I was a freshman at UGA when Steve Spurrier announced that he was leaving Florida to coach in the NFL. I’ll never forget what campus felt like that day. Everybody was kind of walking around in disbelief. In truth, we were disappointed.
For certain, we all hated Steve Spurrier and his Florida Gators, at least in that “sports hate” kind of way that is (hopefully) different than true hate, though there are some of us that have a hard time making the separation. Regardless, though we despised Spurrier in the realm of football, we still respected him, and we were going to miss him. He was a worthy arch-nemesis.
We didn’t want him to leave. We wanted him to stay so that maybe one day we could beat him. And maybe in some way that we never wanted to admit, we all knew that the SEC was better because he was a part of it.
The media will often apply the tag of “most hated team” to the notoriously dominant, such as the Yankees or the Heat. While there may be valid arguable reasons to disapprove of the ways in which these organizations have conducted themselves, to call them the “most hated” is much more of a marketing ploy (often nourished by those clubs themselves) than any actual truth.
I remember speaking with a group of friendly Florida students at the GA-Florida game one year. They admitted to me that they loved the fact that everybody else “hated” them, particularly because they knew it was, in part, fueled by jealousy of their success.
However, there exists a different type of hate in sports that is much less spoken-of because it doesn’t help sell advertising space for games on television. This type of sports-hate is unfortunately much darker, but readers of this blog will instantly recognize what I’m talking about. It’s the type of hate which lacks respect. It’s the type of hate that involves disgust, mockery, or simply being ignored.
This is the type of hate that is reserved for the Atlanta Hawks: the most hated team in the NBA.
If you’re not a Hawks fan, you’ll likely disagree. You don’t hate the Hawks, because it has never occurred to you to hate them. This is because the Hawks are consistently dismissed on nearly every level of sports media. Even when the team is arguably relevant – like this season when the Hawks finished with the 4th best record in the Eastern Conference despite losing Al Horford early in the year – we are avoided at all costs. ESPN anchors cringe when they are forced to actually take note of our team, breezing past the topic as quickly as possible as if we were lepers.
Charles Barkley, an employee of Atlanta-based TNT, can openly hate on the Hawks on the air, not in an analytical fashion, but in pure disgust. Nobody bats an eyelash, except maybe to pile on with him. The Charlotte Bobcats received more attention for being the worst team in league history than the Hawks did this season.
The team that is hated the most isn’t the team that has broken the rules or carries a sickening arrogance. Those teams still carry throngs of fans who are happy to be the villains, and those teams will still catch the lead spot on SportsCenter every other day.
The team that is hated the most is the team that everybody simply wishes would disappear, and even in the city of Atlanta, this is largely true of the Hawks.
I’m not a total pessimist; I believe that there could be a culture change for our organization. The one thing that hasn’t waivered is this: athletes love our city, even if they don’t necessarily want to play for it. It is a seed of potential that could possibly grow into something better, though like a garden, it requires the right kind of attention and care to do so.
And there are those like me, who despite being mocked and verbally spat on (or even worse, completely ignored) by the rest of sports world, will continue to pull for that team to drag itself out of the abyss.