This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … X Games fan coolness.
The Winter X Games ended last week. Despite being fully entrenched in this hell called middle age, my old ass watches a lot of the X Games each winter and summer. What these athletes do is more stunning than anything I’ll see in any of the big pro sports. I was a decent amateur athlete when I was young, so I can at least imagine what it’s like to make a diving, fingertip catch in an NFL game, or to lift a puck into the top corner of an NHL net, or to let a grounder go through my legs in a Pittsburgh Pirates game.
But when I see what those X Games studs can do on a motorcycle or snowboard, I am left with a feeling I seldom get to experience at this age: complete awe. They are doing things that are beyond my scope of physical reference.
But I also got to experience a feeling I know all too well, being the cranky bastard I am: disgust.
No, not for the athletes, those media-savvy, self-promoting, heavily sponsored, calculating fame hounds. Good for them for using their sick athletic ability to get rich and get lots of pussy.
No, not for the overwrought theatrics of the D-list announcers who treat even the lamest trick by outscreaming that Hindenburg announcer.
And no, not for frenetic coverage of ESPN, who knows that their mostly young audience has the collective attention span of a gnat and therefore needs different camera shots every .8 seconds.
What disgusted me was the behavior of the X Games fans. These phonies like to think of themselves as a sort of sports counterculture, eschewing middle America favorites like football and baseball and instead being into sports that represent some sort of rebel spirit. They come off like they are too cool to care about anything other than the (long-gone) purity of their sports. But what I saw was a bunch of attention-craving, meticulously outfitted cookie-cutter clones more interested in performing for the cameras than they were in savoring the actual feats of the athletes. Their snobby sense of counterculture superiority is overrated.
As soon as some snow stud would finish some insanely difficult snowboard stunt, a camera would pan over the crowd, and instead of being focused on the athlete, who was right in front of them, these fans would all perform for the camera, screaming, jumping and using whatever trick they could to get noticed. It was incredibly uncool behavior for these allegedly too cool for school hipsters.
I saw Terrible Towels being waved. (Not very rebellious to be a fan of the pro sport that generates mega-billions every year by targeting their conformist product to Joe Sixpack.) I saw a guy in a Washington Capitals Winter Classic jersey. (I thought you guys saw through contrived, commercial “events” like the Winter Classic.) I saw one guy not wearing, but inexplicably waving, a Steve Nash jersey for the camera before Shaun White had even come to a stop after one of his runs. The greatest X Games athlete of them all has just completed another ridiculous ride, and this goofball is unironically waving an NBA jersey for the camera. Dude, you are so extreme!
These kids were there mainly to be seen on ESPN. They devised visual ploys to try to stand out in the crowd. They were more aware of the roaming overhead camera than they were of the guy who just did a 360 on his snow mobile.
And of course, they did this while decked out from head to toe in the name brand gear of those companies they like to assail for ruining their beloved sports. These human billboards will gladly rail against the athletes going corporate, yet they’ll do this pontificating while wearing Vans shoes, a Stussy t-shirt and a Burton cap, no doubt turned backwards or worn a bit askew, because that’s how millions of other originalists are wearing it.
If you’re a fan of the X Games, just enjoy the sports and quit feeling so good about yourself. The original X Games athletes and fans were allowed to feel cool because they were there when the fledgling movement truly was about supremely talented athletes showing off and their fans finding a niche that wasn’t yet tainted by corporate sponsorship and incessant three-minute commercial breaks.
But you modern X fans are no cooler than the sucker fans of any other sports. Most of you show up now to get on camera, to make the scene and to be able to say you were at an event. I’m not the old guy who wants to begrudge you whippersnappers your chance to unleash all that pent up youthful energy. I’m just suggesting you get back to your alternative-sports-watching roots by scaling back the attention-getting antics and focusing more of your attention on the actual athletes. But that probably won’t happen, because that would require a complete reversal of the way you now behave, and you guys no longer do extreme.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.