Manning.”
Remember, language shapes the world we live in — that’s why, on the first day, God said, “Let the world be spherical and tilt on a 23.5° axis” — so making small, tactical vocabulary errors can really enervate and embolden your position of being wrong.
Step three: Say you’re a bandwagon fan
Bandwagon fans are necessary in the sports world because bandwagon fans allow so-called “true” fans to feel justified in devoting years of their lives to rabidly cheering for a group of strangers in matching outfits.
A bandwagon fan’s nescience about the pain of losing irks die-hards to no end, so adopting the guise of a Johnny-come-lately behooves the debater seeking an intellectual smack-down.
Describing yourself as a bandwagon fan opens you up to devastating ad hominem attacks in which your debate partner dismisses your opinions via using words that sound like other words.
Step four: Reject math
Have a bunch of statisticians disproved a common perception about your favorite athlete’s performance? Too bad, nerds! This isn’t science camp. You can’t measure things like heart, not even by removing a heart from its host body and plopping it on a scale.
The perception nowadays is that fans who have embraced advanced metrics are the “intelligent” ones in comparison to the dinosaurs still clinging to concepts like grittiness and momentum, so rejecting all forms of statistical analysis is critical if you want to be wrong in a sports debate.
Dismiss mathematical concepts as nothing more than numerological sorcery and watch the person with whom you’re debating grow increasingly irate at your stubbornness.
Hey, if he wants to actually “prove” Player X is more valuable than Player Y, he better start by proving that numbers are real and that equations are not just social constructs developed by the Illuminati to keep young minds distracted from finding out The Truth.
Step five: Notice something in the sports world and have a knee-jerk reaction. Form an opinion in relation to that reaction and avoid considering any alternative viewpoints. Vocalize that opinion in a brash manner and imply anyone who thinks differently than you is mentally deficient. Incorporate stereotypes and paint with the widest possible brush. If challenged, demand to see evidence. If confronted with evidence, question the authority of the source of said evidence. Be obstinate. Ridicule when backed into a corner. Shift the goal posts. Split hairs. Use the slippery slope until you’ve painted your opponent’s viewpoint as tantamount to Nazism.
This will probably work.