My Personal Opinions On The Way Fans Are Treating Eric Ebron And The Role Of Fans In The NFL.
I have some strong opinions about the hatred of Eric Ebron, the recent harassment of players on social media, rooting for injuries and the idea of fan entitlement. They may not be popular opinions, and you don’t have to agree with me, but I think it is important for people to take a step back and look at the game of football and our role in it from a different perspective.
At the week 17 game against the Packers last year, one of the Packer players was carted off the field due to injury. Lions fans around the stadium cheered and began chanting “F*** the Packers”. Not too long after that injury, a Lions player went down, and the Packer fans in the stadium proceeded to chant “Lions suck”. The whole experience got me thinking about the way that fans treat players and how we view them.
Let’s imagine that you work with a computer for a living. You type things. You are steadily working your way toward carpal tunnel syndrome. Every time you make a mistake, thousands of people boo you and scream at you. Through a wave of primal noises, they let you know how much they hate you.
It isn’t every time you make a mistake and and don’t catch it immediately. It is every time you make a mistake at all, every time you use the backspace. There is no undo button. There is no proof reading. Nothing can fix your mistake and nothing will comfort all of the thousands of people that came out to watch you type boring numbers or letters into your computer.
You finally get home from work. You go and hang out on your couch with your girlfriend or wife and sit down to watch TV. After a beer or two, you decide to hop on social media for a minute and see what your friends have to say about their day. Instead, those maniacal animals have taken over your social media feed too.
For some reason, these people have nothing better to do with their time than take all of the frustrations they feel over their lives out on you. They want to tell you that, despite the fact that you are a successful person that works on a computer, you are terrible at your job.
These people don’t know you, but since you are mistake prone in your computer abilities, they hate you. They hate you as a person. They wish that you would lose your job. Beyond that, they wish ill upon you in life. Why? Because they don’t think that your typing ability holds up against the top 1% of other people who type things.
The Case of Eric Ebron
Hatred of Eric Ebron is at an all-time high. Expectations were higher this year than any other year. Fans were looking for him to take a big step forward this year and have his “breakout” season. We thought Eric Ebron was going to take over the Anquan Boldin role from last year. So far, Ebron has struggled.
Thus far, Ebron has failed to meet those expectations. He has failed to come close to meeting those expectations. The Lions are asking him to block only sparingly, theoretically putting him in a much better situation to flourish. Despite this, he continues to drop the football, and make mental errors. Lions’ fans have taken to the streets with pitchforks.
It seems that anytime a fan brings up Eric Ebron, there is at least a hint of negativity surrounding the comment, usually more than just a hint. When fans try and say something positive about the Lions’ tight end, the optimism is met with a host of angry or dismissive responses. It isn’t easy to be a fan of Eric Ebron right now.
Ebron fans have scattered and hidden themselves away in their basements and fallout shelters. He has fans out there, but it is easier to be quiet than to come to his defense and be met with certain ridicule. The whispers of a good play here and there are met with shouts of drops and missed blocks. The current narrative around Eric Ebron is counterproductive by nature, because it creates an environment in which it is easier to blame him than it is to give him credit. The mentions of consistent improvement from year to year are met with the constant reminder that he isn’t Odell Beckham or Aaron Donald. There is just no good way to be an Ebron fan these days. It’s easier to just stay silent and watch as fans attack him on social media.
None of this can be easy for Eric Ebron.
Sure. Fans are going to point to the millions of dollars that he is making. Fans will say things like “when you’re getting paid that much money, you can’t make mistakes like that,” or “I could do his job better than he does,” or sarcastically say “it must be so hard being a millionaire”. There are a couple of things that I have to say about this.
First of all, it doesn’t matter how much money they are paying him. Ebron does his job to the best of his ability, regardless of what he is getting paid. He doesn’t have to justify his salary to you. Ebron doesn’t have to justify his salary to me. He has to justify his salary to Bob Quinn and Bob Quinn alone. Come contract time, he will be judged on his performance. Everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t matter how much money you get paid. Mistakes happen on every play. Has Ebron made more mistakes than we would hope? Absolutely. Do those mistakes have anything to do with how much he is getting paid? Not even a little.
