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Patriots

When Did Sports Fans Get So Mad?

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Tom Brady (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — These days, it truly is the golden era of being a sports fan. If you want, you can watch every single sporting event on the planet without ever leaving your couch. With live TV packages, league networks and online subscriptions, the only thing stopping fans from consuming sports is a lack of hours in the day (and that pesky “human interaction” thing that I hear so much about). Information and news is available to fans immediately as it breaks, with quotes hitting Twitter as they are spoken and an overwhelming flood of statistics sitting just a click of a mouse away.

It’s great all around, so you’d think that sports fans would be happy, right?

Well, they don’t seem to be. If anything, it seems that fans may only be getting angrier as the years wear on here in the sports world.

It’s been especially clear this week, when Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson wrote an article for ESPN.com which claimed that Tom Brady is no longer a top-five quarterback in the NFL. Given the way many fans reacted, you would have thought Monson personally insulted their mothers, stole their dogs and then lit their backyards on fire.

The claim is really not that ridiculous. I think even the most ardent Patriots fan would admit that Brady did not have a great season in 2013. Though there were many understandable reasons for that, the fact remains that Brady ranked sixth in passing yards, 11th in touchdown passes, 17th in passer rating and 21st in completion percentage. Many of us believe he’s plenty capable to bounce back, whereas Monson took the leap to say this is the beginning of the end for one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks.

I personally disagreed with that conclusion, but I didn’t take Monson’s opinion personally, and again, it’s not completely nuts. Some of the hatred and vitriol directed at the writer, however, was indeed completely insane.

Many people — some anonymous, others not so much — hurled swears, insults and threats to berate Monson on Twitter, with some calling for his job and others calling for his head. A quick Twitter search of “@PFF_Sam” provides a glimpse into a section of the human psyche that really ought to remain in the dark. It’s scary stuff.

The gist is this:

Hey, sports person. You said a sports thing and I disagree with your sports thing. I must now curse you out to my own satisfaction.

When did the world get this way?

Aside from the fact that you probably ought to speak with someone, what does such an act prove?

There’s a distinct difference between being a rabid fan of a particular team and being a violently angry person. But the line continues to blur.

It’s really a baffling phenomenon, and it’s certainly not isolated to the Monson/Brady article.

In my own position as a mostly unknown local sports writer, I’ve been subjected to about a million words of hate over the years.

There was the time I wrote about how unfair and absurd the new MLB wild-card system was, and the entire city of Detroit took it as a personal affront and spent the better part of a week verbally assaulting me. There was the time I wrote that WAR is a fine baseball stat but really isn’t all that revolutionary, and that people who speak condescendingly about those who don’t swear by sabermetrics should be less condescending. I was met — surprise, surprise — by an avalanche of condescension.

Just last week, I saw what real venom looks like when I simply suggested a new name for the Redskins. Oh man, people who don’t want to change the name of the Redskins really don’t want anyone to discuss a potential name change of the Redskins.

I’ve received death threats on Twitter from Penguins fans because I wrote that I didn’t like some of Sidney Crosby’s antics. Capitals fans came after me with their claws out because I shed some light on an Alex Ovechkin statistic that they hated. The seven-game series between the Bruins and Canadiens last month was the longest two-week period in the history of the world. Well, at least since the seven-game series between the Bruins and Canadiens from 2011.

I’ve been caught in the crossfire, sometimes being the unintended target of hate because I commented on another person’s opinion. A number of people thought I was the one who wrote that Brady is no longer a top-five quarterback, and they accordingly let me know how bad of a writer I am for it.

I’ve been called an “elitist” for saying the Bills are bad at football. I’ve been called a homer and  Boston hater. I’ve been called a hack and a joke. I’ve been called a disgrace to journalism. I’ve been called a crazy Republican conspiracist and a crazy, typical Boston liberal. Folks have threatened to sue me for my sports opinions, and in my favorite comment ever, I was accused of being “biost” against the Patriots. (My request for folks to use spell check before passing along their hatred will come in a separate story on another day.)

I’ve been called a Yankees fan, a sad Red Sox fan and an idiot Rays fan, sometimes for the same article. I’ve been called a Tom Brady cheerleader and an irrational Brady hater as well.

And that’s just me — a guppy in the giant ocean of sports media. What is life like for the whales, the famous writers, the ones whose stories and opinions routinely reach the eyeballs of millions upon millions of fans?

I recognize that a good number of fans are rational, level-headed folks. It’s just that their voices are often drowned out by the din of hatred, and that noise continues to only grow louder.

Perhaps it’s always been that way but the 24/7 world of sports coverage as well as the increasing role of social media in our lives simply brings it more to the forefront. Yet it just seems that these days, you can’t express your opinion on anything without dealing with some impassioned rage from those fans who feel slighted. Part of it is to be expected, sure, but it seems as though the era of sports rage is running off the rails. It’s become increasingly more common for people to respond to a sports opinion by launching a hate-filled tirade against the person with the audacity to think that person’s favorite player or team has a deficiency of some kind.

It’s sports, people! It’s supposed to be fun. These men are playing games. Games! We watch because it’s exhilarating, it’s fascinating and it’s unpredictable. Media voices do their best to try to make sense of it all and forecast what will come next. It’s fun to watch sports, and it’s fun to talk about sports — or at least, it’s supposed to be.

Instead, it’s just becoming more and more annoying.

I’m not saying we should all watch these sports and sit on our hands and keep our mouths shut. In fact, the more people who are talking about sports, the more fun this all is. I’m just saying we would all stand to benefit if we could be a little bit less angry all the time.

Oh, and just to get a head start on the feedback for this particular story, I’ll kick it off: “Hey Hurley — you mad, bro?”

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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