ESPN columnist Rick Reilly published an article this week expressing concern over the outpouring of vitriol by New England Patriots’ fans toward the head coach and players, in the aftermath of their Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. Here are just a few examples he describes:
From sportswriters –
“You [Tom Brady] blew this Super Bowl. You denied your coach No. 4. You let down your teammates.”- Eric Wilbur, Boston Globe
“Epic fail…Epic failures from one end of the organization to the other.” – Kerry J. Byrne, ColdHardFootballFacts.com
From tweets on Twitter –
“Can’t catch that lollipop? go focus on [your] mustache,” Sean Hayden (@Irishsph) tweeted of wide receive Welker.
“Fire Belichick, trade Brady, kill Welker. I’m out,” sent @VinnyDamato.
After pointing out the irony that these same men -Belichick, Brady, and Welker – are among the most accomplished in the NFL in their respective roles, and how inconsistent these same writers are by quoting effusive praise of these men published prior to the Super Bowl, Reilly contrasts this behavior with the more gracious way fans of championship losers used to respond and asks us, “Why must the Super Bowl be all-or-nothing? Why must we detest the losers as much as we love the winners?…What happened to grace? To “it’s just a game”? To “thanks for a great season”?” and adds, “Fans are lashing out at their team with the kind of vitriol reserved for Court TV villains.”
My purpose here is to attempt to account for such trends through a spiritual diagnoses. We live in a culture where we are taught that tolerance is the highest (if not only) virtue. We should not hate anything or anyone: only bigoted, narrow-minded people hate. Any act of criticism toward a group we disagree with, especially if they are considered a persecuted minority, whether it be homosexuals or Muslims, for example, is considered an act of hatred (and in more liberal countries like Canada such public criticism is punished as ‘hate speech’).
Yet there is something perhaps innate in human nature that creates enemies in the world – perhaps our need to make sense of the world in terms of conflicts between good guys and bad guys – who we oppose, criticize, tear down, revile, finding our own meaning life by participating in such a conflict.
Surprisingly, as much as the Bible has to say about love, it does not categorically condemn hatred as evil. Rather, it teaches us that just as we are to love what God loves, we are to hate what God hates, namely evil. Evil is a spiritual force or power that seeks to slave and destroy the souls of people. This force is embodied in a spiritual person – the devil or Satan. Because we love people, we are to hate the things that work to destroy them.
But in our culture we are taught that to call anything evil and oppose it is an act of hatred – it is intolerant. So perhaps we are losing the means, at least publicly, to act on our hatred of the things that destroy people and threaten our collective well-being. Yet the impulse to hate evil still remains. Castrated in our own battles against evil in our lives, we project a cosmic battle between good and evil in the sports world, and direct our hatred to our teams’ rivals. Yet we are so emotionally invested in the outcome, having placed our hope for finding meaning in life in our teams’ triumphs, that when our ‘heroes’ fail us, we feel more than disappointed – we feel betrayed and direct our hatred toward them.
This is just speculative musing on my part to make sense of what Reilly is concerned about here. I’m not sure my diagnoses is sound so I would love to get your impact. Please leave a comment!