Second, no, you could not do Eric Ebron’s job better than he can. I know that when fans use this cliche, it is meant to be hyperbolic, but lets dial it back. The reality is that Eric Ebron is among the best in the country at what he does. Does he always live up to the expectations of the random guy sitting at home on his couch with a six pack and a bag of potato chips? No. Does he always live up to the expectations of his coaches? Probably not. Does he always live up to his own expectations? Again, probably not, but he’s doing the best he can. People will say “well, his best isn’t good enough”. That may end up true, but that will sort itself out in time. For now, let’s understand that bombarding him with constant reminders of the fact that he has not met our arm chair expectations is not helpful and may in fact be counterproductive.
“It must be hard being a millionaire.” I’m going to dive a little deeper on this one. Do I feel bad for Ebron’s financial situation? No, I don’t. People like to look at player’s financial situation and boil that person’s entire life down to a multi-figured number. Eric Ebron’s money doesn’t suddenly wash away his problem. The phrase “money can’t buy happiness” exists for a reason. Our worst impulses as fans drive us to strip these players of their humanity while simultaneously holding them to super-human standards. We see these players on our TV screen and reduce them to their salary and the number of fantasy points that they put up for us.
There is more to Eric Ebron than his fantasy production.
There is more to Eric Ebron than his salary.
Our Arrogance as Fans
Eric Ebron is a human being. He has a life outside of football, just like you or I. Somehow, if Eric Ebron had a career ending injury, fans would still find a way to post on social media that he doesn’t have it that bad. He has millions of dollars after all. There would be a special breed of fan that would be complaining about how they lost him on their fantasy football team when he is dealing with a life-altering injury.
Fans, consciously or subconsciously, are more “sympathetic” toward player injuries when that player is playing well or important to the team. We like to make the game all about us. A starting quarterback goes down and fans are devastated. A backup running back suffers an injury and most fans don’t even seem to notice. People look at injuries and frame them with “how does this hurt the team” and, by extension, “how does this hurt me”.
Conversely, fans are less sympathetic to player departures when that player is important or playing well. Plenty of players on the Lions have retired early, or simply not made it. Fans were most devastated when Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson retired. People took it as a personal assault. When Ndamukong Suh left for Miami, people called him greedy and felt betrayed. On the other hand, no one felt that way when an aging Reggie Bush went to another team.
Fans associate their sympathies with who most affects their team. We care about the stars, and the ones who are probably most affected by losing a job or getting hurt, are the ones that we don’t care about. They affect us, so we don’t pay attention.
Many fans have forgotten that this game involves people, people that are getting paid to entertain us, but people nonetheless. We have managed to dehumanize the players that we root for, because our love is linked to superior performance. We openly hate people that we don’t even know, simply because we spent a second round draft pick in our 50 dollar fantasy league on him, and he didn’t catch as many footballs as we wanted him to. We have these polar opposite judgements about people based solely upon their on the field performance.
Rather than understand that this is an unreasonable stance to take on a person, some fans decide to take to social media and harass players. This thought actually crosses people’s minds: “Well this person didn’t meet my personal expectations, so what should I do? Well, lets go tell them how much I, a random person that they have never met, hate them and hope that they fail at their lifelong dream”.
Players and Social Media
People attack celebrities, football players in this case, on social media for a few reasons. The first reason is the feeling of safety. It is well known that people are much more confident behind the mask of the anonymity of social media. It is easy to tell someone how terrible they are and how you hate them when you do it from behind a keyboard. It’s easy to judge someone on their on the field performance and translate that to your feelings of someone as a person when all you know is them as a player and know nothing about them as a person. It’s all easy. That doesn’t make it right.
These people see your tweets. They see what you say about them. We like to picture them as super-human and subhuman simultaneously. Fans trick themselves into believing that a lack of consequence for their actions justifies the lack of humanity in the words they say. We vent our frustrations at them as a bold gesture to show the world how serious we are about our opinion. Everyone look at how brave I am. I’m not just talking trash about this player, I’m tagging him on Twitter so that he can see it.
