Row Z – The sports stars who hate sport

“I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have”, wrote Andre Agassi in his autobiography Open.

It seems that many top sportsmen hate the only thing they’re good at. Stan Collymore used to say he didn’t like playing football and Chris Eubank always professed to loathe boxing.

“Sometimes as a cricketer you just long for it to rain,” says former England all-rounder Vic Marks. “I’m not saying cricketers hate cricket, but when you’re playing a county game and the sky darkens and it starts to piss down, it doesn’t half fill everybody in the dressing room with joie de vivre… When it pissed it down, you knew were not going to fail that day.”

Fear of failure can turn players into emotional cripples, a particular problem for those at the peak of their profession and burdened by the expectation of success. But what about the ennui of winning?

Take Ronnie O’Sullivan, probably the most gifted snooker player ever. Many actively dislike the man, but it seems a failure of empathy to damn O’Sullivan’s various brainstorms and mood-swings and lashings-out. His flicking of the bird at the missed red ball in the video below is both absurdly funny and rather sad. He is a man in a very strange situation: he hates snooker. He is visibly bored and irritated by the prospect of having to poke all those frigging balls into the poxy little pockets over and over again. But he can’t do anything else and all of his peers envy his outrageous talent. And always the mediocrities, the keen tryers, the sad-acts who go on to make a living talking about this most trivial of pastimes, are endlessly nagging, nagging at him to knuckle down and be a ‘professional’. But professionals are in many ways the bane of sport, the stodge. O’Sullivan is the snookerist you’d pay to watch.

That’s why, as well as being the most disliked player, he’s also the most popular.

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11 thoughts on “Row Z – The sports stars who hate sport

    ian russell
    October 22, 2010 at 13:10

    Blimey, and these are the top guys! Imagine being not very good and hating it. I’m glad I found out before I went down that road….

    October 22, 2010 at 15:15

    The problem is not so much what they say but the fact that they are allowed to say anything at all, before the days when media took over sport, post event interviews were as rare as a BBC news programme without a hidden agenda. The second they are off the saddle, pitch, court, track, out of the pool then out comes the vacuous twerp, mic in hand, camera just behind, poked into the poor sports persons beak and they are asked to prattle. “How do you feel X, having Stevenage athletic beat you fourteen nil”. “Well, crass sports commentator, you know what…………I hate this life, my sport, you, the wife, mistresses, kids, these shoes, the ref, FIFA, Seb Coe, that dick head Andy Murray, you cannot be serious”
    Shut them up, I ain’t remotely interested in what most of ’em have to say.

    Robert Iddiols
    October 22, 2010 at 17:59

    Peter Ebdon is the most hated, surely?

    Hey Skipper
    October 22, 2010 at 18:44

    “I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have”, wrote Andre Agassi in his autobiography Open.

    Then why did he play for so long?

    Somewhere past half a squintillion dollars, that whole paying the rent thing must be covered for at least several lifetimes.

    October 22, 2010 at 19:58

    This a more common ailment than you might think. I was a whore in the world of commerce for almost three decades. I used to ask myself, my wife, my friends, and I even wrote down many many times: why am I so good at a job I hate?
    Eventually I discovered the reason was that the job loved me, that I was in the power of an economic succubus, an evil spirit. Once I knew that I could chuck it all. Been poor and almost happy ever since.

    Gadjo Dilo
    October 23, 2010 at 06:20

    Snooker has always seemed to me an eminently depressing sport: it drove Alex Higgins to gambling and hitting people, “Big” Bill Werbeniuk had to sink 30 pints of cheap lager before he could pick up his cue and Graham Dott is now permanently on medication.

    October 23, 2010 at 10:34

    Given the pressures, the relentless schedules, the spotlight, etc., this is not really terribly surprising. It happens to actors and rock stars too. Our surprise may say more about our own fantasies of the good life.

    Harder to understand are the recreational amateurs who confess to hating their passion. I’ve met quite a few colleagues whose every waking hour outside their careers is pretty much given over to golf, but who admit they don’t enjoy the game and appear to get little pleasure out of it.

    October 25, 2010 at 23:17

    There was an article about Federer in the New Yorker a while back contrasting him to Agassi in his fondness for the game. The writer pointed out that Federer is one of the very few tennis players today who chose entirely by himself to become a tennis player, without any pressure at all from his parents. The author made a very persuasive argument that it is Federer’s real love of the game and interest in it – plus innate coordination and ability (his parents were surprised when, still barely one year old, he was able to aim a ball accurately when mucking around at football in the garden) – that makes him such a great player

    October 25, 2010 at 23:24

    That article was in the New Yorker 28 June 2010 edition – highly recommended, turned me from someone who vaguely admired Federer into a proper fan

    October 25, 2010 at 23:26

    ‘contrasting with’ I should have said – had the off switch on pedantry for a moment

    David Cohen
    October 26, 2010 at 14:02

    As Lincoln suggests, part of it is that, wherever you go, there you are.

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