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The Giant Foam Finger: Sports Hatred

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers smiles during a game against the New York Knicks on Oct. 30, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jason Miller
Getty Images
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers smiles during a game against the New York Knicks on Oct. 30, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.

A couple weeks ago, Code Switch blogger Gene Demby and I sat down to reflect on a decade-old sports moment — a single play in a single game — and describe how it affected us as rival fans of the teams involved. In this second episode of the series we're calling The Giant Foam Finger, the two of us tackle a far unwieldier subject: hatred.

Gene and I both hate the Dallas Cowboys. I hate the Chicago Bears and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Widespread hatred of basketball superstar LeBron James helps fuel Gene's fandom and admiration. I've watched a fair amount of baseball and a much greater amount of basketball, mostly in the futile hope that some hated dynasty or other — the Yankees, the Lakers, the Bulls — would finally crumble, preferably but not plausibly to make room for a team from Milwaukee. We've experienced hatred as a unifying force, even when (or perhaps because) there's zero logic involved.

But what does that hatred mean? Is it even real? What does our choice of enmity say about us — and, more to the point, what do we want it to say about us? Along the way, Gene and I approach something approximating a taxonomy of sports hatred: Dynasties, bullies, rivals, cheaters, the unaccountable and the advantaged all get a look, as do Tim Tebow, Serena Williams, the Duke basketball team and LeBron James' awful, awful The Decision special on ESPN.

One polarizing figure we somehow don't acknowledge in this episode: Brett Favre. But we'll get to him soon enough.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)