Why do we hate? Our writers debate

Editor’s note: In response to Forbes magazine’s new list of most disliked people in sports, FOXSports.com national columnist Jen Floyd Engel and national writer Reid Forgrave held an email debate over the topic of hate.

From: Reid Forgrave

To: Jen Floyd Engel

Dear Jen "Little Ball of Hate" Engel,

So tell me, Jen: Why do we hate?

I ask this because Forbes magazine today came out with its annual list of America’s most disliked athletes. Topping the list was Michael Vick, still tainted by the dog-fighting scandal that he’s gone to great lengths to make amends for, and then Tiger Woods, still tainted by the sex scandal that upended his personal life and, apparently, his golf game. Plaxico Burress comes in third, even though he already served his time for a gun crime that was more about stupidity than malice. And coming in fourth is, amazingly, Ndamukong Suh, the arm-stomping Detroit Lions defensive lineman who, get this, was ranked the most-liked player in the NFL by a Forbes poll just four months ago. (He’s also, it should be noted, America’s most charitable athlete.)

I’m wondering what we should take from this poll. Is it just another example of how reactionary we are as a society, where yesterday’s bad news dominates today’s reputations, no matter the good news that happened last week? Is it another example of the subtle ways that race still affects America’s consciousness? (There’s no ignoring the fact that only two on the top 10 list — Alex Rodriguez and Kurt Busch — aren’t African-American or mixed race.) Or is it another example of how silly of a science polling is, yet how often it steers political discourse in America?

What I take from this poll is this: Whatever happened to our society of second chances?

One of the finest aspects of America’s dominant religion is Christianity’s attitude toward second chances: Ask for forgiveness, and you are forgiven. Now I’m not suggesting that we can get inside the heart of someone like Michael Vick to know whether he truly feels chastened for what he did. But publicly at least, Vick has asked forgiveness. He did charity work with the Humane Society. He visited schools and talked to kids about his wrongs. And not to be forgotten is his amazing renaissance on the football field.

There’s no way of knowing whether the athletes on this list truly deserve absolution. Professional athletes live in another stratosphere than the rest of us, surrounded by publicists and image consultants who know how to construct a public apology and make it seem from the heart. Yet ultimately polls like this tell me way more about the way our society is quick to judge and slow to forgive than they give me any insight about the athletes in those polls.

Anyway, why isn’t Brett Favre on this list? With his constant, annoying dalliances with retirement and unretirement, not to mention his fondness for the graphic text message, that’s an athlete I can get behind hating.

In deep, abiding hatred,


From: Jen Floyd Engel

To: Reid Forgrave

We learn so much about one another based on reading habits. And what I now know about you, Reid, is you must have taken a Wall Street bailout or are in love with online slide shows that necessitate a click every 15 words.

Aren’t these the key markers of Forbes’ readership?

Quite guiltily, I clicked through all 10 of what America apparently has decided are its most disliked athletes. And I admit to giggling upon learning LeBron James and Alex Rodriguez still nauseate a good chunk of Americans. This actually gives me hope that we as a country have not fallen as far as Real Housewives of Beverly Hills might indicate.

We have standards. And we do not love every athlete, quite the opposite actually.

You ask why. We hate athletes because we are told to like them. We are told to like them not simply because they are good at their sport but because they are great husbands and awesome parents. We see them only from a distance and we think "Damn, that Tiger Woods really does have his priorities in order. He takes off tournaments to be with his kids."

Then we learn — ear muffs, kids — he was sleeping with anything and everything all while trotting out his wife and kids as props for a life he was not actually leading.

We do not hate the athletes. We hate the lie.

This is why I believe steroids still bother us. We were sold this amazing performance, only to later learn a lot was special effects.

What we want from our athletes is for them to be really good and decent human beings. I am not talking perfect. Hell, we love Josh Hamilton and he’s a hot mess. We just would prefer they not kill dogs or get into situations where a rape charge is even on the table. We don’t want them to raise our kids, just preferably not do things so we have to mute the TV during SportsCenter.

The weird part of this list is the mix of guys who have done or been accused of really bad things and guys who are just kind of bad like LeBron and A-Rod. How is Terrell Owens even still relevant enough to be hated? And why do we hate Kim Kardashian’s soon-to-be ex-husband?

Wow, just typing that sentence really brought home your point, though. Are there no white dudes Americans dislike? Who did Forbes poll, the whitest people in America? How did Roger Clemens and Ben Roethlisberger not make this list?

Don’t hate Americans for being haters, Reid.

We believe in second chances. I know I do, especially for the guy who is in there fighting for it like I believe Vick has. We all screw up and want desperately to believe a second chance is waiting for us. We know that it is totally hypocritical to want forgiveness for ourselves but be unwilling to get it.

They can have a second chance. This list just proves we do not have to like them.

Yours in Kris Humphries,


From: Reid Forgrave

To: Jen Floyd Engel


I had a surreal moment earlier in the NFL season that got me thinking on the topic of second chances. I was sitting on my couch, sipping a beer, as the Atlanta Falcons were playing the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football. Great storyline, with Michael Vick’s return to the Georgia Dome as the quarterback of another team. Great game, with Vick tossing two touchdowns before getting knocked out of the game in the second half, then Matt Ryan leading the Falcons to a come-from-behind victory.

