Hawks' Success Triggers Typical Atlanta Criticism

Arthur YorkCorrespondent IMay 5, 2009

In the post-Civil Rights era, Atlanta's leaders marketed the Southern capitol as "The City Too Busy To Hate." It is ironically fitting that the city has since become the ultimate magnet of hate from sportswriters across the country.

With the Hawks advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" ruled the Billboard charts, nationwide talking heads are once again slinging a heaping helping of hate down South way.

PTI co-host Michael Wilbon called Atlanta "the worst sports town in America" during Monday's show. The day before, former NBA non-factor and current ESPN desk lackey Jon Barry dismissed the Hawks' second round chances with bizarre anger.

After hailing the Hawks' first round with the Miami Heat as "the worst series ever," the unprovoked Barry became increasingly irritated. "Atlanta, don't be proud of this. This is a one-man band you beat. Dwyane Wade. Nobody else. It took you seven games to do it. Here, go have Cleveland, get your four games and go to the summer time."

For lifelong Atlanta fans, Wilbon's and Barry's unfounded hostility is nothing new. Whether it's Sportscenter zooming in on empty seats at a Hawks game, or Baseball Tonight blasting Atlantans for leaving 2,000 remaining tickets for a playoff game, hating Atlanta has long been an attractive go-to for off base sportstalkers.

What these misinformed drones generally do not mention is that the Hawks game was on Monday night and the Hawks were 12-38 at the time, or that MLB scheduled the playoff game for 2:00 pm on a Tuesday, and that Turner Field actually holds over 50,000 fans (Fenway holds just 40,000, and Wrigley 41,000). But of course, how juicy would that story be?

"LOSERVILLE," proclaimed a 1980s Sports Illustrated cover. But from a fandom perspective, Atlanta just doesn't fit the "worst town" bill. Between the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, and NHL teams (Flames and Thrashers), Atlanta has won a whopping one championship in 141 professional seasons. Even so, the city that lists as alumni Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro, Dominique Wilkins, and Chipper Jones has continued to support its teams.

So where does this misguided finger-pointing come from? For starters, 14 years of demolishing virtually every team in Major League Baseball doesn't make people like you very much. In addition, antics and tribulations of high profile characters like Deion Sanders, Chipper Jones, and most recently, Michael Vick, increase exposure and invite haterism.

Another culprit: manners. Atlanta fans are perceived as "too nice" by the national media. After all, what kind of a real fan could you possibly be if you don't wave vicious posters about someone's family, shoot an opposing fan in the parking lot, or pelt Santa Claus with D batteries?

Southerners are also easy targets. It's a self-assuring practice for people from other places to dismiss those in the South as rednecks (especially since there are, of course, no equivalent types of people in the foothills of Pennsylvania, or the backwoods of Illinois...). In any event, labeling everyone below the Mason-Dixon line a racist, shotgun wielding hillbilly makes it easier to send hatred down South when things aren't going your way.

Add to the mix that Atlanta is a city where—ahem—Northerners swarm in order to flee their own pale, frigid, less economically thriving, and generally unseemly locales, and the hatred (read: jealousy) for Atlanta becomes more understandable. Abandoning one's own pasty northern roots for the sunny, booming, good-looking South can saddle one with guilt that is surely painful on the conscience.

As a result, carpetbaggers cling to the only thing from their native wastelands they can hold dear without actually having to go back there: their sports teams. The logical consequence is that Atlanta is in the unique position of serving as the penultimate melting pot for American transients far and wide, and thus our fan pool is severely diluted (read: contaminated).

That being said, I'll admit I've seen it. I have personally experienced some deplorable fan activity. Screaming on offense at Falcons games, asking someone in front of you to sit down in the ninth inning of a tie game, etc., should be ticket-relinquishing moves. But a few isolated incidents do not render an entire fan nation worthy of being "the worst."

So who really deserves the moniker? That, of course, depends on your criteria. If you're judging on fan presence, then no one rivals Miami. This is a city with a baseball team that couldn't pay people enough pesos to come to its games, despite the fact that they have won twice the number of World Series Titles as the Braves—in just one-third of the time. Arizona, San Diego, Tampa, and Minnesota couldn't even sell out their NFL playoff games until the final hour.

And if you're including college sports in your analysis, fan-wise Atlanta is as good as it gets. Situated smack in the geographical heart of the most passionate and skilled football (SEC) and basketball (ACC) conferences, Atlanta is the college sports mecca. Take a trip down any dogwood-lined Atlanta street and you'll see Georgia, Florida, Georgia Tech, Auburn, etc. flags displayed proudly over front doors.

Hawks Coach Mike Woodson responded to Jon Barry's comments Monday, saying "That's why he's doing what he's doing [e.g. averaging 5.3 career PPG] and we're doing what we're doing [e.g. preparing for Round 2]."

But it was Woodson's final words that proved most instructive for the throngs of die-hard Atlanta fans. "I don't even know why I've wasted my words on Jon Barry," Woodson concluded. "What he says don't amount to nothing. I'm moving on."

And move on we shall. What else would you expect from The City Too Busy To Hate?