Meta-booing: Al Jefferson and the Utah Fan’s Struggle with Self-Expression

March 26th, 2013 | by Evan Hall

Around six months ago, while perusing my Facebook timeline as I am wont to do when I feel like hating everyone I thought I liked, I discovered that I had at least one friend who I liked not in spite of but because of his fairly regular status posts. The infrequency at which I find Facebook friends whose posts I enjoy reading is so alarmingly high that my discovery actually caused me to message him and ask if he had a Twitter account that I could follow. He quickly but tersely responded that sharing anything he writes, however small, actually made him want to write less, a sentiment I was surprised to find I empathized with. There’s something about speaking out and the self-exposure it demands that makes you hate yourself. Even in writing, when you can edit and revise and rework until the image your writing emanates matches exactly with the self-image you only dream about, there’s something about it all that makes you despise what you really are, underneath that. David Foster Wallace called writing a “confrontation,” and certainly it’s a confrontation with self—one most of us would rather just avoid.

Booing, on the other hand, despite its ostensibly confrontational nature, doesn’t say much of anything about an individual. Maybe at your occasional little league game do you notice booing as the act of an individual—the proverbial washed-up ballplayer living out his dreams in the batter’s box with his fifth-grade son—but far more frequently, booing is a mob act, the kind of thing that happens on a collective level, like when the crowd booed Al Jefferson upon his entrance into the last few minutes of March 11’s blow-out win over Detroit. It wasn’t actually the entire crowd that booed Big Al—it wasn’t even a majority of the crowd. It was a few disgruntled fans scattered through Energy Solutions Arena who were just disgruntled enough to add another chapter to the still unwritten but painfully existent volumes of complaints against Utah fans that, at least according to Zach Lowe, currently circulate league conversation. So not only was it a small minority of the crowd who booed Al Jefferson, but they might not have even been booing him. Maybe they were booing Coach Ty Corbin’s decision to bench a young, developing player like Enes Kanter late in an already-decided game. Maybe they were booing a weak-armed team dancer’s inability to launch a t-shirt into the upper deck. Or maybe, they were booing a million other perceived flaws they saw in the on-court product of their favorite basketball team.

But that’s the thing about booing, for all of its simplicity and its attention-demanding loudness, it fails to communicate beyond the most basic of sentiments. BAD, says the booer, SOMETHING IS BAD. There is no nuance in booing, no explanation. It’s as inscrutable as it is facile. For every cheer that says I LIKE THIS, there’s an equal and opposite boo that says, THIS SUCKS. It’s Twitter without the last 139 characters. It’s a blog post with nothing but a headline. Sure it’s communication, but only in the same way giving someone the bird is communication, and both the booing and the bird represent the same flawed mentality that often pollutes our meme-oriented culture: good communication is hard, so let’s make it easy.

The apparent counterpoint is, as I just mentioned, cheering suffers from the same lack of clarity that booing does. But the equally obvious difference is that cheering is positive; it’s a good thing that brings fans together with the team, rather than separating the two entities. Admittedly, there are instances when booing is justified, and without enumerating the details of some of those, I think I speak for all of us when I say that Jazz fans booing the Lakers in Salt Lake is immeasurably preferable to Lakers fans cheering on the Lakers in Salt Lake. Still, when national writers are calling Utah’s fans the most vitriolic in the league, some self-consideration is called for. Certainly, being one of the loudest arenas in the league is a reputation worth relishing–if nothing else, no one can question the passion of Utah fans. But that’s what made the Al Jefferson incident so alarming. Suddenly, the passion of Utah fans wasn’t directed on behalf of the team, as a uniting force in our small-market battle against the unmitigated evils of the NBA power structure, but against the team, as a dividing force that said “Sure, he’s wearing our uniform and playing for our team, but I hate him and BOOOO!” Now, I have written about my philosophical disagreement with the way Al Jefferson plays basketball (most of which comes down to the way he slows down the game, because his skill set is only useful in half-court offensive sets), but in writing about it, I hope I have expressed my sentiments in a reasonable way that takes into consideration that Al Jefferson is indeed a person, who if nothing else, seems like a great guy off the court. Booing, like pithy Facebook memes, degrades us in a way only poor, oversimplified, illogical communication does.

My soapbox isn’t quite high enough to justify a no-holds-barred denunciation of the institution of booing—I think I’d have to be a Bobcats fan before I could start making any qualification-less judgments of the habits of other fans. But if something as thought-provoking and universal as good writing can start to sound unappealing after a quick-run through the statuses of your Facebook friends, then certainly sitting through a hailstorm of boos could dissuade even the most ardent of fans from attending. Maybe Utah Jazz fandom needs an attitude correction before we start to dread going to a game the same way we dread our high school friend’s glib political commentary on Facebook. Perhaps we as fans could all stand to hate ourselves a little less as a collective unit–a unit that so often appears so hateful to everybody else–because even if we’re not all booing, we can all agree that if someone is, SOMETHING IS BAD.

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6 Comments

  1. walt says:

    Curious – were you at the Rockets game a month or two ago (the 45 pt blowout)? I, along with basically everyone left in ESA gave the Rockets reserves a standing ovation when the deficit hit 50 points. It was a VERY odd moment and I’m not entirely sure why I was cheering but it *did* make me happy for just a moment to cheer the opposition in that ludicrous situation. Weird game, weird crowd.

    I agree that booing players weirds me out unless they’re total asses IRL.

  2. Taylor says:

    Clearly Al Jefferson is a wonderful and extremely nice person. He is also very frustrating to watch play. Even more so when you’ve got two younger, more exciting players riding the pine behind him, which we might lose someday because they didn’t get the minutes they needed or wanted.

    Ty Corbin and the Jazz organization know what the fans want, but have made it clear that the fans don’t run the show. That’s probably for the best, but expect some boos in the meantime.

  3. Mark says:

    I will admit I was at that game and I boo’ed. I did so, as you mentioned, not as a malicious attack on Al Jefferson, but on the decision to insert him in a game where we had no worry of a Loss and where kanter was doing all that was asked of him.

    I can count on two fingers the amount of times I have boo’ed the jazz in a game. The above being one, and then a 15-2 run by the opposing team earlier this season where there were at least 4 or 5 offensive rebounds given up in that period of time.

    • DeweyBravo says:

      I was at that game, as well, and although I didn’t boo, I felt all the excitement flush out of me when I saw Jefferson come in.

      And it was for the exact same reason as you mentioned.

      I like Jefferson as a person, I just don’t really enjoy watching him play basketball. And while I understand why we go with him in a close game where we need offense more than defense, I still lose enthusiasm when he hits the court, especially when it seems unnecessary and his backup is playing well.

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