It’s not about the player at all. It’s all a show for spectators to garner attention in the public eye of social media. It’s an exercise in arrogance. These people don’t care about the player reading it, they just want to thump their chest and convince the masses that they matter more because of their opinions of a total stranger.
The Disconnect Between Fans and Players
In reality, we never expect a response. Not only do we not expect a response, but we’ve also forgotten, or chose not to remember that these people may actually read our comments. Not only do they read our comments from time to time, but when they read them, they probably feel something too. If your social media feed was filled with people telling you that you are terrible, and that everyone hopes you lose your job, would you feel something?
But they play football, they can’t possibly be affected by this. They get paid millions of dollars. There is no way they care about what the masses are saying about them. Does money really change these players’ humanity? Do these people suddenly stop caring about other people’s opinions of them? Maybe in some cases. Not in all.
This is Mike Foltynewicz, pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, replying to one of his twitter “fans” who had been harassing him over a few poor performances.
This is not a man who doesn’t care. He may not care about this man’s specific opinion, but people care about what other people’s opinions of them are. He may not care about this “guy”, but he cares that he is playing poorly, and people hate him for it. This man lives in Atlanta, and he has to face the people in Atlanta every day. When you make a mistake at your job, you get to go out to a bar, have a drink, and vent your frustrations. You get to go out in public and not be ridiculed.
When many people are attacking a player on social media, it provides cover for the individuals. Why would a player single out an individual fan when there are so many others that share his or her opinion? That cover that is provided in numbers is what compounds the problem. The more people hating a player, the easier it is for spectators to jump aboard the bandwagon. The more people on the bandwagon, the more negativity directed at a player.
Part of the Job
You could say that this is why athletes are paid millions of dollars. This is why they get paid so much. They get paid to deal with fan abuse. They get paid to deal with masses loving or hating them for irregular and erratic stretches. That isn’t inherent. That isn’t how it is supposed to be. That is how we made it. They wouldn’t have to deal with that if we didn’t make them deal with it.
Who are we to attack them for their mistakes? Their mistakes don’t affect us. Not really.
Unfortunately, fans take offense to things that really don’t affect us in a tangible way. We take our frustrations out on whoever we can. The easiest people to take it out on are the invincible super-humans that we see on the television. They won’t care if we say terrible things about them. They won’t even read it. We’ve spent 12 hours watching them on the television, we have a right to belittle them. We’ve been fans of this team for years. We have the right.
Who Are We As Fans?
“We won” or “we lost” have become common phrases among fans. We consider ourselves part of the team. Fans create communities. They band together over the team they love, the team that represents their city, a part of themselves, and they feed on the camaraderie they get out of rooting for a group of people playing a sport in the name of their city.
Ndamukong Suh is from Portland. He went to college in Nebraska. Despite this, fans were betrayed that he didn’t take a “hometown discount” and instead went to Miami. He worked in Detroit as an NFL football player for a few years. Somehow we expect him to be a part of our community as Detroit fans. We expect him to care about us, to cater to what we want. Fans feel entitled to a player’s undying loyalty.
These players bounce around. They rarely end up in the city that they grew up in. We associate them with a team that is arbitrarily associated with the city that funds the team we root for. They get traded, and we don’t care about the player, we care about the team.
All About Us
When player makes a mistake in an NFL game, we act like it is a personal offense. There is no impersonal action that that is reacted to so personally as a sports fan being “slighted” by a poor performance from a player on the team he or she roots for. It isn’t uncommon. It happens across all sports. Because we identify with a city, we identify with a team. Because we identify with a team, we root for that team, and we want that team to win.
When that team doesn’t win, it is hard to fault the team as a whole, because it is linked to a part of ourselves. We search desperately to find a reason a team is not winning and we look to the individual. It is easier to believe that there is a single person responsible for our disappointment than it is to believe that our team is not as good as the opposing team. Sometimes it is a ref, and sometimes it is a player like Eric Ebron.
Fans are constantly searching for answers and they want their pound of flesh. When the team is winning, everyone is amazing, but when the team is losing, there are specific people to point to.
