Sports Schadenfreude: 15 Times It's OK to Be a Hater
"Hater" is more of a defense mechanism than a label. Calling critics "haters" is an easy way to avoid accountability and justify bad behavior. This holds true in sports, but with a few caveats. In a world shaped by team- and institutionally driven competition, there are more opportunities for players to legitimately call out their haters.
Star athletes and influential industry figures are inherently polarizing, but the source of all the angst is usually tied to a franchise or organization, rather than actual grievances. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady doesn't know me, much less has he done anything to personally offend me—in fact, he seems lovely—but I hate him, because over the duration of his career he has tormented my Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite this dynamic, which gives circumstantial legitimacy to calling out the haters, there are situations where athletes and other people in the industry deserve to hear from them—moments of schadenfreude for fans. Sometimes, it's because past transgressions were never addressed, or maybe it's just because they did something really dumb.
This is sports schadenfreude: 15 times it's OK to be a hater.
When Bad Owners Do Dumb Things
These days, most sports franchise owners are billionaires, which makes it difficult to muster up sympathy for them, even under the most extreme circumstances.
So when someone, say for instance Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, wastes a first-round draft pick on an undersized, oversocialized quarterback on the advice of a homeless man and it blows up in his face, a laugh at his expense is warranted.
Or when someone, say for instance Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, is so woefully incompetent at his job that it takes him less than two years to solidify a place among the worst owners in all of American sports.
Haslam is an unsuccessful owner who appears to be terrible at his job, so it’s more than OK to hate on the guy—especially if you’re a Browns fan.
When Players Are Injured Celebrating
Act like you’ve been there before—that’s an expression commonly heard in sports. It’s about sportsmanship, pure and simple. On the other side of every success in sports, whether it’s a game or a big play, there’s a failure.
That’s something players and coaches should always keep in mind when they’re celebrating; they should keep things both respectful and proportional. If a player makes a game-clinching interception as time is expiring in the Super Bowl, well then, he and his teammates are free to celebrate on the field for as long as their hearts desire.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL while celebrating a fourth-quarter sack against the Patriots in October 2014. Not only was Chicago an unimpressive 3-4 going into the game, but they lost to New England 51-23.
And remember back in 2001 when Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica tore his ACL while celebrating a successful field goal during a game against the New York Giants? That happened about seven minutes into the first quarter of a 0-0 game—a game the Cardinals lost 17-10.
When a Dominant Team Seems Unstoppable
Going into the 2007 NFL playoffs, the undefeated Patriots were an offensive juggernaut whose average margin of victory through 16 games was 20 points.
If any team was ever a sure thing going into the postseason, it was that Patriots team. That sentiment was clearly shared in New England, based on the franchise moving to trademark “19-0” and “19-0 The Perfect Season” weeks before Super Bowl XLII was to be played.
It seemed every non-Patriots fan in the world wanted the Giants to win that game, which they did in dramatic fashion. When the trademark news broke not long after, New England’s "18 and D’oh!" season was all the more fun to laugh at.
When Social Media Stupidity Happens
Despite the countless examples of athletes, staff and organizations saying or posting regrettable things on social media, people in sports can't seem to help themselves. Apps like Twitter and Instagram make words and images almost instantly accessible to an audience of millions, and when the offender realizes his or her mistake, deleting it doesn't make it go away.
And this is an instance where the hater backlash is intimate and experienced in real time—and almost always warranted.
There was former NFL running back Rashard Mendenhall's posts about 9/11, a joke about sexual assault on the Los Angeles Kings' Twitter account, the NSFW pic posted on Texans wide receiver Marcus Jordan's Twitter and seemingly everything former PGA golfer Steve Elkington has ever tweeted—the list can go on forever.
When People Don't Live Up to Their Own Standards
As kids we all had to accept the "do as I say, not as I do" stuff that parents are famous for. Frankly, one of the most compelling reasons to have children is just so one has the chance to confidently respond to any questioning of one’s authority with that frustrating phrase which plagues most childhoods—because I said so.
With few exceptions, that message doesn’t fly when adults are dealing with other adults. Take NFL overlord Roger Goodell, for instance, whose tenure as commissioner has been dedicated to heavy-handed discipline and fostering lucrative partnerships with every company on earth—anyone else waiting with baited breath to find out the official hemorrhoid cream and enema kit of the NFL?
