I am a noted New York sports fan. Raid my closet and you will find jerseys of Matt Harvey, Odell Beckham Jr., Henrik Lundqvist and others. I would never renege on the commitment I’ve made to my teams. It is in my DNA, and to do so would be to catastrophically throw away my heritage. But, as a New York sports fan, I have a list of sins to confess:
1. I love Bryce Harper.
2. I don’t hate Alexander Ovechkin.
3. LeSean McCoy as an Eagle? Not that bad.
4. Tom Brady is one of my favorite players in the NFL.
5. I have no ill will against the Yankees.
I feel an overwhelming need to justify these things all the time. These players are some of the most-hated players amongst fellow fans in my respective fan bases. Harper is the hair-flipping, magazine-cover-gracing pretty boy who plays the game with too much flare and attitude for the historical greats. Ovechkin is the egomaniac who has been able to make Lundqvist look more jester than king for the Rangers. “Shady” McCoy was the cocky running back whose quick cuts shredded Giants defenses to smithereens for years. Brady is the well-chronicled cheater from the Northern Evil Empire — I’m supposed to constantly rejoice that the Giants beat him twice in the Super Bowl. And the Yankees are big brother, sitting atop a baseball throne and constantly laughing as the Mets squirm in futility to make a splash in the postseason.
Here’s the thing, though: I really don’t care. I cheered hard for the Patriots to beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. I wished McCoy well when he went to Buffalo, and it made me incredibly sad to see him oft-injured. I root for the Yankees in pretty much every game that they don’t play the Mets. In the middle innings of a Phillies-Nationals matchup on Thursday, Harper came up in an RBI situation, and I was a little disappointed when he grounded out. The Nats went on to lose, and in the end that helps the Mets, but I felt no joy when I watched him slam his helmet down in frustration.
Maybe all this makes me a bad fan, or maybe it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the majority of my team’s rivals. Jonathan Papelbon was second on my 10 Most Punchable Athletes list. Sidney Crosby was third. I’ve been known to proclaim utter disdain for the Eagles and Phillies. But I’ve felt it less in recent years for the latter team (they’re losing at an impressively bad clip — it’d be like hating Jeb Bush for asking people to clap). I mean, a guy can have a heart, right? Sports are, literally, just a game. I began loving Harper and McCoy before they were drafted to rival teams. I hardly think it makes me less of a fan for continuing to like them despite their terrorization of my teams.
In the end, the argument remains a matter of perspective. If someone wants to consider themselves solely as a Mets fan, or a Phillies fan, or a Cubs fan, etc., then they will wholeheartedly throw their hatred towards any player that jeopardizes their team’s chance of winning. If someone, instead, would rather consider themselves a fan of the game as a whole, and merely identify with a favorite team, then they’re much more likely to appreciate great opposing players for what they are: great. People love sports because they are full of hero versus villain stories. But not every player on a rival team was cut out to fill the villain role, and with how partisan a world we live in, it seems in better taste to leave the hatred for the players who have earned it, not the players who you have closet love for but refuse to admit because your fellow fans boo them. Let rivals be great and hope to get the better of them next time. It makes for an easier viewing experience.
Email Bobby Wagner at [email protected]