The surreal moment came when I stared at my dog, a pit bull-boxer mix named Ella, snoozing on the floor as I rooted lustily for Vick. A friend of mine, a veterinarian outside Atlanta, chastised me for this, but that was the moment I realized I’d finally forgiven Michael Vick for the sickening things he’d done years before.

I bring this up because the best stories in America are the stories of redemption. I love stories of second chances not because of their tabloid value but because they show just how merit-based our democratic society is.

This list of our least-favorite athletes does the opposite. It shows an ugly America that bears a grudge. I’d rather the list be dominated by the on-field whiners who keep whining, not the off-field screw-ups who’ve redeemed themselves. That’s why I love that LeBron James and Alex Rodriguez are on this most-hated list, and why I wish more whiners like Bill Laimbeer or John McEnroe or Barry Bonds were.

Know where I got those last three names? The Bleacher Report has this awesome slide show titled “The 50 Biggest Whiners in Sports History.” I suggest you look at it.

Hate the continuing whiners, Jen. And forgive the confessed sinners.


From: Jen Floyd Engel

To: Reid Forgrave

Damn you and your redemptive nature, Forgrave.

Although, I blame your Cub fandom more than anything for this Ball of Hope world view. Y’all have to believe in redemption, or else resign yourself to being just another guy going to a big, expensive bar in Wrigleyville where baseball sometimes dampens the frivolity.

I like this about you, really I do. The world needs hopers.

What I am telling you is the world also needs sports hate. Sports are better when fans have a grudge to carry, a rival to root against and a shared bond of recognizing, whatever team you root for, LeBron James is an underachieving megalomaniac. The whole "Cavs for Mavs" phenomenon of the NBA Finals a year ago is proof of the positive power of uniting in dislike.

Yes, I like redemption, the feel-good story, the good guy who finally wins a championship.

I am just not sure you can redeem yourself for just being a jerk. There are some guys it is just impossible to like even though they have never been on a police blotter or been accused of any crime. We do not choose who we fall in love with and so it is with who we choose to sports hate.

The dog people will never forgive Vick.

Tiger is not going to win back the church parking lot crowd.

And this my friend is a good thing.

Now if you want to talk about people I’d add and subtract from this list, I am all in,


P.S. Sports hate is different than hate-hate, or political hate, or all of the hates that get ugly fast. A good sports hate zeniths at rooting against say, the Kansas Jayhawks, even when they are not playing Mizzou or lustily booing an annoying athlete or hoping LeBron never wins a championship. There is a line to this, and rooting for injuries and attacking opposing fans and just generally being a jackass crosses it.

From: Reid Forgrave

To: Jen Floyd Engel

Finally, Jen, we can agree on something, and it is this: “I am just not sure you can redeem yourself for just being a jerk. There are some guys it is just impossible to like.”

Here, here: My point exactly, and with LeBron and A-Rod leading that list.

Maybe the list we’re talking about isn’t the “most disliked” list, but instead the “athletes with the highest jerk rating” list. These, ultimately, are the athletes I hate most. (Them, and anyone who plays for your sanctimonious St. Louis Cardinals.)

I would agree the Forbes poll got a few right: LeBron, A-Rod, Kris Humphries and Terrell Owens, who despite his obviously high jerk rating I have a strange mancrush on.

But here’s a few I’d like to add to my most-disliked list, not because of some extramarital dalliances or trouble with the law but instead because of their general on-field or in-clubhouse jerkiness:

– Peyton Manning. Maybe it’s that whole golden-boy, best-quarterback-ever thing that I begrudge him for. Or maybe because he’s always, always whining to the refs, with that pained expression of a kid who just got his candy stolen.

– Albert Haynesworth, the ultimate un-team player, for blowing off conditioning and embarrassing himself.

– Sean Avery, for his general classlessness, but especially for his “sloppy seconds” comment.

– Rex Ryan, because his antics would be fine out of a player but is just plain dumb out of a coach.

– And, of course, Moises Alou, for his jumping and whining after he couldn’t catch that foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. His actions not only made a pariah out of Steve Bartman but also reminded the entire Cubs franchise that they’re not allowed to win a World Series. I’m convinced that if he didn’t throw that temper tantrum, the Cubs wouldn’t have collapsed.

Still bitter,


From: Jen Floyd Engel

To: Reid Forgrave

I feel like I have accomplished well beyond my normal checking of Facebook and tweeting silliness only to stop tweeting silliness because of CNN’s Roland Martin and then tweeting about Martin’s suspension on this Wednesday. I have changed a life today.

There is hope for the hoper, hope that you will like disliking.

The Forbes list is flawed, of course, it links together the life mistakes with those among us who make it just impossible to like them because of phoniness, or obscene love of self, or the feeling that they would be the guy at the club in the Ed Hardy T-shirt if not for the gift of athletics.

Please Dear Reid, tell me you do not wear Ed Hardy. If so, that will require another conversation — if not a full-fledged slideshow of what to and not-to wear. I am henceforth going to start working on that project.

Until then, let me leave you with this deep thought: When LeBron fails, we all win. Barriers come down inside a nation otherwise divided on matters of politics, religion and Kardashians.



You can follow Jen Engel on Twitter, email her or like her on Facebook.

You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at reidforgrave@gmail.com.