When the league levied unprecedented discipline on the Saints franchise and various players and members of the coaching staff in the wake of Bountygate, Goodell said that "ignorance is no excuse," according to what Drew Brees told ESPN.com's Mike Triplett (via CBS Sports' John Breech). Yet when the Ray Rice scandal broke last year and the fallout plagued Goodell for months, the only thing he seemed to offer were claims of ignorance.
Payton was suspended for an entire season. Goodell wasn’t even verbally reprimanded. The closest Goodell got to being held accountable for his recent failures was when former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the man he appointed to handle the Bountygate appeals, vacated four previously handed-down player punishments.
When Cheaters and Liars Bring Everyone Down Around Them
Generally speaking, there are few things we as sports fans hate more than athletes cheating. One of the aforementioned few things we hate more than cheating is lying, especially when someone is lying about cheating.
In the history of sports, there is arguably no bigger cheater and liar than disgraced former cyclist Lance Armstrong. With each of his seven consecutive Tour de France titles, the rumors about alleged cheating continued to grow. That despite never failing a single one of the approximately 200 drug tests he was given.
Armstrong was an American hero, plain and simple, a cancer survivor who many believed had earned the benefit of the doubt. Which is why so many people took it personally when the full extent of years of deception was finally revealed. And for no one was it more personal than for the lives he ruined along the way, as claimed by former teammate Frankie Andreu, according to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (via The Telegraph).
When People Show No Remorse for Terrible Actions
With the possible exception of a dramatic underdog story, there’s nothing people love more than a story of redemption. They may be rich and famous and living lives the rest of us could never even dream of, but athletes and other celebrity types are people too. They make mistakes, just like the rest of us—some more severe than others.
Although it’s true that we as a society are far too eager to tear down our idols, at least we’re willing to give most offenders (whose misdeeds don’t preclude it) a second chance. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who was arrested and ultimately indicted for felony child abuse in September 2014, is a prime example. The details were disturbing, with the incident sparking a national debate about the use of corporal punishing—whether or not it should have a place in a civilized society and, if so, how far is too far?
Although he conceded his actions crossed a line and apologized in his official statement, he has never expressed any true understanding of the situation, only noting that he doesn’t believe himself to be a “child abuser” and that he remained “confident with [his] actions.” And his decision to point out he was disciplined the same way as a child doesn't excuse his decision-making as a parent. In fact, based on recent statements made and actions taken by Peterson and his management team, it’s become abundantly clear that he believes himself to be the true victim.
When Players Poison Everything They Touch
On the NFL career receiving list, Terrell “I love me some me” Owens ranks behind only Jerry Rice in all-time yards. On the list of all-time beloved football players, however, Owens probably falls somewhere much, much lower.
Over the course of his career, Owens reached the 1,000-yard mark nine times with three different teams. He was just 17 yards shy of doing it again his final season with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010. Owens spent his first eight seasons in San Francisco, where he was known to make the life of 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia miserable. Despite his unstoppable, over-the-top offensive production, Owens played on four different teams in his final seven years in the league.
In Philadelphia, his bitter public feud with Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb divided the locker room. After being cut by the Eagles, naturally T.O. signed with the Cowboys. Although his three seasons in Dallas were productive on the field, an increasingly volatile relationship with quarterback Tony Romo and a seemingly paranoid jealousy over Romo’s relationship with tight end Jason Witten led to his release after the 2008 season, according to ESPN.com news services and ESPN's Ed Werder, respectively.
He had one unremarkable season in Buffalo in 2009, before capping off his career in Cincinnati the following year. Not that he appeared ready to retire. At the time Owens still had more than enough left in the tank to be a significant contributor somewhere, but he had simply worn out his welcome. For years T.O. seemed to rub coaches, teammates, front office executives, the media and, of course, fans the wrong way.
It’s very telling that one of the greatest players of all time left five different teams, and none of them appeared sorry to see him leave. Owens has made sporadic efforts to repair his public image and attempted a few comebacks since 2010, with little success.
