One of the weirdest and most unpleasant aspects of sports is a fan’s intense desire for opponents to fail. I have certainly been party to this sentiment, rooting for Brett Favre, Chris Webber, Paul Konerko, the Chicago Bears, and other rivals to fall flat. It’s become accepted part of fandom. After all, there must be a winner and a loser, right? But that doesn’t make rooting for failure much more palatable or profitable.
Last weekend two of the NFL’s most polarizing and controversial players, Johnny Manziel and Jay Cutler, took the field at quarterback for their respective teams and failed miserably: Manziel completed only 10 passes (plus two to the other team) for 80 yards in the Cleveland Browns’ 30-0 drubbing at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, while Cutler tossed three interceptions (he leads the league in that category) in the Bears’ 31-15 loss to the New Orleans Saints Monday night and has since been benched. The two QBs have well-earned reputations for bad attitudes, petulance, and rubbing fans and opponents the wrong way. Even so, the overflow of glee and mockery at their failure in the mainstream media and on social media was striking (though not all that surprising). Such players are exactly the type fans love to see fail.
As a Minnesota Vikings fan, it comes easy for me to take pleasure in the struggles of Cutler and the Bears. (I am actually in the minority who likes Manziel.) But I must constantly remind myself that rooting for my team does not give me license to take pleasure in the failings of another. My gut reaction to Cutler’s awful game was smug happiness. But if that is the emotion I, or any other fan, choose to rest in we are lowering ourselves humanly speaking and harming the games we love.
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