Contemporary sports have been marred by Internet commentary—spineless beings castigating athletes—stemming from an inherently irrational fandom. It might not be avoidable, but sparking a dialogue can’t hurt an already tragic and broken carnival.
The contemporary obsession with professional sports has never been sounder than it is currently. If sport is a carnival, we’ve been paying the irrational surcharge for centuries. Today, though, professional sports are an All-American addiction, an at-times erosive mania that simultaneously chokes and liberates.
When the Internet was conceived, the hellhole cloaking the sporting blogosphere was most likely far from the minds of Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf. But it’s here now, and it might be worth discussing.
Our investment in sport has been, in many ways, unjustified and superfluous since Paleolithic sprinters and wrestlers were carved into the Lascaux caves in France. The games, like us, have evolved. In some respects it hasn’t been for the better.
Athletes are plastered on posters, electrolyte-heavy beverages overflowing with unhealthy sugar compounds, philanthropic events, memorabilia, and late-night talk shows—to name a few. Their accessibility is laughable, and we harbor oft-unfounded castigating positions on their appearance, acumen, and humanity.
These faux-relationships we hold with sports and leagues and people we will never meet are not unlike folkloric characters or cinematic icons. We hold onto them in much the same way: for support.
If a sport has a postseason—which it most likely does in some variation—it’s not uncommon to find those attempting to live vicariously through them.
Players never face the brunt of this modern fandom more than when the postseason begins.
The playoffs allow us to revere their existence and chastise them in the same breath. They’re our scapegoat, our child to verbally torment, our place to house the personal vexations that won’t fit in our heads and closets. And why keep them there when you can just blindly expel them at television sets and that person standing next to you at the concession stand for hot dogs wearing an international soccer jersey with some country’s flag you forgot after learning it in grade school? The keyboard is the millennial harassment tool. We know how to wield it well.
When they succeed, we succeed. When they’re poised and confident, we’re dignified and self-assured. When they win, we win. You can barely see the strings attached.
Perhaps nobody in our generation has seen the dark side of this widely installed ardent software than LeBron James of the Miami Heat. He’s the most criticized player in all of sports. He’s 6-foot-8 and built like the birthed product of Bo Jackson, Mohammed Ali, and a damn wrecking ball. There’s a website poetically entitled: ihatelebronjames.com. One man wrote an entire book chronicling his hate for the guy.
In Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals, James—the most dynamic basketball player alive—didn’t play the last four minutes. A malfunctioning air conditioner in San Antonio’s birthed a 90-degree sauna for the lion’s share of the game. Muscle spasms in James’ left leg ended his night. Teammates rushed to where he hobbled beneath the hoop, and helped him back to the bench—he couldn’t bend his leg, though.
That’s when the real fun started. That’s when the ugly that you can virtually find every single day of the year ballooned like boiling glass.
How can someone that strong and agile not stick it out? Isn’t this the NBA Finals? Isn’t Miami vying for a three-peat? (Insert revoltingly hollow and ludicrous commentary using racial undertones and hashtags.)
And the worst one…
When he loses, we win?
Why would we give up this luxury? We shouldn’t. Don’t our constitutional rights allow us to disparage and condemn? Sure. You can’t just claim one player is being unjustly attacked? Precisely.
Our current fixation with lambasting anyone with some semblance of a platform sadly might not be avoidable. This column certainly won’t fix it. But a dialogue surrounding how to rationally approach an inherently irrational entity still has merit. Athletes are not indestructible and a concussion is not a bruise. The minute we forget that is the moment we relegate sport to a perpetual activity where you must eat or be eaten. The fundamentals and life lessons are a waste if you bury them in odium and half-truths.
Is it too glaring to consider the example being set online? Does context still matter in the digital age? Do we honestly care what we write and promote so long as we sit safely behind screens? I would hope it’s agreeable to consider perpetuating bullying stereotypes and crippling the sanctity of a game is troubling. I would hope you think before you type or vine or meme. These are just hopes, though. They surely didn’t save the countless ones who came before James and the ones who will come after him.
Regardless of your take on LeBron James’ ability to play a game—and it is a game—this shouldn’t be difficult to consider talking about. So let’s start.