This Sunday, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will try to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles to win their sixth Super Bowl as leaders of the New England Patriots. And while Bostonians will be cheering on their beloved Pats, the rest of the country will surely be rooting for Philadelphia to stop Touchdown Tommy and the Great Hoodied Wonder from winning yet another championship. Kids all around the country will hear their parents take every opportunity to voice their utter disdain for all things Patriots, especially Brady and Belichick.
But what if instead of coaching your kid to root against the favorite, you let them appreciate the beauty of the greatest coach and quarterback combo in the history of the game — precisely at the height of their collective powers? Giving into the anti-Pats mob mentality is sure easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. In fact, letting a kid buy into the mythical underdog narrative, is likely teaching them the wrong lessons about hard work and what it really takes to be successful.
There is nothing that inspires people from sea to shining sea more than watching a team of lovable losers band together to defy the odds, miraculously defeating their smug, superior rivals (See: Every inspiring sports movie, ever). As a result of our devotion to the Bad News Bears of the world, we tend to hate any team or player who wins too often. Why? Because they’re winners. For proof, look at the Golden State Warriors. In just a few seasons, Steph Curry and company have gone from everyone’s favorite NBA team to the team everyone is hoping falls apart so they don’t win their third championship in four years.
So we can cast the Yankees and Lakers as the spoiled villains. We can pretend that we don’t like LeBron because of the Decision or root against the Patriots because they’re cheaters but deep down, we simply don’t like them because they’ve won so goddamn much. That’s simply misguided. The Yankees and Lakers are two of the most successful teams in their respective sports, winning a combined 43 championships — because of their hard work. Along with being one of the best basketball players of all time, LeBron James is a great father and has done invaluable work rebuilding his hometown of Akron — because he works hard. And while Tom Brady is not a perfect person by any stretch of the imagination, there is little doubt that he is one of the most talented football players ever — because he did the hard work. Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors? Work!
And what about those lovable underdogs from sports movies like Rocky or Hoosiers. In these stories, they use their heart and determination to overcome adversity and beat the overwhelming favorite, who is always the world’s biggest jerk. Fine. Determination and grit are great qualities. Plus underdog narratives are simply dramatic, suspenseful and fun. But in the real world, the best teams aren’t winning because they’re privileged assholes (though some are), they’re winning because of hard work and talent. But achieving and maintaining excellence is not a thrilling and dynamic story. There’s no drama in it. So we assume any team that can’t lose must be comprised of a bunch of insufferable meatheads.
Is this something that parents should be teaching their kids? To actively root against anyone who is objectively the best in their respective field? Of course, it’s fun to root for the underdog but the reason someone like Rocky is worthy of praise isn’t simply because he’s an underdog, it’s because he put in the work to achieve his success. The majority of underdogs are in that position because they aren’t as talented or as hardworking as the teams that consistently beat them. At least, not until the very end when they gut out the slim win. But the Tom Bradys and Bill Belichicks of the world consistently and successfully work their asses off to win. Why shouldn’t we all at least admire their incredible accomplishments (even if Belichick is a grump and Brady looks like the grown-up version of every 80s high school movie villain)?
None of this is to say you should teach your kid to hate the underdog and only root for winners. Part of the fun of sports getting to love and hate whatever teams you want without having to justify it to anyone else. But rather than placing inherent value on a team simply because they are worse than other teams in the sport they play, parents should allow kids to look beyond these reductive labels. At the very least, they should allow kids to appreciate the fact that at 40-years old, Brady led the league in passing yards and will likely win his third MVP award this Saturday. Do we really have to keep pretending like he only wins because a ball may or may not have been slightly deflated during a game in which the Patriots outscored the Colts 45-7?
Sports fandom may seem like a fun and ultimately harmless distraction that helps you and your kid bond over a shared interest. But, in reality, being a fan can affect a person’s entire life. By teaching a kid to hate talent and hard work on the field, you are at risk of teaching them to hate those same qualities off the field as well. So while it may be too late for you to ever stop worrying and learn to love winners, you can still support your kid if they want to root for Tom Brady this Sunday. It’ll probably make your blood boil, but letting them proudly support the greatest dynasty in modern sports might keep them from becoming the Cleveland Browns of real life.