Sports schadenfreude

Schadenfreude: Taking pleasure from the suffering of another.

Lisa Simpson taught me this word many years ago. She used it to describe how Homer was feeling when Ned Flanders’ Leftorium was going out of business. It is not a noble feeling.  It mostly stems from jealousy, which is never pretty.  In sports, schadenfreude is pretty common.  In recognition of the Heat’s recent loss, which has to be one of the top sports schadenfreude moments in history, I have compiled a list of other great moments.

10 and 9. Anytime Duke or the Dallas Cowboys lose.  No real reason, I just can’t stand Duke or the Dallas Cowboys
8. Maybe Free Throws should move up on your list.  In an interview on Pardon the Interruption, Coach John Calipari was asked about the importance of free throws.  He responded, in his ever glib manner, “If I made a list of 100 things I use to evaluate a player, free throws wouldn’t be on it.”  A few days later his star player Derrick Rose was at the free throw line with national championship on the line.  A couple of missed free throws later, Kansas beat Coach Cal’s Memphis Tigers and cut down the nets.  A few years later, the Final Four banner in Memphis was taken down.  In light of recent scandals, I’ve actually gained respect for Coach Cal.  At least he isn’t out there writing books about moral values and spirituality.  With him, you know what you get – a few temporary banners to hang in your gym.

7. The Patron Saint of the Sweater Vest resigns.  Under normal circumstances, I don’t take pleasure in someone losing their job.  As unemployment in this country remains over 9%, it seems particularly insensitive to laugh when someone new is added to the list.  But when the guy in question has written a book called The Winners’ Manual for the Game of Life, and he resigns in the midst of a growing cheating scandal that suggests systemic corruption, I can’t help but enjoy his downfall.  I’m not sure if there is a chapter in Jim Tressel’s book about maintaining a culture of lies and intentionally turning a blind eye as his spoiled athletes cheat the system.  I haven’t read it, and don’t plan to.  I think what’s worse are reports from Buckeye fans that are defending this guy.  They are blaming Terelle Pryor for “bringing down” their god.  Pryor certainly isn’t blameless, and he might have been the catalyst for getting him caught, but being mad at him for exposing Tressel is like getting mad at Toto for revealing the Wizard.  That whole good-guy image was just smoke and mirrors.

6. Timeout!  The Fab Five was one of the most polarizing teams in college basketball history.  Love them or hate them, they helped define an era of basketball.  Count me in the group of people that couldn’t stand ‘em.  Looking back now, I can see that much of the vitriol aimed at Michigan was about class and race, but I don’t think that was why I didn’t like them.  I just don’t like Michigan.  So when the Wolverines and North Carolina were playing for a national championship in 1993, I was pulling for the Tar Heels. North Carolina was up 73-71 with 19 seconds left in the game when Chris Weber snagged a rebound.  He awkwardly took the ball up the court, and then got caught in a trap along the sideline.  Fearful of giving up the ball, and unable to find an open man, Weber called a timeout.

Usually that would be considered a good move.  The only problem was that Michigan didn’t have any more timeouts.  With 11 second remaining, a technical foul was called against the Flub Five.  Two free throws plus the ball meant that Carolina won 77-71.

The Fab Five produced two Final Fours, but neither banner hangs in the Crisler Arena anymore.   In 2002, a widespread cash for play scandal was revealed.  There were indictments, forfeited games, and for all those that couldn’t stand the Fab Five, a lot of schadendreude.

5. The Rich Rodriguez Era. When I was in High School I was visiting my brother at the University of Illinois. One of his fraternity brothers taught me a filthy version of “Hail to the Victors.” I didn’t even understand what all the words meant, but I knew one thing: Michigan sucks. Unfortunately, this was more wishful thinking than actually describing the quality of Michigan’s football teams. They (along with Ohio State) have dominated the Big Ten. They’ve won 42 conference titles, and been to 20 Rose Bowls. Seriously, Michigan is the worst. Even their colors are pretentious – It’s Yellow!

After hiring Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia, there were lawsuits, players quitting, an NCAA investigation and mediocrity on the field.  I watched it all with glee.  In three seasons with Rich Rod at the helm, the Wolverines went 15-22 and won only six Big Ten games.  He was fired last year after a 7-6 season and a loss in the Gator Bowl.

5a. The Charlie Weis Era.  For pretty much all the same reasons.  Some think that College Football is better when Notre Dame and Michigan are good.  I’m not one of them.  I hate it when they play each other, I honestly cannot decide which team I want to lose more. The Brian Kelly era hasn’t exactly been stellar either – I still cannot believe he wasn’t punished more severely for his irresponsible actions surrounding the death of Declan Sullivan.

4. The Exception to the Rule: Corey Wooten’s first career sack. When I started thinking about this list I thought to myself, “No injuries.” I have never taken joy out of someone getting injured while playing sports. Then I remembered the exception. I’m not sure if anyone in sports history has ever done so much to lose respect and appreciation without doing anything illegal as Bret Favre. As a Packer, I hated the guy because he beat my Bears so much, but I always respected him. I respected his play, his joy, and his toughness. He seemed like the kind of guy that would be fun to play with and against. Then the retirement carousel began. It was all so narcissistic. Every August for three – or was it four – years, the Favre Watch would start. Would he retire? Would he call a press conference? Who would he play for? It all got so tiresome as he held one franchise after another hostage.

He ended his career with the Packers by throwing an interception in the NFC Championship. He should have ended his career with the Viking the same way. Instead, he came back for another year in 2011. This is how it ended, maybe.

