Cheering against teams is a part of sports. So is cheering against individual players, whether you think that the player is dirty, arrogant, or disloyal to former teams (see: Damon, Johnny). But cheering because a player is seriously injured? No true sports fan does that.
I’m talking about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s left knee injury, of course. The biggest star on the biggest team in the league falling to the ground, clutching his knee, and staying down for what seemed like hours has generated plenty of press from writers and readers alike. Unfortunately, the comments that readers have made are more triumphant than sympathetic. Some are sneering at “karma” coming back to Brady and his Patriots. Others are hoping that it’s the end of Brady’s career. Still others are singing the praises of Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard, who made the awkward and painful-looking hit. And then there are the people like me, who are disgusted by all of the above.
Granted, I am a slightly rabid Patriots fan. I’m predisposed to being annoyed by negative coverage and comments about the Patriots — and there have been plenty of both in the last year (Spygate, a Super Bowl loss, bizarre drug probes, free agency losses, an 0-4 preseason). But these kinds of comments are completely unwarranted, particularly for a player generally portrayed as the consummate professional. Rather than reveling in the news, any genuine football fan should have winced instead.
Joy at another person’s pain is never an appropriate emotion, even in a sport as brutal as football. If you had suffered a season-ending knee injury and actually screamed in pain on the turf, would you want people to laugh at your misfortune and say you deserved it? Or would you hope and expect that they would treat you like a human first and a vilified opponent second?
The animosity toward the Patriots is deafening at this point.
When Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a “devastating and career-threatening” knee injury in 2006, I recall people expressing dismay for Palmer’s knee and the Bengals’ season — despite the team’s myriad legal problems.
When San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers revealed that he had played in the 2008 American Football Conference Championship Game with a partially torn ACL and needed multiple surgeries, I recall people respecting Rivers for his toughness rather than cheering that he might not be ready for training camp — despite his being labeled a “punk” for trash-talking.
When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning recently had surgery to remove an inflamed bursa sac from his left knee and missed every preseason game, I recall people hoping he would be ready in time for the season-opener — despite his frequent commercial overexposure.
In case you missed my point, people are generally supportive towards teams and athletes that have been ravaged by injuries, regardless of their individual circumstances. And if they are secretly happy, they usually keep their mouths shut about it — or at least they’re in the minority.
I understand that people don’t like the Patriots, and I don’t really care if it’s because of the Patriots’ sustained excellence, swaggering confidence, abundant media exposure, or something else. But the Patriots’ likeability — or lack thereof — is not a reason to celebrate an ACL tear and a team’s dashed expectations. And it’s certainly not grounds to congratulate Pollard or express thanks that your team has a clear shot at a playoff berth because of another player’s injury.
Furthermore, exalting in an opponent’s injury is not in the competitive spirit. As an athlete or a sports fan, you should want to face the best competition at its healthiest to see how you or your favorite team stacks up. You should want the opportunity to compete against an opponent at full strength. If you lose, so be it — the other team was better than you. And if you win, knowing that the team was healthy makes it that much sweeter.
I have no problem with rooting for a team to play badly, but I have a problem with rooting for a team to suffer injuries. The former concerns execution and concentration. The latter concerns health and safety. True sports fans understand the difference.