In a post-Cold War 21st Century world, is there a place for booing in sports? Sure, but only within certain oft-debated parameters.
Good old Webster's defines this human lowing as a sound "used to express contempt or disapproval." Western civilization booing can be traced back to the sixth century B.C. Greek amphitheater when crowd cheers and jeers determined which playwrights would win the Dionysian festivals.
While ancient Greeks may have considered vocal expression tantamount to cultural compulsion, there are precious few occasions where modern boo-ers are anything other than rude and boorish. Due to some bizarre laws of physics that I don't really care about, a very few boo birds can fill an arena with disapprobation. Fans have more power than one might think, which levies more responsibility to be selective in our outbursts.
Let's review, shall we? I hope no one needs to be reminded that any injured player receives nothing but cheers and prayers. In addition to not yelling profanities/slurs or attacking (verbally or otherwise) the opponents' families or friends, there are several instances in which it is never permissible to boo.
1) Children's teams. When I suddenly became a high school step-parent, one of the more socially horrifying experiences of my life was that first P.T.A. meeting. There was shouting, profanity and a complete lack of decency, much less manners. Add in a dose of Little League competition and you have the ugly sports parent.
Yes, sports fans, unless and until they start making sports events X-rated we do have to be role models. It's called being an adult. Learning that we all win and lose is essential in children's sports, but how we prepare our young competitors for the game and how they see us treat their rivals is just as important. Teaching that a fine performance, even by the "opposition," should be appreciated is critical. And that doesn't happen when Jimmy's dad is cursing at the six year olds from across town.
2) Collegiate sports. Many rabid fans point out that college sports can be big business. So what? The players are still not adults and they are (mostly) unpaid. You may "live" to cheer for a university you graduated from 20 years ago, but the kids on the field (and their mothers in the stands) don't need to hear abuse rained on their heads. Grow up and celebrate the event, not the defeat of a bunch of student-athletes (even when that term is suspect).
3) Draft picks. Yes, I know that fans who do this (read particularly Philly and the Jets) are really booing the front office or the owner, but it's some poor kid standing there getting embarrassed while his family is appalled and probably outraged. They're not gazilllionaires yet; let's not make them collateral damage. Seriously, folks, it's just plain old mean. (Noted exception to this rule: booing the commissioner during a lockout or for interfering in a trade or for loopholes in mishandling drug tests. They're big, powerful millionaires with hides like rhinoceroses -- go for it!)
4) Free enterprise. Newsflash -- player free agency is here to stay. Most professional sports balance the athlete's right to auction his/her services to the top bidder with some sort of salary cap, luxury tax, etc. so that the richer teams don't always walk all over the "little" guys. It's a generally fair system. So, if one's favorite player leaves town -- get over it. Sure, LeBron James is now the poster boy for how not to take a new gig, but Cleveland fans show themselves bitter and small when they boo him. He gave you seven years, guys!
Worse, a few Utah Jazz fans still boo Derek Fisher. He moved closer to specialized hospitals so that his daughter wouldn't be blind or worse. And it was five years ago. Get a grip, people.
Even, and I can't believe I'm typing this, Alex Rodriguez should be able to show up in Seattle without fan abuse. Um, I hate to break it to you, coffee folks, but he's been with two teams since leaving the Mariners at the turn of the century. It's not that I can't think of reasons for booing A-Rod, it's just that I'm fairly sure the statute of limitations has run out on this one.
5) Even booing the opponent isn't harmless. Of course they are, for that afternoon, the "enemy." Of course their players get paid to play the game and most expect to be booed at some point in their careers. That is not the point. West Point refers to sports as "the fields of friendly strife." As usual, West Point has it right. Treat your competitors with dignity, play as hard as you possibly can and handle the outcome with a modicum of grace. That is the point.
6) It is never, ever acceptable to boo one's own team. Even if they stink. Even if they appear to quit. The fans do pay for a great entertainment product and deserve to receive a great entertainment product. But this isn't stand-up. It's a situation in which the performers can get hurt. Really hurt. Even if it's beach volleyball, much less contact sports.
That trumps our right to boo. Unless we are positive that every single human out there laid down (which is never true) and unless we are positive that we could suit up and do better after dedicating our entire waking life to being an athlete -- it is incumbent upon us to enjoy the incredible good fortune of spending time at a live event, munch our popcorn, drink our beer and applaud our guys and girls as they exit the arena. Every single time.
If we can't show some class and dignity when we deal with the emotions of sports, there's not a single chance that we'll show it when dealing with people. Sports are the mark of a civilization evolving upwards from actually making war on the tribe from across the river. It would be terrific to remember that.