Angry Fans Boo

baseball fans sitting in a stadium booing. (© seanlockephotography - stock.adobe.com)

NEW YORK — If you’re a rabid sports fan, you know how easy it can be to figuratively “live and die” based on what your favorite team does each night. For the home team, the crowd cheers on their local heroes. For the visiting rivals, it’s a loud round of boos. But what happens when the home team doesn’t live up to their lofty expectations? Is it acceptable for hometown fans to boo their own stars? Of course it is! Now, let’s look at why.

There was recent controversy in New York when Yankees superstar Aaron Judge was showered with boos after a dismal performance during his team’s April 20th loss in the Bronx. Judge, one of the most feared sluggers in baseball, went hitless and struck out in all four of his at-bats. To the surprise of many in the media, the fans let Judge hear their displeasure after each failure.

While you might expect a rowdy New York crowd to get restless with a lesser player, Judge is a fan favorite. His record-setting play in past seasons has earned him the title of team captain, a $360 million contract, and the adoration of fans around the world. Should he get a pass for poor play? Sports media pundits sure thought so.

“Derek Jeter, I heard was booed early in his career. Mariano Rivera was booed in Yankee Stadium in the middle of his career. Even cast against those standards, I find Aaron Judge to be booed in Yankee Stadium when the team has started well as, that’s really silly,” ESPN’s MLB insider Buster Olney said, according to NJ.com.

The broadcast team for the visiting Tampa Bay Rays went even further, comparing New Yorkers to creatures who eat their own young by turning on Aaron Judge!

Aaron Judge at Yankees Stadium
Aaron Judge at bat in the new Yankee Stadium. (Credit: Openverse)

Here’s why the pundits are all wrong: they’re the media, not fans.

These journalists who criticize fans for voicing their frustrations have been in the inner circle of pro sports for years. They walk with the players. They talk with the players. They have a connection to that world the everyday fan likely never will. How do I know? I used to work in sports journalism.

From 2006 through 2012, I took my “fan cap” off and had an amazing amount of access behind the scenes of MLB, NFL, and NCAA broadcasts. It was an incredible experience, but it also taught me one important lesson: journalists see the game very differently than the fans do.

They don’t measure their opinions and emotions based on how much they spent on a ticket to the ballgame. Unlike the sports pundit, the fans aren’t paid to watch the game — they do the paying. The fans pay for tickets, food, parking, souvenirs, and much more, all to entertain themselves for a few hours.

Let’s also look at the case of Aaron Judge specifically. On April 20, the Yankees also said farewell to their long-time radio announcer, John Sterling, who retired before the game after 36 years of service.

No one wants their special day “spoiled” with misfortune, whether it’s a birthday, a wedding, or a sporting event. So, for those in attendance, the average fan likely spent over $100 per seat on tickets, concessions, and parking. That’s a lot of money for the Yankees to go out and score no runs in a loss during John Sterling’s retirement ceremony. I don’t know about you, but I’d boo Aaron Judge too.

Booing is a tradition dating back to the Greeks!

While modern society may have a problem with the masses booing the rich and famous, did you know showering people with jeers dates back to the beginning of civilization?

According to multiple publications throughout the years, the first written record of people booing dates back to Ancient Greece.

“At the annual Festival of Dionysia in Athens, playwrights competed to determine whose tragedy was the best. When the democratic reformer Cleisthenes came to power in the sixth century B.C., audience participation came to be regarded as a civic duty. The audience applauded to show its approval and shouted and whistled to show displeasure,” according to a 2006 report by Slate.

So, basically, booing isn’t just a sound angry fans make to voice their frustration, it’s a sign of democracy!

Moreover, today’s professional sports are just another form of entertainment, like Greece’s ancient playwrights and the gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome. These “performers” often make more in salary and endorsements than 99 percent of the population. In many cases, it’s a fully guaranteed salary regardless of the star’s performance. Just like in Ancient Greece, booing underperforming stars often sends the message that “you’re not earning the money our tickets and concessions pay for.”

In 2024, pro sports have also fully embraced the concept of in-game sports betting. Now, fans don’t just go to the ballpark to be entertained, they watch the game in the hope of winning money! So, when things don’t go their way, and your favorite athletes crack under the pressure, fans are more invested than ever in the outcome of every play. Reacting with a loud boo shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, even the media elite.

Does booing even bother the modern athlete?

According to one recent study, the answer varies from person to person. In 2023, researchers in Poland examined the impact booing and cheering have on athletes in various sports throughout Europe.

Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the study found that younger athletes were more sensitive to both positive and negative support compared to older, more experienced athletes. This is likely because younger athletes are not as accustomed to competitive situations and scrutiny.

So, aside from all-star rookie athletes, the findings suggest that the more experienced star athlete (who likely has years of success on their resume) is less sensitive to fans booing them. Does that mean fans are always in the right to boo athletes? Not exactly, but it suggests that veteran ballplayers likely don’t take it as personally as a rookie.

However, don’t take my word that it’s OK to boo the struggling athlete — take Aaron Judge’s word for it.

“Oh, I’ve heard worse, and I’d probably be doing the same thing in their situation,” Judge said after the New York fans turned on him on April 20th.

Interestingly, the 2023 study also made a case for a different strategy when players are failing — cheer them even harder. Researchers from Jagiellonian University found that male athletes were more sensitive to positive support (being cheered) than female athletes. This could be because men may have a stronger need for public approval and affirmation, according to the team.

Even in the city of Philadelphia, where fans infamously booed Santa Claus decades ago, the strategy of positivity has already paid off.

“I don’t believe fans should boo because it might be the ‘cool’ thing to do. If a player is seen dogging it or is actively hurting the team, then yes, fans should voice their displeasure. But, as we saw with Philadelphia Phillies fans last year rallying around Trea Turner, it helped turn his season around and rejuvenated the team on a run to the National League Championship Series,” says StudyFinds’ Matt Higgins, a long-time Philadelphia sports fan.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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