Midnight in the Garden of Incivility and Outrage

By John Gorman

Last night was another scintillating tilt between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, two top-flight teams who consistently play basketball at the highest level I’ve seen in my lifetime.

That said, I wanna take a step back for a minute, and discuss something even more important. Something that obscures the wondrous radiance of last night’s cosmic basketballgasm: An epidemic of incivility and misdirected anger is brewing, from sports fans towards the many fine folks who are gifted and ambitious enough to cover sports professionally. I saw this last night, over and over.

I witnessed deranged buckets of bluster engaging and enraging journalists with whom they vehemently disagree with eloquent declarations like “Your dumb. I hate u. Die.”

I saw well-respected women journalists getting the “get in the kitchen. Women shouldn’t talk about sports” F**k You” Smoke Ring blown in their faces.

I saw well-respected African-American journalists getting the n-word dropped on them.

These are for sins as egregious as suggesting things like maybe Russell Westbrook doesn’t need to be a true point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder to be successful … “BUT THEY ARE LOSING! OMG! 25 SHOTS IS TOO MANY! ARE YOU EVEN WATCHING THIS GAME?”

I see sports personalities sucked into a vortex of trumped-up outrage by their simple-minded constituency about sports injustices that should only register an 0.8 on my Quality-of-Life Seismograph. Desperate to be heard and incapable of being taken seriously, fans in droves are yelling over each other and no one is listening.

These journalists, of course, beat down this contingent of hysteria en masse with logic, refinement and the simple act of holding a mirror up to the hideous. It’s the Twitterverse’s very own bizarro Dharasana Satyagraha.

For all our disproportionately-placed passion squarely centered upon sports, for which there are now nearly 300 radio stations exclusively devoted to them, there is a dearth of deep thinking, reason and compassion.

All we need is the game, and the compelling national storylines, delivered by smooth, polished, engaging personalities – with intelligent, fact-based insight and subtle traces of soupçon. Oh, and laughter’s nice.

All this extracurricular, all the incessant 24-7 village-burning, the rampant repetition of tired talking points, and the voracious ouroboros of fans over-digesting a narrative into its binary poles of “Good v. Evil”, “Black v. White”, “Clutch v. Unclutch”, “Corruption v. Incompetence” … it’s exhausting.

Are the schools in this country so bad that the human mind is incapable of detecting nuance? Is parenting so bad that people can’t carry on a dialogue without resorting to name-calling, blanket insults and venomous spittle? Is our value system that unhinged from reality that fans take adults playing a child’s game more deadly serious than the Sub-Saharan HIV pandemic?

Profanity. Racism. Sexism. Slurs. Outrage. Tirades. Ignorance. Idiocy. With a mass of immaturity and underdeveloped mind and character pervading the fan discourse, is it any wonder why Skip Bayless can hold down a television gig at ESPN?

Nowhere is this more evident than in the public’s mistreatment of LeBron James.

When LeBron James signed, sealed, delivered himself from Cleveland’s Rust Belt charm to the glitz and glamour of South Beach, the rhetoric from the masses was (and is still) “he held them hostage!” “He let them down!”

Wake up, fans. He was well within his right to do this. Sure, the execution lends itself to allegations of self-indulgence, naivete and ultimately felt like a stab in the back. But that was two YEARS ago. Wounds heal. Emotions decompose. And, I think most importantly, “The Decision” and “The Welcome Party” weren’t about you. Your quality of life, the just and unjust order of the world, didn’t get thrown into an irrevocable tailspin that day.

And now it’s impossible for the screaming lynch-mob to make peace with the events of the Summer of 2010. They cloud your every judgment of a man who’s only made three NBA Finals appearances, won three MVP awards and regularly posts numbers and make plays that cause even the most sane and rational observers to throw up their hands and proclaim, “We Are All Witnesses.” And, yet, you act like LeBron owes you something. He owes you nothing. You owe him, and the people who cover him, respect and civility.

So when fans say athletes and/or journalists don’t represent their values (and that’s a common chorus for a myriad of reasons too numerous to get into without derailing my point and creating a warp zone to a second column), they’re probably right. Athletes, propped up by extra zeroes on their paychecks, journalists, who work their asses off to feed an insatiable beast a healthier diet than they deserve, have developed the gift of perspective. They have a better idea of what’s important than Joe Angry Twitterprick from Peoria.

Many writers just want to do what’s best, and maybe provide for their families and realize and maximize their full potential. Success, wealth, fame, fortune, independence, knowledge. We should all be so blessed and ambitious to all strive for these to some degree. Just because someone’s rewarded more lucratively, or spends a greater amount of time talking on TV or in print, doesn’t mean their path to a rich, adventurous, fulfilling life deserves heavy scrutiny to the point of institutionalized insanity.

It all wreaks of jealousy, pettiness, lunacy. There is no black and white. There is no good and evil. Conspiracy theories are not Occam’s Razor and they’re not even in the nominee envelope to be selected as such. Athletes and journalists don’t exist to serve you. They don’t sit, stand, jump, dunk, write, pontificate, eat, shuck-n-jive on command for you. They’re slave to the news cycle, which with each passing day of fanatical outrage looks less like a cycle and more like a cyclone.

So, folks. You want to step up to the microphone and deliver a strong take on the Miami Heat’s fourth-quarter woes? On the incompetence and corruption of NBA referees? You want to psychoanalyze LeBron James and Russell Westbrook? Great. Choose your words wisely and keep your emotions in check. When you selfishly sling verbal grenades at journalists for the sake of getting your name out there, the same journalists – by the way – that you consistently beg and plea and whine for Retweets and Mentions because your fragile, undeveloped, coddled egos require a perpetual stream of superficial validation, you’re taking a flame-thrower to the little credibility that an ain’t-done-jack nobody like you has spent an entire lifetime trying to sweep back into it’s broken jar.

And you’re making too much racket. There’s a good game on. And I’m trying to watch it.

You May Also Like