Matt Hinton at Rivals.com had this piece covering the move of ESPN football analyst Kirk Herbstreit from his native Ohio to Nashville Tennessee this week. The reason for Herbstreit's departure? Even though he's the biggest Ohio State backer employed by any national media outlet that isn't good enough for some Buckeye fans, who apparently badger him and his family because of statements he makes they don't think are sufficiently positive.
I'm not even going to pretend I know what Herbstreit is going through. Blazersedge has a big imprint but not anywhere near the attention that ESPN TV's college football coverage gets. Plus people are generally pretty nice here. If you started listing guys who are well taken care of by their constituency we'd be near the top of that chart. Nevertheless, stick around long enough and you're going to run into this kind of "fandom" no matter where you are and what team you root for. Disagreement is a mortal sin in our culture. You only have to dip half a toe into the political pool to find people yelling at or over each other, dismissively labeling and attributing vile motives to anyone who doesn't see things their way. Religion isn't any different many places, just discussed less. It's leeched into our news coverage to the point that watching TV "analysis" is a complete waste 95% of the time. Little surprise, then, that the emotion-freighted, passionate world of sports has adopted these patterns.
This phenomenon shows up in plenty of ways, even at a site as civil as this one. Some people can't get into spirited--or really any--debate without throwing in snide ad hominem attacks, proclaiming how stupid another person is or how EXTREMELY EMOTIONALLY OUTRAGED THEY FEEL that a fellow reader would dare to make an argument that disagrees with their outlook. Even more people delight to describe the assertions of others as "hating" or "bashing" or "blind loyalty" or "man crushes". Say something critical, or sometimes even just fail to say something sufficiently positive, about somebody's favorite player and the accusations of bias come flying. Ben, Timmay, and I have all done game recaps and all of us do them independently. We don't consult with each other about what to say. We just report what we see. That doesn't keep accusations of conspiracy and collusion at bay, as if we had any incentive to favor some players over others. In the extreme you hear accusations of being in the owner's pocket or just being mentally disturbed. Those are on the far end of the continuum but it is a continuum. The snide remark and the over-the-top display differ only in degree, not substance. Both are dismissive, intellectually dishonest forms of conversational bullying, attempting to clear the field of everyone else's perception so only one's own holds sway.
I've experienced multiple waves of people claiming to be better, more faithful believers than the rest of us...people who have backed up that self-perception with turgid, scathing attacks on others. The truth is, if you have to yell and accuse and go over the top in making your point it's because even you're aware that your point isn't sound. The drama is just so much noise covering the doubt. In every case the point that the "true faithful" were trying to uphold--be that about a player or the team--has failed to materialize. In short, if you have to shout and attack, it ain't true. I know that won't stop anybody who's already invested in doing so, but it might provide a caution to the rest of us about how to respond to such things. What need to argue when the argument has already scuttled itself by definition? The only thing such displays accomplish is to drive away people who otherwise would be happy to support the team and in most cases already are...people like Kirk Herbstreit and your fellow readers.
It's easy to get wound up in sports. That's what they're for. This is meant to be a passionate endeavor. But accusatory, bitter invective isn't fandom and isn't really about sports anymore. It's just sad, especially when it goes to the extent of involving innocents, like a person's family or a guy who just wanted to talk about Brandon Roy a little.
Here's hoping Mr. Herbstreit and his family enjoy their new home and get some peace after the move. Hopefully this isn't what public discourse has come to. Shame on all of us if it is.