When Big Spenders Have Big Failures
With various versions of a salary cap having long been implemented in the NFL, NHL and NBA, the MLB stands alone among the four major sports leagues in the U.S. with its salary structure. Without getting into the many arguments for a salary cap in baseball and the relatively few against, let’s just say that it creates an interesting dynamic and set of circumstances that don’t generally exist in other sports.
Even though a salary cap doesn’t necessarily equate to parity or improve the fortunes of tragically mismanaged franchises, it does even the playing field to some degree. The most important aspect of the cap actually isn’t the ceiling—it’s the floor. In 2014 the problem in MLB was not that the Dodgers’ payroll was just over $241 million; the problem was that it was $200 million above the Astros at the bottom.
When there is a gap that wide between the haves and the have-nots, the gap between fans is going to be just as wide. So when the Yankees, Phillies or Cubs are sitting at home in October after a regular season that was (at best) marginally better than the teams spending a fraction of the money on payroll, how can we not take at least a little joy in their failures?
When Athletes Actively Encourage Us to Hate Them
For professional athletes, being hated by certain segments of the population at certain times is simply part of the job. Their mere existence on opposing teams makes them the enemy, and the better they are, the more we tend to hate them.
But there is a massive difference between how we hate on someone like Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is irritatingly successful with a supermodel wife and movie-star good looks to boot, and how we hate on, say, Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.
On the field, Brady is a winner. Off the field, he is a loving husband and a doting father and seems like a genuinely decent human being with a solid sense of humor. Sure, we’ve all taken joy in seeing him lose on the rare occasion, but the hate doesn’t extend far beyond the game for most of us.
On the (NFL) field, Manziel is a nobody who is known more for running his mouth than running the offense in Cleveland. Over the last few years he’s been unapologetically abrasive and public about his penchant for partying.
Manziel’s rookie season was an abject disaster, having started just two games. The first was a 30-0 loss to the Bengals in which he posted a 1.0 QBR; the second was a 17-13 loss to the Panthers in which he suffered a season-ending injury. Carolina fans in the stands cheered as Manziel was carted off.
While there is absolutely no justification for cheering after a player is injured, it was likely the result of an off-putting persona Manziel has fostered. In fact, one week later he hosted a rager that resulted in discipline for a number of teammates in attendance—the fallout for Josh Gordon appeared to be particularly brutal.
Things have been quiet on the Manziel front this offseason, probably because he’s been in rehab for months. The decision to seek treatment was definitely a step in the right direction for the former Heisman winner, but it’s going to be a long process to repair his image.
When Athletes Throw It All Away
Most athletes, if not the overwhelming majority, know just how lucky they are. Not only do they have the love and devotion of countless fans, but they get paid more money than most of us will ever see in a lifetime, doing a job so many would do for free.
That’s why some of the most vicious vitriol from fans is reserved for those we see as throwing it all away. Although some struggle with substance abuse and/or mental illness during their career, others simply don’t care enough to be bothered.
Arrogance and laziness are career-killers at a professional level for young athletes—they’re particularly lethal when combined. Quarterback busts like Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell are two such players who instantly come to mind.
When an Athelete Stares Down a Camera and Lies
This one was touched on previously with Lance Armstrong, but lying and cheating aren’t necessarily the same thing, and they definitely deserve their own entry. Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun may not be the cartoonishly villainous character that Armstrong has proved to be, but he’s definitely a villain.
Coming off the 2011 MVP season, Braun held a dramatic press conference on the field in February 2012 at the Brewers training facility. Having won his appeal of a 50-game suspension, the result of a failed drug test, Braun claimed to be the victim of a mishandled test.
“Today is for everybody who has ever been wrongly accused,” said Braun. “The simple truth is that I’m innocent. The truth is always relevant and the truth prevailed.” He personally accused an innocent man of somehow tainting his sample via a deviation in standard protocol, which had no impact on the results.
We know it had no impact on the results because in August 2013, Braun finally admitted he had used substances banned by the league while rehabilitating an injury. Although he apologized, few were willing to forgive and forget on the spot.
And after that ridiculously public dog-and-pony show he put on 16 months prior, it was strangely satisfying to see him be taken to task for his lies in such a public fashion.
