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David Roth's Weak In Review: The Importance Of Not Being An A-Hole

What is it about sports that makes a-holes—from Colin Cowherd to Hulk Hogan to seething Twitter eggs—act like a-holes? The answer is bigger than any game.
Illustration by Henry Kaye

On Thursday, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones made a guy disappear. He did not make him disappear entirely, and probably not nearly decisively enough for those who deal with this person steering casual workplace conversations towards "reverse racism." But when the man high-handedly told Jones on Twitter not to sweat this #BlackLivesMatter "bullshit" and instead worry about winning "us fans" another national championship, Jones dismissed him so decisively that the dude deleted his account(s); as a state-of-the-art internet dicklord, he appears to have had an anonymized one that he used to send racialized newsgrumps at right-wing media accounts, and another that he used to bark pissy shaddups at the young athletes he thinks work for him. This man will not be missed, but he will also likely not be gone. Somewhere on the great horizon-to-horizon garbage desert of the internet, this dipshit is just emerging from a new Twitter egg, hideous and translucent and still-embryonic, and croaking something about "race hustlers." Life finds a way, always, and people have always found ways to be assholes about sports.


This is not just a sports thing, to be fair. It's not that we're so exhausted after all that courteous, well-informed, good-faith discussion about politics or religion that we've just got nothing left in the tank when it comes to sports and so revert to tantrums and ham-headed trolling and sending "kill urself" tweets to ineffective relief pitchers. People are just sort of like that when they let themselves be, and something about being in sports' toy department awakens, in what are otherwise chronologically adults, the toddler's idiot urge to lick every flat surface and cram various jagged things into nostrils. Part of the appeal of sports is that it is, experientially if not politically or economically, safely outside the broader world. But that perceived lack of consequence reads, to those looking for an excuse, as an invitation to unabashedly fart themselves hoarse.

Read More: My Week Without Sports

This takes care of itself, to a certain extent, at least within the narrow parameters of sports. People are free to say idiotic, intolerant, ignorant, and determinedly point-missing things, and the rest of us are free to call them assholes, which is pretty much the best term we have in the language for this sort of person. No one really wants to be seen as an asshole; there's a weepy drunk's plea for absolution buried in the performances of even the self-amused at-least-I-admit-I'm-an-asshole types that flourished during the last decade's honking gilded age.


And yet the things that define being an asshole—the combination of a toddler's empathy deficit and narcissism and an entitled teenager's grievance, wrapped in bulletproof Trumpish laziness—evidently retain some appeal to those who find the accountabilities and responsibilities of adulthood to be an unforgivable pain in the ass. It's hard to imagine anyone watching or listening to a loathsome sports-talk wad like Colin Cowherd in an aspirational way, but to see Cowherd toss off glib free-associative bigotry like Thursday's baseball is so simple even Dominicans can do it assertion is to see someone fully unafraid to say whatever ulcerous bullshit comes to mind.

When you effectively smash a hater online. — Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For those that still suspect, after all their years on earth, that they've never really been wrong and that the rest of the world really exists primarily for their amusement—that is, for assholes—this sort of performance clearly resonates. And while Cowherd is clearly one of those rare specimens to whom noxious shame-free idiocy is as reflexive as breathing, he is also not wrong to be so unafraid. Cowherd has gotten himself rich for behaving this way; ESPN has never encouraged him to be any other way, and Fox Sports appears to have hired him so that he could do the same stupid stuff, except louder. He may have to apologize for his latest violative emission or he may not, but he will never be compelled to change, in large part because other assholes don't care to ask him to. So maybe our asshole-regulation mechanisms don't work quite as well as we might hope.

We live in the stupid, stupid wreckage of this failure. A world in which people feel not just okay about but a certain smug pride in behaving like assholes is not a world that anyone would really want to live in, really. Because the defining trait of assholery is an unwillingness or inability to deal with the reality of a world that contains other people, an asshole-positive culture is an unworkably narcissistic one. That culture is aggrieved and fact-averse and tribal. More than that, though, it's warped and stunted and incomplete—every insufficiently flattering or convenient perspective is filed under "Bullshit/Whatever," every trial or tragedy or triumph is run through the filter of the self until it makes the sort of sense that the asshole-in-question wants it to make.

We hear what this sounds like in the recently revealed spume of race-barf that appears to have ended the career of Hulk Hogan, who was already renowned as an asshole's asshole, and whose value-neutral ambition and steroidal shamelessness looks more generation-defining as time goes by. "I guess we're all a little racist," Hogan begins, as if getting ready to embark on a doofily naughty stand-up bit. That Hogan then goes off on a rant that is in fact a whole lot racist is not surprising; if you are just joining us, the dude's an asshole. But there's something uniquely odious about the non-apology apology up there at the top, an assumption that somehow that chuckling acknowledgment—"I have these extremely awful opinions that I've never really examined or thought about, which I believe is totally fine because they're my opinions and therefore good"—pardons every appalling idiocy that comes tumbling after.

It is a blessing that this world does not have in it many assholes of Hogan's size, scope, or jarring Peking Duck complexion. But the asshole impulse, the unpardonably privileged assumption that one is entitled both to one's opinion and the utmost immunity for its hideousness, is all around us, and not only in sports. It's the thing that brooks no excuses for everyone and everything else, and nothing but excuses for yourself; it's the thing that privileges point-scoring over discourse, or individuated grievances over society-spanning afflictions. It is the thing that answers facts concerning violence against women with, "but I would never do that." It is the thing that looks at the 204th mass shooting in 204 days and skips immediately to, "I personally enjoy my guns, though." It's the thing that moves some Twitter jerk to answer a young black man's assertion that his life matters with, "not to me it doesn't, now win me some football games."

And it is also the thing that will bring that jerk back to Twitter, and that will move him to say it again, as guiltlessly and casually as the first time. The stainless certitude of being an asshole, the comfort of always being right, is contemporary life's greatest and falsest luxury. We are realizing, too slowly but inescapably, that it's more expensive than we thought.