I have been contemplating for a while why it seems that sports fans are so quick to want someone fired on their favorite teams when times are rough. On the surface it seems obvious, they want accountability held for poor performance and times to get better. But I believe it goes much deeper than that.
If you are on United States sports twitter like I am (and you are reading this, so you probably are) you have noticed a shift in the replies on sports tweets in the last few years. Replies have been diluted to trolling ‘copy and paste’ punchlines like “not a real sport” or “Mickey Mouse LeBum James is washed”. These meaningless comments, written by faceless fan/parody accounts with sub-50 followers, have become so prevalent that they are either 9 of the 10 top replies or 90% of the replies total to a sports post. It is becoming insufferable and shutting out any real conversation on the sports twitter landscape.
At the same time, tweets and other social media posts calling for coaches (head or assistant) to get fired has also been on the rise. If you don’t believe me, search on twitter your favorite coaches name preceded by the word ‘fire’ and you will see literally hundreds of individuals calling for their replacement. I did this exercise during the 2019 college football season and found tweets calling for the firing of Ryan Day, Nick Saban, Dabo Sweeny, Ed Orgeron, and Lincoln Riley. My point then was to show the ridiculousness of calling for the firing a typical successful Head Coach after one loss; but my point now is to highlight how often this is happening. Coaches often do get fired and changes have to be made, but these are typically decisions that come after lots of deliberation by the front offices of teams. If coaches were fired every time fans asked for it to happen, the best coaches in the world would be jobless.
So, what do these two things have in common?
I believe that the rampant trolling on twitter has changed the landscape on sports fandom in the United States in an extremely negative way. Following teams for younger audiences has become more and more of their personalities in the last few years. Look at the bio on a typical twitter account that interacts with @ESPN or @BleacherReport. Usually, it’s the state they live in followed by their favorite four sports teams and their records – often the team’s record is in their name. Being a fan of these teams is not just something they enjoy – it is something that defines them. Because of this they are quick to defend these teams and sometimes players just as quick as they would be to defend themselves. Their least favorite player, say Lebron James or Aaron Judge, becomes a legitimate enemy to them. The failure of a team feels more personal than it ever had.
Someone who fans don’t typically become as attached to is a team’s coaching staff due to the short tenure that is the nature of those jobs. Pinning the issues on the coaches is usually a pretty sophomoric argument but that doesn’t take away how convenient it can be. This way you don’t have to get angry at players as often and allows failures to feel more distant. After any loss for a sports fan, emotions tend to be high. You can hedge this bet by calling for the firing of a coach early and never lose an argument again. If the team you like wins you get to be excited, if they lose you get to say, “I told you so”.
In professional sports only one of thirty teams can win it all and in college the odds are even less. It can feel good to say “your team will never win” despite the odds being massively on your side. If that team does win, it can always be explained away by “bad refs” or “easy schedule”. You can say, my team will never win with this guy as our coach – and odds are you’re right.
My convoluted point is this, we need to stop allowing sports teams to become so integrated into our personalities. We need to stop allowing trolls on twitter to force us to hedge our favorite teams with why they wont win and why its at least better on my favorite team than it is on yours. I guarantee that even the athletes competing don’t get as emotional as some fans. You are allowed to get excited for a regular season win and you’re allowed to think that your team is the best there is. You don’t have to answer to @NetsFan697(22-10) saying that Joel Embiid sucks because you know he doesn’t.
I beg fans, enjoy sports as they are intended to be enjoyed. Trust that the right moves will be made eventually to bring your favorite team to the playoffs and please have fun during wins and shrug off losses. Engage only in real debate with individuals arguing in good faith. Anything less than this is pointless.
Hopefully soon the discussion on twitter can again resemble something worth participating in.