A Dallas basketball team won the NBA title last week, but to hear most people tell the story, LeBron James lost it.
They say it with glee.
“LeBron thought he was so great. Ha-ha. Look at how he messed up at the end!”
All across the country, people rejoiced in the comeuppance of LeBron and his Miami Heat teammates, who had banded together through free agency to try to build a super team. It’s not exactly a crime. But the hubris they showed, people said, turned public opinion against them.
So much so that far more people were rooting for Miami to crumble than were actually passionate about Dallas winning.
At the same time, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner was embroiled in his sexting scandal. He tried to save his job. Apologized. Went to rehab. But as more naughty photos and racy messages emerged, you could hear the screams rising. “Quit! Quit! Quit!”
Finally, under the weight of that chorus, he did. And today, just a few days later, nobody cares what he does with his camera or his crotch. It’s as if a thirst has been quenched.
There’s a thread that runs through these two issues. Some call it “Hating On.” I call it “Rooting Against.” It seems this is becoming at least as popular as “Rooting For.”
Maybe even more so.
Tiger, Palin, A-Rod …
Think about it. The passion to see people fail feels hotter these days than the pulling for a winner. After Tiger Woods’ scandal, you could feel the tide of public opinion hoping someone else – anyone else – won at the Masters, as long as Woods stumbled. (He did. You remember that, right? Now, ask yourself who won.)
Whenever Sarah Palin speaks, polls announce that the majority of people don’t want her for president. Yet they can’t stop listening to her. There’s a waiting audience of critics, and the vitriol that comes her way almost always exceeds the praise.
The New York Yankees are the team personification of Rooting Against. Alex Rodriguez is the Yankee among hated Yankees. Lindsay Lohan is a poster child for this trend in entertainment. Even President Barack Obama seems to inspire a strong undercurrent of folks who delight in seeing him mess up.
I’m not saying there aren’t things not to like about all of these people. But there also may be things to like. Or, at least, things you can ignore.
But we are drawn to Root Against. It has a seductive, burning appeal, a certain satisfaction we draw from another’s failure.
By the way, I am as guilty of this as the next guy. But lately, I’ve been wondering why.
ÂGet back to the real world’
After the NBA Finals were lost, James made these comments about the negative fans:
“All the people that were rooting for me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before…. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live….
“They can get a few days or a few months … on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”
Not surprisingly, he was vilified for this. He apologized, said he wasn’t superior to anyone. Didn’t matter. The hate rained down.
I’m reading his comments, and although they were ill-timed, I’m wondering exactly what he said that wasn’t true? We all do get back to our lives. In fact, we never leave them.
Are we so unhappy in our own daily travails that we revel in the chance to see someone else fail? Wouldn’t it be just as easy to root for someone to win, or to do better, or to come back – and if they don’t, just shrug it off and try to find something else to pull for?
I know it sounds Pollyannaish. But the temperature of this country has gotten hot, anger is far preferred to kindness, and when “Fail!” becomes our battle cry rather than “Succeed!” we should at least ask ourselves why.
After all, that old baseball song says, “It’s root, root, root for the home team; if they don’t win, it’s a shame.” There’s no line about cheering if the other team gets clobbered.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His new play, “Ernie,” runs through July at City Theatre in downtown Detroit. It was inspired by the story of legendary Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell. For information, go to ernietheplay.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).