30 November 2012

Hate Takes a Holiday

The Atlantic sports roundtable on Jamaal Charles, Peyton Manning, postgame autographs and the end of personal animosity between athletic rivals

The Atlantic

Modern athletes are still trying to beat each other. But is something lost when they no longer seem to hate each other? The Atlantic sports roundtable weighs in on the era of good feelings:

Patrick Hruby: ... Once upon a time in sports, athletes were divided into two camps. Us and them. Our team and those guys. Players on opposing squads or schools weren't supposed to fraternize, or even really talk. They were supposed to hate one another, wage bitter little Cold Wars, act as proxies for fan passion and antagonism ...

Of course, that was then.

Today, athletes from opposing teams are less likely to have a Captain Kirk-Kahn relationship than something akin to Bert and Ernie. LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the two best players in the NBA. They faced each other in last season's Finals. They like will square off again over the course of the coming decade. And in the offseason? They're friends. They train together—and then Tweet peppy, positive hashtags like "#StriveforGreatness." Or take Kansas City Chiefs players Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe, who were spotted outside the opposing locker room following a 17-9 loss to the Denver Broncos last week, patiently waiting to collect autographs from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning ...

Jake Simpson: ... the typical pro athlete is so different from the average American—more money, more privilege, more prestige, many more women—that they hardly live in the same society. With that in mind, of course athletes have more camaraderie than they used to. There's such a small pool of the population that lives a "famous athlete" life that it only makes sense for a guy like LeBron to be friends with most of his rivals, even Durant. Throw in the mutual respect great players often have for one another, and it's a veritable love-fest. There are still holdovers from the acrimony of the past, like Kevin Garnett, but they are few and far between.

Is it a good thing? For the players, absolutely. Filling your heart with a burning hatred of all opponents won't fundamentally improve your career, unless you're a once-in-a-generation homicidal competitor like Michael Jordan. And with the unprecedented amount of player movement among teams, a mortal enemy today could be a teammate tomorrow. For the fans, the lack of vitriol could be frustrating—after all, Vinny from Staten Island wants every Yankee player to hate the Red Sox as much as he does. But most players don't feel the need to share their fans' bloodlust, nor should they ...

Hampton Stevens: ... lest we forget, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe play for a team that got crushed on Sunday. The Chiefs were embarrassed at home by a division rival, putting them at 1-10 for the season. For Bowe and Charles to follow a humiliating loss by hovering around Peyton Manning's lockeroom door waiting for an autograph was not only an insult to already-injured Chiefs fans, it also showed an appalling lack of leadership and competitive fire. The team's two best players, mind you, humbled themselves before Manning, acting like a pair of teenyboppers trying to meet Justin Beiber. That sends a message to fans, teammates and rest of the NFL that those two don't belong in the same league as Peyton Manning. Almost literally. Try to imagine, if you will, Tom Brady waiting outside an opponent's door for an autograph. It is to laugh.

Frankly, the idea that athletes can be best broheims outside the lines but still compete at the highest level strikes me as looney, utterly contrary to human nature, and an assertion repudiated by, oh, the whole history of sports. Hate always, always makes for better competition. That's practically self-evident. Would you really argue that two boxers who are friends outside the ring will battle as hard in it as bitter foes will? So Ali and Foreman would have been just as riveting if the two had been besties?

Read the full article at The Atlantic online