When Players Get Paid and Stop Playing
Whatever your opinion on athlete salaries, the fact is that most of them, particularly those in the NFL, have a limited time to make as much money as possible. For those who have been on a trajectory for the pros since high school, many have been allowed, if not directly encouraged, by people in their lives to prioritize athletics over everything else.
The more talented an athlete is, the less likely he is to be questioned or challenged by anyone. Whatever the flaws in the system are along the way, many of these guys don’t have anything to fall back on, so they need to earn a lifetime of money in just a few years. Which is why all the fan fury surrounding “greedy” players in free agency is so ridiculous.
Well, most of the fury is ridiculous. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an athlete seeking or receiving an obscene amount of money in free agency, as long as signing the contract isn’t the end point, as appeared to be the case with Albert Haynesworth, who was gifted a seven-year deal worth $100 million by the Redskins in February 2009.
A First-Team All-Pro with the Titans in 2007 and 2008, Haynesworth’s defensive production dropped off a cliff in Washington. The situation had deteriorated gravely by September 2010, as evidenced by comments he made during an interview with 106.7 The Fan related to the switch in defensive scheme.
Said Haynesworth, “I guess in this world we don’t have a lot of people with, like backbones. Just because somebody pay you money don’t mean they’ll make you do whatever they want or whatever. I mean, does that mean everything is for sale?” He added, “I mean, I’m not for sale. Yeah, I signed the contract and got paid a lot of money, but...that don’t mean I’m for sale or a slave or whatever.”
Nobody is going to dispute that signing a contract doesn’t make him Daniel Snyder’s "slave," but it’s clear this guy has no idea what a contract actually is. Haynesworth hasn’t played a game since 2010 and hasn’t been on a roster since 2011. Good luck finding a single human being who isn’t related to Haynesworth who feels bad about that.
When Someone Guarantees Victory but Doesn't Deliver
Trash-talking is an entertaining part of sports that fans (who aren’t allergic to fun and in love with lecturing people) love as much as the athletes. Be it through ambiguous messages delivered through the media or face-to-face in-game shouting matches, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little extra drama.
The thing about talk-trashing, however, is that you have to back it up with your game or be willing to eat crow when you come up short. If you’re big and bad enough to personally guarantee victory to a room full of reporters, you darn well better be big and bad enough to face those same reporters if you lose.
Daxter Miles Jr. knows what I mean...now. Recently the WVU freshman guard guaranteed a win against an undefeated juggernaut known as Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats humiliated the Mountaineers, winning 78-39. Following the game, Miles was nowhere to be found. Eventually, he was located hiding inside a handicapped stall in the bathroom and coaxed out, as detailed by CBS Sports' Matt Norlander (via Palm Beach Post's Adam Hirshfield).
WVU assistant coach Erik Martin said he didn’t believe Miles was actually hiding but rather trying to collect his thoughts in private before speaking with the media. Even being generous and assuming that was the case, Miles probably should have run through a few scenarios in his head in advance—just in case. The whole thing was hilarious, and hopefully it succeeded in humbling Miles.
When Someone Is a Genuinely Terrible Person
Listen, it’s been well established that V. Stiviano isn’t someone you want your daughter to grow up to be. Her current court battle with Shelly Sterling over gifts provided to her by Donald Sterling over the years is just all kinds of gross. That being said, Stiviano’s awfulness does absolutely nothing to negate the awfulness of her longtime benefactor and former owner of the L.A. Clippers.
Sterling was forced out of the NBA after Stiviano released to TMZ some of the 500 recordings she made throughout their relationship. On the audio Sterling was clearly heard saying unforgivably racist and otherwise disparaging things about African Americans. They were the kind of statements that, quite frankly, are not just unacceptable coming from the mouth of the owner of a pro sports franchise; they're unacceptable coming from the mouth of anyone.
The scandalous recordings, as well as an equally damning attempt to explain himself via an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, combined with an ugly history of accusations and allegations, both professional and personal, provided more than enough cause for newly minted NBA commissioner Adam Silver to make an example out of Sterling, forcing him to sell the team.
Sterling attempted to fight the sale for months, but his efforts were in vain, as the sale to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was finalized just four months after the recordings were published. Say what you will about the First Amendment right to say terrible things without consequence, but there is nothing in the Constitution that guarantees the right to own an NBA team.