The question isn’t why American sports fans will cheer for anything draped in the uniform of their favorite team. The question is whom American sports fans wouldn’t cheer for if he played for their team.
A serial killer? Let’s not be too hasty in our condemnation. He might be able to shore up the bullpen.
A sadistic parent whose cruelty knows no bounds? Problematic, until you take into account his ability to sack the quarterback.
A sicko whose basement is filled with women he holds prisoner? Bad, bad person. Also a coach on the floor.
Lots of people were aghast after Brewers fans gave relief pitcher Josh Hader a standing ovation Saturday in his first home game since racist and homophobic tweets he posted as a teenager surfaced.
The easy thing is to say that the crowd recognized that Hader was immature when he tweeted his ugliness and wanted to give him a break for his youthful indiscretions. We all make mistakes when we’re kids, etc. But the history of fans forgiving terrible behavior is so lengthy that it’s impossible to read something so reasonable into the crowd’s response.
If you want to make it about race, saying that this crowd treated Hader differently for racist posts than angry crowds treated Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem, fair enough. But having seen fans fawn over anything and everything associated with the teams they love, I would guess that the ovation Hader received had little to do with whatever views he held in high school and more to do with the tribalism of belonging to (and rooting for) a team.
When the Cubs traded for closer Aroldis Chapman in 2016, it elicited a harsh reaction from women’s groups and domestic-violence counselors. Major League Baseball had suspended Chapman for 30 games earlier in the season for allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing eight bullets in the garage of his home. The Cubs argued that they had done their homework on the pitcher and that they believed he would be a solid citizen from then on.
If there were fans at Wrigley Field who were repulsed by Chapman’s behavior, they were drowned out by a crowd delighted by his ability to throw a baseball very, very hard.
“A smattering of boos could be heard amid a much louder chorus of cheers,’’ the Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer wrote after the closer’s Wrigley debut. “And the boos turned to oohs [and aahs] when his first pitch registered a 101 reading on the scoreboard radar display. Second pitch: 101. Third pitch: 102.’’
In the half-second it takes for a 100 mph fastball to reach home plate, all was forgiven.
When Alex Rodriguez returned after missing the 2014 season due to a drug suspension, fans gave him a standing ovation on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. So what if he cheated, that ovation said; he’s our cheater.
Fans forgive their heroes for sins that they wouldn’t forgive their brother for committing. In 2015, cheering Vikings fans in Santa Clara, California, stopped Adrian Peterson for autographs. He had just finished his first game since being suspended for most of the previous season for using a tree branch to beat his 4-year-old son on the legs, back, butt and genitals. These people wanted their photos taken with such a person.
In 2017, Vikings fans booed Peterson when he returned to Minnesota for his first game as a Saint. He was now the enemy.
We’re not always so parochial. We’ll forgive and forget someone outside our immediate sports family, too. In 2003, a month after Lakers star Kobe Bryant had been accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel employee, the crowd at the Teen Choice Awards gave him a standing ovation for being voted Favorite Male Athlete. It was a reminder that Americans are smitten by celebrity, not that we needed another one.
When Tiger Woods’ life seemed to be spiraling out of control — a 2009 scandal that eventually led to sex-addiction rehab — fans were upset. He had sold them on his grace and nobility. Now here he was down in the muck. But they eventually forgave him because they always forgive. They cheered Sunday as he made a run at the British Open, his dalliance with a porn star while he was a husband and father a faint memory.
That’s how we roll.
Brewers fans are no worse than any other group of fans. They’re just the latest ones to show their true colors. They’ll support their own, no matter what. No matter what was done to whom. No matter what was said.
Fans will forgive the little things and the big things, as long as it involves the right uniform. It’s not a good look on anyone.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcastsand Google Play, or via RSS feed.