In my younger days, I developed an almost certainly deserved reputation as a pot-stirrer. I relished a good argument about anything from politics to sports, music to movies, and if I noticed something got under a friend of mine's skin, I would sometimes subtly (or not so subtly) tweak his or her nose with it to see what kind of reaction I might elicit.
In short, although I always meant well and it was good-natured and all in the name of fun, I could be, well, kind of a jerk.
As I've gotten older and the world has seemingly gotten so much louder and angrier and desperate to seek out, stoke and expand conflict to the point of autoignition, I've mellowed way, way out on the argument and nose-tweaking fronts. Maybe it's me who's changed moreso than the world ... though I suspect it's likely a heapin' helpin' of both.
So while those who have known me a while might not believe me, I'm telling the 100-percent absolute truth when I say my wearing a Chicago Cubs championship hoodie to Guaranteed Rate Field, the home of the Chicago White Sox, on Sunday while the ChiSox took on the world champion Houston Astros was an attempt only to stay warm on a chilly day while wearing something basebally, not an attempt to cause conflict or tweak noses or anything of the like. In fact, it never even crossed my mind anyone would take it that way or take offence.
A few White Sox fans in attendance, however, did.
With the exception of one Equus asinus, as scientists classify them, everyone was good-natured about it, though. "Hey, Cubs fan. You're at the wrong ballpark," a few people said to me with a smile. When the 50/50 raffle lady said it, the White Sox season ticket-holder sitting next to me told her, "Hey, be nice. He's behaving himself. He's even cheering for the good guys." (Which I was, since I'd bet — and ultimately lost — a big, fat American dollar on the Sox winning.)
One White Sox fan asked if I was lost; another told me they bleed black, not blue, in this ballpark. That's the type of nose-tweaking with a smile I was pretty good at back in the day, and I was all good with it.
Most of you probably remember my predecessor in The Times Sports editor chair, Andy Tavegia, was a passionate White Sox fan. He still is. I texted him a picture from our seats when I arrived at Comisk ... err, U.S. Cell ... err, Guaranteed Rate Field, and as we messaged back and forth I mentioned I was wearing Cubs gear as I cheered on his Sox.
He called me a name not fit for print in a family newspaper, and mentioned I deservingly might get some grief for my choice of wardrobe. He, too, did so with good nature and I'm sure a smile, but it brought to mind a question:
Why are some people — such as the aforementioned Equus asinus who screamed across a parking lot at me Sunday — so offended when people show support for their team in another team's stadium that they act like complete and total morons?
I've seen some people be downright abusive to opposing fans daring to wear the other team's colors in the parking lots outside Soldier Field, including name-calling, saliva-spitting and beer-and-hot dog-throwing. Outside Wrigley Field after a game, I once witnessed an obviously inebriated and idiotic (a dangerous but unfortunately common combination) Cubs fan take a swing at another man who was doing nothing but walking down the sidewalk and having the audacity to wear a Red Sox jersey.
You read about stabbings at tailgates; fistfights in stadium bathrooms; riots at soccer stadiums. These are not good-natured pot-stirrers or nose-tweakers. They are not funny or "just supporting their team."
These, my good readers, are meatball sports bullies.
Meatball sports bullies who feel empowered to pick on people because they're different than most other people around at the time ... and not even that different, since they're all obviously fans of the same sport who came to the same place at the same time to enjoy the same game.
It's a level of jerkdom I'm happy to say I never reached.
I hope you haven't either.