Fans take sporting events personally, and they shouldn’t. As much as we like to think that we are a part of the team, we aren’t. We have nothing to do with them. If any individual fan abandoned the team, no one would care. The players wouldn’t care. The coaches wouldn’t care. Management wouldn’t care. Not even other fans would care. The extent of our involvement in these teams is the money we spend on them. Other than that, we are spectators.
We like to feel important. I spent my hundred dollars on a ticket, therefore my opinions matter. They don’t.
How Does This Affect Players
Eric Ebron is 24 years old. Think about that for a second. Think about yourself at 24 years old. How mature were you at that age? If you aren’t 24 years old yet, think about how you would respond to his situation.
These are not seasoned adults with grand-kids that have had the opportunity to see the legacy that they will leave behind. Football players are not people who have experienced everything that life has to offer. These are not people who have become immune to the opinions of others or had a lifetime to learn how to deal with adversity. These are kids. Think about yourself at that age. Think about your maturity and how you dealt with problems much smaller than what they deal with in terms of social media and public humiliation.
These kids grew up, loving football. They were athletically gifted, so they excelled. They continued to love the game. At some point, they realized that they could make a life of this. They could do what they loved, and they could get paid millions of dollars to do it. They kept working hard. Day in and day out, they worked at their craft. You have to be the best at what you do to make it in this league right?
After all this, they finally make it. Their name is called on draft day. It’s a dream come true. Except it really isn’t. Your name gets called, and the rest of the world is disappointed. The people who are supposed to be happy to have you, already hate you. They wish you were someone else. If that other player does well, there is nothing you can do to convince them that you belong.
Suddenly, because of the stage you are on, you live in a city where everyone wants to hate you. They don’t even know you. You haven’t played a down in the NFL, but the people who are supposed to support you already have lost faith. Even if you play well, it won’t matter, because you aren’t Aaron Donald or Odell Beckham. You are a disappointment, no matter what you do.
That’s a hell of a burden for someone under the age of 25.
What It Means For Eric Ebron
Ebron plays better in opponent’s stadiums than he does at home. Think about that.
He plays better when he is in front of opposing teams than he does when he is in front of his “supporters”. That seems strange right? Home field advantage is a real thing. Vegas believes in it. I believe in it. The NFL believes in it. It is a real thing. If home field advantage is a real thing, why is Eric Ebron playing worse in front of his own fans?
It might have something to do with the way fans treat him in Detroit. The opposing fans are supposed to hope you fail. Players go into the game with that expectation. That doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it anticipated.
Detroit Lions’ fans are supposed to root for their team. They are supposed to root for their players. We aren’t required to, but that is what players expect. They expect to be met with cheers and support. That is the essence of home field advantage. It is all mental. If the mental part of the game didn’t exist, home field advantage wouldn’t exist. So think about how it must feel for Ebron to go out in front of his own fans and get booed. It can’t be easy having his home crowd make Ford Field a hostile environment.
It would be nice if everyone could tune out the crowd. This is probably something that separates some of the good players from the great players, but it is hardly commonplace. If it were, there would be no home field advantage.
Fans get frustrated and decide to voice their frustration in the form of hostility and booing toward whatever player made a mistake. If you’re a fan of the team, you’re hoping the team wins, right? Why are you actively doing something that hurts an individual player and, as a result, the team? It’s not helpful. It is just fans not being able to control themselves, or giving into the habits of the masses or tradition or whatever you want to use to justify it. It isn’t helping.
This is all just my opinion. It is an opinion that I’m sure some other people share, but I don’t see vocalized very often. You don’t have to agree with me. No one even has to listen to me. You have a right to do whatever you like, but just think about what you are doing. If you only care about the team, I don’t think booing and harassing players on social media is productive for the team. If you can find it in yourself to remember that these are human beings, it certainly isn’t helpful to the players.
You can go to a game and boo the players. If you want to attack players on social media about their fantasy performances or their in-game mistakes, you can do that. If you want to cheer when opposing players get seriously injured, you can do that. That doesn’t make it classy and it certainly doesn’t make it right.