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Spring 1998
Boo Who?
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When we’re young, it’s difficult to have perspective on winning and losing. Winning is so strongly emphasized in our culture, especially in the media, that it’s the simple angle to take. And a concept easily grasped by impressionable youth. Good guys vs. bad guys. White hats vs. black hats. But when that mentality is ingrained early on, how can we expect people to ever grow beyond it?

In an essay titled “End Game,” Pete Hamill talks about the disappearance of civility in our culture, from politics to sports and everything in between, and notes that nothing short of annihilating our opponents has become the American way.

“Everybody seems infected by the virus of argument and the need for triumph,” Hamill observes. “No football player can score a touchdown without following up with some taunting dance in the end zone. Baseball players can’t endure a knockdown pitch without charging the mound in retaliation. In all sports, grace is treated like a character flaw.”

Miami Heat and former Laker Coach Pat Riley fines his players for helping an opponent off the floor. What kind of message does that send?

Hearing boos directed at college athletes really rankles me. I wonder if the booers (strikingly similar to boors, isn’t it?) ever consider what the player is thinking or feeling. Do you figure that athletes want to play poorly? Don’t you imagine they feel badly enough if their team is getting hammered? How likely is it that the negative reinforcement of booing will inspire an athlete to perform better?

My perception is that most boo-birds are unhappy in their daily lives and look to release some nastiness at the ball game.

“Sure, people take out their everyday frustrations at a game, no question,” confirms Dr. William Parham, chief psychologist with UCLA’s athletic department. “Fans feel like today’s players are a little bit spoiled, that they’re pampered. There’s this spoiled-brat mentality that the public isn’t liking. Of course, the unattractive behavior fans are identifying in athletes is the very way they’re acting themselves.”

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