I heard an interesting discussion on the Chicago White Sox pre-game show the other day. It was concerned with the booing of Adam Dunn by fans at US Cellular Field. The host, Chris Rongey, was against the practice, though he did say the fans have the right to boo, not much of concession really, free speech and all that.* Rongey went on about how it is just negative energy and makes the player feel even worse for his bad performance. My answer to that line of thinking is, “so?” I get not booing kids and the negative effects that can have on them, but Adam Dunn is a) a professional athlete and b) paid an enormous amount of money. The second point might not be the greatest justification for booing a player but the more money a player gets, the higher the expectations, the higher the expectations, the greater the disappointment, ultimately leading to boos. The first point however, I think is a much more valid reason to vent at a player. Adam Dunn is a professional baseball player, and yes as Rongey mentioned he is human and is affected by all of this, but other than booing him, what recourse does a fan have to let him know we are upset with his performance? We can’t sit down with him and have a heart to heart discussion about his play, offer words of encouragement and critique his performance in a reasoned and methodical way. Nope, that avenue is closed to us. Basically we only have two choices, either boo and vent our emotions a little bit or just sit there. Seeing how sport fandom isn’t about reason and rationality but about passion and emotion the only choice is the first option. My friend AJD also brought up the point that booing a player isn’t personal it isn’t intended to make them feel badly, per se. Basically it is shorthand for, “I am disappointed with your current performance and really want you to do better.” It is a hell of a lot easier just to say, “BOO!”
*I must pass out kudos to Chris Rongey. He has a great job, and does a great job, but for the simple fact that he hosts a baseball postgame show he deserves immense respect. He has to put up with some of the most inane, caustic and downright vile callers of any radio host. Some of the callers are ok, but so many of them are not only calling to vent, but yell specifically at HIM. He handles it remarkably well, better than I ever would. I won’t say he does it with grace because sometimes he puts a caller in their place with just enough venom to sting but not harm. All in all it is quite entertaining to say the least.
It’s also very easy for the player to turn those boos into cheers. Adam Dunn again provides a wonderful example. He had two occasions to deliver for his team the other night and in both instances he failed, a strike out and a GDP. Before each at-bat, at least as far as I could tell, the fans cheered Dunn as he came to the plate, especially when the bases were loaded. The excitement and energy was palpable. We desperately wanted him to succeed, we wanted to enjoy that moment in sports when the anticipation is paid off with success, or as those Brits say, glory. Unfortunately, Dunn came up short and the inning was over. I suppose I could have quietly said to AJD, “Oh, dear. Well that sure was a bummer.” Even writing those words three days later is wholly unsatisfying. I booed. Dare I say I booed lustily and it felt good to release that frustration in a harmless way. I wasn’t out to make Dunn feel bad, but I wanted him, Ozzie and Kenny Williams to know that I was disappointed. You may rejoin with, “They know the fans are disappointed.” Agreed, but like a public hearing or heated debate, even if it gets repetitive, people want their own voice to be heard, and too bad if it’s been said before.
I don’t particularly like shouting personal things about a player or coach. That’s not the same thing, though many people think that it is. Getting on a player or a coach about their appearance or their weight is just weak and it has nothing to with performance. Even worse, shouting things about a player’s family is just worthless, especially kids. Another place that is just unapproachable is a serious illness. I must say I haven’t seen many American fans do this, but when Glen Roeder was managing Newcastle, fans of West Ham yelled that they wished his brain tumor had killed him. That isn’t passion or supporting your team, that’s just psychotic. Even so, I’ve seen some pretty awful stuff from my American compatriots. I won’t even get into homophobic and racial taunts. It is especially sad to me that European Soccer Leagues need a yearly campaign to “Say no to Racism.”
The boos are kind of harsh, but in almost any professional arena, criticism is actually worse than a chorus of boos. Boos fade after a while, written comments last. Take my chosen profession. At various points in my career my writing has been labeled, “weak” “flabby” and “workman-like.” Not exactly what one would call constructive criticism (and what the fuck does flabby mean anyway?) I’ve been rejected for grants, scholarships and jobs on a pretty regular basis, sometimes with feedback, but more often with dead silence. I would welcome a phone call one day after I submitted an article and the editor said, “you suck! BOO!” At least I would know where I stood. Even so, I keep at it despite the harsh cold world and I think Adam Dunn can do it too. If he can’t maybe he should look for another line of work.