Why Fans Who Boo Should Be Booed

It's such a lame way of displaying your passion for the game.

It’s no surprise that I, a devout Melbourne Storm supporter, found it distasteful that the crowd at the NRL Grand Final booed Billy Slater.

The Storm fullback was greeted by a massed chorus of boos every time he got the ball, and then again during a post-match interview.

All fans are defensive of their team’s stars, and I’m no different. For me, though, it was more than just a specific distasteful incident. This was just the latest manifestation of the phenomenon that has aggravated me throughout my life as a sport fan: the boo. It’s a blight on sport that I am sure will never go away, and just as sure will never stop pissing me off.

There is ample reason to object to the booing of Billy Slater in particular. He is one of the greatest players ever to take the field, and was in his final game of a magnificent career. That thousands of opposition fans wished to spoil that moment for him was, as has been stated by many others, mean-spirited and disrespectful.

Those who say they were booing because of their disapproval of Slater’s escape at the judiciary during the week were being illogical as well: it wasn’t Slater who cleared himself to play, but three ex-players who found him not guilty.

Billy Slater was greeted by boos every time he got the ball in the 2018 NRL Grand Final. Image: Getty.

So booing the player suggests they object to the very idea that a player facing suspension try to defend himself. This is not, I put it to you, a principle that those fans would’ve put into practice if one of their own players had been charged.

And that’s a big problem with booing in a nutshell: it’s never actually about disapproving of someone’s behaviour; it’s always about disapproving of the fact that someone has the audacity to play for a team that isn’t yours.

I often go to AAMI Park to watch the Storm play, and every time I do I find myself cringing at my fellow supporters who insist on booing opposition players for no other reason than that they are on the opposition. They boo as the other team runs out onto the field, as if their very existence is an affront.

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I guess one reason it grates on me so is that booing is such a lame way of displaying your passion for the game. The dull, Neanderthal grunt of “BOO!” is almost onomatopoeic in its encapsulation of the leaden thought process that produced it.

Booing is what children are urged to do at a pantomime, and when huge crowds boo, children is exactly what they sound like.
QLD fans boo the Blues as they run on before State of Origin Game III on Wednesday, July 12, 2017. (AAP Image/Darren England)

It’s a petty and impotent way to broadcast to the world that you’re kind of a jerk, like going on Twitter just to say “YOU SUCK” to random celebrities. None of the booers actually know the people they’re booing, after all: they’re just shouting abuse at strangers. Outside a stadium, this would be deeply disturbing behaviour. Of course, outside a stadium most of what happens in a stadium would be a bit weird, so we have to cut ourselves a bit of slack here.

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One of the most infamous booing controversies was that which beset AFL star Adam Goodes. The persistent booing of Goodes was widely seen as evidence of the public’s racist attitudes. Some tried to defend the booing as being related only to Goodes’s on-field behaviour as a habitual stager for free kicks.

Goodes was routinely booed towards the end of his stellar career. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

This was a fairly weak defence given that crowds didn’t start targeting Goodes en masse until after he hit the headlines for taking a public stand against racism in football -- but even if many of those booing sincerely believed they were doing it to protest against staging, that would do nothing to reduce the impression that they were a pack of wankers. “I may be a wanker, but I’m not a racist wanker” isn’t that noble a sentiment, even if it were true, which, you know, it wasn’t.

I know this makes me a killjoy. I know people will say booing is the absolute right of every fan, and they’re correct: everyone who goes to watch a sporting contest has the right to boo. They also have the right to get drunk and swear in front of my children and spill tomato sauce on my lap, but I don’t have to approve of it.

I know people will say it’s all part of the theatre of sport and it’s just a way for people to express their passion for their team. But you can show your love for your team without spitting hatred at the opposition.

Sport is a source of joy for so many of us: the negativity introduced by booing makes it a meaner, nastier, uglier experience. It diminishes what should be a blessed relief from the grimness of the world. I know it’ll never go away, but oh how I wish it would.