Sporty Feelings

As an avid sports fan, I often cross over the line of respecting sportspeople and not hating on teams and persons associated with these teams. For example, I support Manchester United, and I am a fan of the Red Bull driving program, but Sebastian Vettel (and consequently, at present, Ferrari) as a driver. Consequently, for me, it’s almost a natural response to resent Liverpool Football Club and Manchester City, and despise the fact that Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are winning so consistently. As a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, I’m extremely disappointed that another team has dominated the NBA for so long, and as a Royal Challengers Bangalore supporter, it is disheartening to see Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians do well year after year.

I’m going to focus this entry on individual personalities. Over the course of the last two years, as Lewis Hamilton wrapped up his fifth and sixth Drivers World Championship titles, I’ve grown increasingly disgruntled with seeing him win so regularly. I’ve watched a lot of videos, and with Formula One in particular – and this can be extended to several sports, there is a lot of effort put in by the team (in the construction of the chassis, for example) that complement the driver’s ability to drive quick. What becomes clear is that Hamilton’s dominance is down to there being perfect harmony, efficiency and success across both fronts. I noticed that I was getting frustrated at him for winning because Vettel was fading in comparison. I also particularly disliked listening to the “Get in there, Lewis!” that I was forced to hear at the end of pretty much every race I watched. In a very weird way, I found myself developing this feeling of contempt toward Lewis Hamilton. Similarly, when the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry was at it’s peak, I found myself disliking Rafael Nadal (a position that has changed considerably). Recounting a list of sportspeople I have, at some point, disliked, is far too tedious an exercise.

Essentially though, I’m fairly certain these sportspeople could not care less for my opinion. I am just a consumer of the entertainment they put on at differing levels of sporting talent and ability. So as Formula One is about to make a return, and with the things that have happened over the last couple of months, I’ve found myself wondering:  Where does my dislike stem from? Is it worth it?

This essay at its core will attempt to address that question. If you want to stop reading here, the answer is: No, not worth it. Stems out of strong passion for team/personality I support for sporting ability owing to playing style/success/joy received while watching said team/personality.

Essentially, like I’ve outlined above, it feels like any dislike I develop only appears after I develop a preference for a team or a person. Supporting Vettel between 2010 and 2013 was essentially not liking Alonso to win a race (despite knowing how talented he is as a driver). It doesn’t come from anything else, usually. Unless I see repeated instances of individuals and public figures doing things I disagree with: that’s another reason I usually find it difficult to like them.

The reason I think it’s not worth holding onto those feelings anymore, stems out of something bigger. This period, the coronavirus period, has given me the chance to really think about how I look at sports and entertainment and public figures generally. It’s become more evident now than it was before that these individuals have personal and private lives – lives that some of them have opened up to us, and some of them have left closed to us over the past few months. They’re all incredibly talented as sportspeople to be at the pinnacle of their sports, but it’s this personal side that’s really shone through recently. Holding on to the dislike, I found it difficult to understand the kind of projects that these drivers, for example, commit themselves to in their free time, and the kind of things they think about and express outside of Formula One. Something I noticed was when some celebrity I disliked expressed an opinion I agreed with on an issue, my brain seemed to switch on a “be wary” mode, that claimed “oh they’re doing it for the PR”, while an identical statement by somebody I liked already led to the “oh good on you for showing support” mode.

I don’t think that should happen.

Now, how do I reconcile this with being a sports fan with clear preferences?

I think I’m going to appreciate sporting talent more – become a little more objective. While this is hopefully not going to lessen the amount of passion I have for the club/individual I support, I think I’m going to appreciate talent and skill far more now. Offer compliments and say good things when someone I don’t support wins (unless there’s genuinely something to be ticked off about). What I’m hoping this will do is reduce the amount of distaste I have for them. It’s too negative a feeling to hold on to.

The second is to observe the kinds of things these individuals do away from their primary arenas if they choose to share it with us. A lot of individuals may do things they don’t share with us, but several of these public figures have public platforms – and they can use these positions to influence so many things around the world. A lot of them do, and I’m woefully unaware of those happenings, of the kind of good they’re attempting to generate with their spheres of influence. I’d like to follow that more keenly, if nothing, to understand who these people are more – because they’re just like us – they’re people. None of them have done anything directly to hurt me: so I don’t think I should hold any negative sentiment against them.

A recent example of this is looking at everything Lewis Hamilton did. I’m glad he spoke up when he did, and he’s got a lot of conversation in the paddock about the exclusivity of Formula One, which is already financially inaccessible to so many individuals. There’s a broader conversation about diversity it’s triggered off, and I do have a heightened level of appreciation for Lewis off-track for how incredibly he seems to have matured over his career learning from his past, and how he manages so many things at one go without letting them affect his main passions. I’d like to learn that. There’s also the six world championships which I have to admit come out of a level of domination we haven’t seen in a while. He’s in a class of his own at the moment.

I really don’t know why I’m trying to be so objective about something that incites so many emotions in me. I’ve cried when the team I’ve supported has lost Test matches in cricket. I didn’t sleep when the Netherlands lost the 2010 World Cup Final and I was supremely ticked off the day after India lost the 2017 Champions Trophy Final. All of those, however are examples of chances being grasped at better than the opposition. I’ve got to admire and respect that.

A large portion of this thinking is also inspired by “Hate to Love” on the Cricket Monthly, the AB de Villiers edition is here.

Let me know what you think!

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