Early on in my life, I was taught never to use a certain word towards other people. I work hard to ingrain in my children the gravity of the word. I find it to be toxic and to make the person who uses it look small. But lately, much to my dismay, things have changed with me. I have found that four-letter doozy escaping from my lips faster than Bengals fans from Paul Brown Stadium when they're losing on one particular day of the week. The day that I talk-the-talk and then walk-the-walk-of-shame is Sunday. Just mere hours after attending a church service to cleanse myself, I'm in what I've dubbed "Steeler Central" with a group of friends and I'm hypocritically uttering the word that I lobby against. It's a word that is the source of most of the world's ills.
That word is: Hate.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but as sports fans we all use that word and some of us have an extended list of teams and players we hate. I'd love to know the ratio of those in Steeler Nation who did and did not voice their despise of Vontaze Burfict during Sunday's victory in Cincinnati. I think it's safe to say that after the injuring of Le'Veon Bell at the hands of Burfict, and his parade of nauseating antics on Sunday, he is firmly cemented on the "wanted poster" (Sorry T-Sizzle) as Steeler Nation's Public Enemy No. 1. The phrase,"I hate that guy", came out of my pierogie hole more than once on Sunday.
But do I really hate him? No I don't. I don't really hate anybody, with the exception of Hitler, Osama bin Laden, my old boss from six years ago, my sixth grade home room teacher and the guy that my ex-wife ran away with ending my first marriage. But sports fans are passionate and games involving our teams tend to unleash a beast inside us during that roughly 3.5 hour span that we are watching. But that's when it's unleashed and sometimes it carries over for life or when your team picks him up as a free agent. But I'm not talking about real hate. There is actual mouth-foaming, soul-wrenching, bile-inducing hate that is equivalent to the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns and then there's "sports hate".
"Sports hate" deep down is nothing personal. Although I don't think of some athletes as good people, I surely don't want to see them suffer death, severe sickness/injury or the heartache of the loss of a loved one. However, I would be lying if I stated that I never wished irreversible erectile dysfunction on Ray Lewis or Jared, formerly of Subway, to gain all of his weight back as I did back in 2006, way before the scandal. The truth is that we get wrapped up into our teams and there is always one guy (or more) that gets under your skin to the extent that they become the target of your "sports hate".
Sports are theatre. And every good hero needs a dastardly villain. Seinfeld needed Neuman. Harry Potter had Tom Riddle aka Voldemort and viewers of Survivor season's 19 and 20 were enraged by the exploits of Russell Hantz. We loved to hate these villains because they are guilty of antagonizing the very one's we emotionally invest ourselves in for the sake of entertainment and we reveled in their undoing. We in Steeler Nation have our list of hated villains like Burfict, Ray Lewis (I know he's retired, but still), Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, Suggs, Chris Collinsworth (I don't agree with this one), etc. In the same realm, our local heroes such as Hines Ward, James Harrison and Ben Roethlisberger are included on sports hate-lists in Cincy and B-More.
We do this with entire teams too. Actually, I am quite at odds with myself lately. I have vowed to abhor the Baltimore Ravens until the day that my black and gold coffin is lowered into the ground and I stand by it. But lately I realized that I can't stand the sight of orange and black. Tiger stripes enrage me so much that I can't even look at a box of Frosted Flakes without wanting to destroy my kitchen. They are my new Johnny Lawrence to my Daniel Larusso.
Now there is room for both football franchises of Baltimore and Cincinnati in my sports-hate spotlight. But if I had to choose right now it's Cincy. It's not because the Ravens are struggling right now, because trust me they will rise from the ashes again and be a thorn in our sides. It is simply because I find that they raise my blood level more and that I find them repulsive. Some people still hate Cleveland too. I taught my son the phrase, "If it's Brown, flush it down", and it had nothing to do with bathroom habits. There's always New England. If you ask an older fan, you would be sure to get Oakland, Miami or even Dallas. Sports-hate sometimes lingers. But it can be harmless too because most often enough it doesn't go beyond your living room.
So, here is what I want to do. I'd like to poll as many fans as possible. Get your family and friends involved and take my sports-hate poll. The "official" poll will be the player you sports-hate the most. Since we can't do multiple polls in one post, in the comment section below list the team you sports-hate the most. I'm trying to list the obvious ones, but feel free to hit other and leave them in the comments. I will count those too.
Thanks and remember to rid your heart of real hate!