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(Towards) The essence of sports rivalries

A Real Fictional Villain We Can Enjoy

Daily Life In London
The juxtaposition of sports.
Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sometimes we love our bad guys. It is a joy, to hate a character in fiction. Such a character can literally be perfectly awful, because that character is a created thing. The author intended the foil to act so, within the context of the story. We can both revile and enjoy them. We are safe within the fiction, despite the distress it sometimes causes; we know that no real harm has come to anyone.

The reactions fiction provokes, though, are real to us in a profound, internal, way. The hate of the adversary is real, despite the fiction. Our unending human love of stories with conflict, with bad people, proves there is something meaningful and satisfying in the experience, and its emotions.

It is different outside fictional confines. People who, accidentally, or purposefully, act the part of the villain, the heel, the wrecker, the ignorant, incompetent, narcissist, in real life, bring true, and terrible, consequences. Despite the incandescent rage they provoke, despising them isn’t fun, like a fictional character. The stakes are too high, whatever their scale, personal to global.

It must be admitted though, that there is an attraction, to this sense of outrage and vituperation in real life. The truth, and unpredictability of it, draws us in a way fiction cannot quite do.

If only there was a way for someone to feel the seething rage, the loathing, of a real life villain, yet experience it within the safe boundaries of fiction.

Welcome to sports rivalries.

Most teams have rivals, villains, foes. Most teams have that one group they abhor most of all. Sometimes it is not just a team, but a certain incarnation of that team, a combination a fan can hate deliriously, richly, for their entire lives. In a way, despite the pain that almost certainly made that team a rival, such a passion is one of the things to cherish most about being a sports fan.

This perhaps goes to heart of the love of sports. It’s a story, with heroes and villains, with stakes, and prizes. It all unspools like a movie, yet there is no script. It is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, but in real time, every season. The victor is rewarded, the loser gnashes teeth. We hope things have played out fairly (a cherished grudge is less fun than a title). The joy of victory, the pain of losing, is real, but the stakes, in the end, are a fiction, a created thing, that take place within a created context, and there’s always been next year.

(Something, something, Hegelian.)

Such experiences and stories sustain us, and it’s no wonder the world of sports, that exists in two worlds, the real, and fictional, is such a powerful draw to so many. That’s partly why losing this pleasurable half-world brings such pain in these times. We are forced, even when following some of our favorite stories, sports, to live entirely in the real, with its bad consequences, and bad actors.

The NBA can’t come back soon enough. We really hope.


In some way, do you cherish your rival?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Yes, they give my days zest.
    (10 votes)
  • 25%
    No, I only long to deracinate them.
    (9 votes)
  • 47%
    Dallas, I proper hate Dallas. What was the question?
    (17 votes)
36 votes total Vote Now