When did we all get so goddamn nice?
It’s a strange time to make the argument that there’s a part of the world that isn’t cruel enough, but now a trend that started when Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors has fully taken hold. The broadening liberalization of sports media has made criticizing stars and their decisions blasé. And just like joining a 73-win team that eliminated you from the playoffs, that sucks.
Obviously, a lot of good has come from the democratization of sports media through the internet — and, more recently, social media. It really wasn’t that long ago that the entire sports discussion of a city was dominated by a middle-aged white guy who covered the most important team in town for the biggest paper, in addition to the slightly older white guy who wrote the grouchy columns about said teams.
Now there’s a fun, vibrant Twitter community talking about every play of every NBA game, a million sites for baseball geekery and in-depth football play-calling analysis that will make your head spin. In terms of ideological, racial and gender diversity, there’s never been a better time to be a sports fan.
Part of this revolution has been a tearing down of the stodgy conservative approach of those standard newspaper writers: rejecting the racially tinged criticism of showy, energetic athletes of color, taking the system of publicly financed stadiums to task and supporting the right of athletes to do what they want and not feel beholden to owners and fans.
All in all, it’s a major improvement for sports fans, but being unable to criticize players without being perceived as anti-player, anti-labor and anti-fun is an overcorrection I remain baffled by.
It’s good that we’ve grounded the world of sports in a different, serious, political lens, but it’s absurd to lose sight of the fact that we’re all just losing our mind over tall men playing with balls — professional sports are an absurdist entertainment product, and they should be treated as such.
Sometimes, that entertainment is in looking at freakish and amazing things, like Giannis Antetokounmpo’s entire game or the length of an Aaron Judge home run. But we don’t take sports so seriously just to look at feats of strength; we care about sports because the true entertainment is in the drama of franchise and personalities colliding. And sometimes, a drama needs a villain.
As I hinted at above, I hate the fact that Durant signed with Warriors, but that doesn’t mean I’m against free agency or self-determination or think he owes the Oklahoma City fans a damn thing. I thought Durant should have left the Thunder; I just think it makes the NBA a lot less fun that he joined a team that wasn’t having any real issues without him. Not to mention that it goes against a sense of competitiveness and pride that has defined some of our greatest athletes. When I root against Durant and his team, my conscience feels clean.
Now, that doesn’t mean I hate Kevin Durant the human being. I met him in person shortly after his decision, and I was never tempted to say something about it or take a shot at his groin, which was conveniently at my eye level. But when he’s on the court, I don’t have to think twice about booing him. Players deserve their millions, but they earn them as entertainers, and boos are just a part of the bargain.
When a Red Sox player decides to sign with the Yankees, I’ll be there booing him. When the next athlete decides 10 athletes having their careers derailed after dating a Kardashian is a coincidence, I’ll call him an idiot. When James Harden exaggerates fouls without real effort to make the shot, I’ll lose my mind and cheer when he chokes in the playoffs. When a quarterback like Jay Cutler doesn’t even look like he wants to be on the field, I’ll call into the worst local sports radio show and demand he’s benched.
I’m a dummy who can’t tell the difference between real people on television and characters in television shows, and goddamnit, I’m tired of being ashamed. Lil B, take me out.