I don’t talk a lot in here about sports.

I never was good at sports in school. In fact, I was always really, REALLY bad. All of my cousins were good athletes – including one cousin, who didn’t necessarily excel at team sports, but is a professional dancer – some better at some things than others. One was a star pitcher in high school, another a star running back. So, even though I was never good at sports, I grew up around it.

It’s probably blasphemy to say this, but I never particularly liked football. I don’t dislike it, and I went to most of my cousins’ games, but I can’t sit and watch it all day long without going stir crazy. No, I’ve always preferred hockey. And, somewhat recently, baseball. Much to many of my Mets fan family’s chagrin, however, I’ve become a Yankee fan. I know the players. I know their numbers. I know their stats. I know which opponents were good and which ones weren’t. I rejoiced when the Yankees “came back” from being in next to last place in the AL-East to almost unseating the Red Sox and clinching the wild card spot in the playoffs. I was sad when they lost to Cleveland, though took solace in the fact that they were the only team to NOT get swept in the first round.

My boss – originally from Colorado – was teasing me and a few other coworkers today in regards to this. In good humor, and we took it as so. He also said that Alex Rodrieguez should go play for the Rockies. Maybe, if they can afford him – which is highly doubtful.

Now, as most of you may know, the Red Sox and the Yankees have a pretty bitter rivalry. As do the Mets and the Yankees, though I do think it’s a bit more one-sided to the Mets – only because they play in different leagues. However, there’s a difference between a “rivalry” – which is fun and makes the competition more meaningful to fans – and hating the other team to the point of obsession.

I’ll break it down with two examples:
1. Friend A, a Mets fan
2. Friend B, a Red Sox fan

For the record, Friend A is a female, which I consider irrelevant for the purposes of this explanation; I only mention it, as I may refer to her as “she” in some parts of this post. I also consider the Mets/Red Sox designations irrelevant, because I’ve seen the reverse of this as well.

Friend A attended one of the last three Mets games (the one they won), and was feeling pretty good until Sunday afternoon. She came into work on Monday and was visibly disappointed. Up until the Mets spectacular fall from grace, she was excited about her team. When Tom Glavin and Alex Rodrieguez each achieved landmark benchmarks in their careers, we chatted about it over beers – she not forgetting to mention that she hates A-Rod, but that nonetheless credit was due. When the Yankees lost, she sent an email to some of us regarding something else, and at the bottom said, “To all the Yankee fans, I’m sorry, but I won’t lie that I’m smiling a little bit inside.”

Friend A represents the true spirit of the rivalry – that is, she plays into what the rivalry is (a game), but doesn’t lose sight of the fact that it is a game.

Friend B, sadly, does not represent this.

All throughout the playoffs, Friend B spent more time mocking the Yankees than rooting for the Red Sox. Even when he reveled in Manny Ramirez’s spectacular hitting in the third game against the Angels, he spent more time pointing out that A-Rod can’t hit in a clinch. When the Yankees lost, he seemed significantly happier that they lost than that his own team won. He did, however, lament that they wouldn’t be playing the Red Sox, as – essentially – he wanted a team to hate.

Friend B represents obsession. He represents “That Typical Fan” of “That Team” that everyone else is measured against, and everyone resents for being compared to.

When I pointed out to him that perhaps he should concentrate on his own team winning, rather than another team losing, and that he was displaying poor sportsmanship, he turned it around. Said I don’t know what it means to be a fan. Said that hating the Yankees was a good thing. I wonder if he plans to teach his children this mentality. I certainly hope not.

But, this is where I think the fine line of sports being good or bad gets very fuzzy. I feel like too many people forget that it is just a game. And, what’s worse, when you take the time to point it out to these types of people (and there are a lot of them, across the board, in every sport at every level from little league and pop warner, right on up to the pros), that sports is not supposed to be about these unhealthy, hateful attitudes, then you’re accused of being a bad fan and “not understanding.” I don’t understand why it’s a good thing to encourage hatred and bad feelings? That’s not an insult.

Sports are meant for entertainment. At younger ages, it teaches time management, leadership, and sportsmanship. At high school ages, it can be used as a vehicle for college scholarships to students who might otherwise not have that opportunity. And, at the professional level, it represents entertainment for millions of Americans. Yes, these players get paid a ridiculous amount of money. So do actors. And, some years, that director that spends millions on making a blockbuster flick doesn’t win any Oscars. Sometimes it’s that independent sleeper joint that emerged from Sundance. Just like in Hollywood, anything can happen in baseball.

And, on that note, let’s go Rockies. 🙂