3. One word: “Bartman.” The Cubs may be the lovable losers for everyone else in the country, but to  White Sox fans, only one of those terms applies. In 2003, the Cubs were five outs from going to their first World Series since 1945. They were up 3-0 over the Marlins in the top of the eighth inning of game 6 and held a 3-2 series advantage. Mark Pryor was rolling, and Cubs fans everywhere believed that the temperature in hell had reached the mid-40s. I was watching the game in my living room, sitting on my chair. A Lifelong Phillies and Sox fan, I was actually half-heartedly pulling for the Cubs.Chicago baseball had been so bad for so long, I was ready for a World Series in Chicago.

Then Luis Castillo hit what seemed like a meaningless foul ball. Leftfielder Moises Alou was under it, but against the wall. A Cubs fan, wearing a Cubs hat, ear phones, and a green turtleneck  under a black sweatshirt did what any other fan would have done in the same situation. He tried to catch a foul ball. In the process, he knocked it away from Alou. Instead of being the second out of the inning, Castillo walked. Before the inning was over, eight Marlins crossed the plate. The Cubs lost 8-3. After the inning, I laughed and told my wife, “That is so Cub-like.” In game 7, the Cubs had their ace Kerry Wood on the mound with a 5-3 lead after four innings. Bartman had nothing to do with them losing that game 9-6.

In the aftermath, the ball has been destroyed, Steve Bartman was forced into a semi-exilic state. Bartman will forever be remembered in Chicago. Some will remember him with pain and anguish. Others, like me, will remember him with a light chuckle and a dash of schadenfreude.

2. The Yankees lose.  Ttttthhhhhheeeeeeee Yankees. Lose!

Yankee-hating is a long-standing tradition in America, and for good reason. Steinbrenner, Jackson, Martin, Cashman, Jeter, A-Rod, and a legion of annoyingly arrogant New Yorkers created the original Evil Empire. The majority of the 80s can be added to this list as the Yankees floundered, much to the joy of most long-time baseball fans. In the mid-90s though, the golden era of Yankee-hating ended. In 2004, the Yankees had won 5 of the last 6 league pennants. The Yankees had beaten the Red Sox in seven games the year before. The Yankees owned the Red Sox. The Yankees were THE dominant force in baseball. After getting trounced 19-8 in game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, it looked like another horrible end for the Red Sox. Thus began the greatest collapse in the history of baseball. There was a rare Rivera blown-save, a bloody sock, a bunch of “idiots” with long hair, and David Ortiz hitting what seemed like a dozen home runs, including a two-run walk-off bomb in the bottom of the 12th in game 4

Looking back, Schilling has become more and more annoying, Ortiz and Ramirez have both been implicated in the steroid-era, and the ultimate “idiot” Johnny Damon joined the Dark Side. The Red Sox have their own brand of annoyingly arrogant fans – a sort of Mini-Me to the Yankees Dr. Evil. But at the time, for Yankees haters everywhere, the 2004 ALCS was prime schadenfreude material.

1. LeBron James and the Heat lose to the Dallas Mavericks.

I used to like Lebron. When he was a rookie, I picked him a little early in a fantasy draft. Other managers ridiculed me, telling me he was “all hype.” I believed the hype, and his all-around excellence helped my team win the league championship. He has since developed into what appears to be an unstoppable force. When the Bulls were struggling through the Del Negro mediocrity, the Cavs were my second favorite team. Even after The Decision, I didn’t join in the venomous attacks on Lebron. I figured, he took less money to play with friends and go after a championship – that’s not all that bad. I was afraid a lot of the venom was more racially motivated than people admitted. But the guy just wore on me, and here’s a quick list of why: 1. The team just seemed to whine all season, and never understood why they weren’t liked. They painted a big target on themselves, and then wondered why people were taking shots. 2. “The Chosen One” is inked on his back (chosen for what?) 3. The pre-season self-predicted Seven-Peat (or was it eight?) 4. The early celebration in game two. It was just a pattern of self-promotion and premature celebration. So when they basically quit playing with about 60 seconds left in Game 6, I was in full schadenfreude-mode.

So there it is – my all time Top Ten Sports Schadenfreude moments.  I’m not proud of any of it.  Takeing joy from the suffering of others isn’t exactly “Love your neighbor” kind of stuff.  But this is sports, and part of what makes sports are fun is that it’s a fantasy world.  It’s a world where I cheer for the good guys and everyone else is bad.  It’s a world where I care deeply about the results of adults playing kid games.  It’s a world where I can forget about war and poverty and justice and just enjoy great athletes, great drama, and great joy and great suffering – especially if its the Yankees, Wolverines, Cowboys or Favre doing the suffering.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Sports schadenfreude

  1. I did feel a thrill yesterday when the Yanks lost…

  2. FP: What a great post. I’m with you on that top ten and on that basis alone would vote for you to go to GC if I were in your conference.

  3. Dad

    Great post Robb. Without giving it serious thought I’d say that you may have gotten my Top 10 as well, but if I thought for a while I could probably come up with some changes. After all, I’m a lot older and have more to choose from. I did get particular satisfaction from LeBron’s sudden dearth of free throw’s after his celebration of fooling the ref’s with a monster “flop” and subsequent ‘phantom foul’ call in the Bulls series.

    Then D Wade flopped while trying to draw a blocking foul from Brian Cardinal (he was successful). His flapping arms looked like a wounded pelican, but he contacted a player behind him, that he didn’t know was there, causing him to fall awkwardly and injure his hip. Could it be called ‘schadenfreude’ if I felt a twinge of glee as he hobbled to the locker room?

  4. LisaW

    I’m with you on #4 & 5. My football dream is that at a Michigan-Notre Dame game, a meteor will drop from the sky, thereby destroying both teams.

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