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April 8, 2010

UnCensered: Why Haters Love to Hate

by Joel Censer | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Censer Archive

Hopkins' rabid fan base can be taunting, entitled and merciless -- from the “We want more” chant to overeager online message board posters to the traveling pep band.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

I live along the U Street corridor in Washington, D.C. Hipsters, minorities, families, young professionals -- the neighborhood includes a pretty diverse set of people. What's the quickest way to bring everyone together? Other than a free hotdog giveaway at

Ben’s Chili Bowl, I can’t imagine anything more unifying than the opportunity to root against Duke’s basketball team in the NCAA finals.

Indeed, while watching from a local watering hole as underdog Butler took the Blue Devils to the brink, I was quickly reminded how many different people vehemently hate Duke’s hoops squad.

When I went home at halftime, similar sentiments echoed within my living room. My conservative roommate from North Carolina seemed more inclined to say something positive about health care reform than the Durham school. And another roommate, whose job is to organize high school kids to fight global warming, confessed he’d buy a Hummer before rooting for Scheyer and Zoubek.

Even when I called my dad, a Duke alum who only missed one basketball game during his entire time in Durham, he admitted to having a soft spot for the Bulldogs.

The reasons people enjoy sipping on Blue Devil haterade are well-documented. It’s not just that the squad is a perennial contender and always on TV. It’s also because Duke is an elite private college whose students will let you know that their team is legit and that they worked you over on the SAT. Add in some flops, a Christian Laettner/Cherokee Parks/Mike Dunleavy Jr. comb-over, some J.J. Redick hair wax and a fair share of questionable calls, and that’s how you develop the most hated college team in America.

For better or worse, no team in Division I lacrosse inspires an equivalent amount of blind hatred. Maybe it’s just that the lacrosse community (which includes the media outlets that cover it) is too close to one another and interconnected for people to really hate one another.  Watching Duke and Georgetown play March 27, I felt like it was just a few players away from being at a Delbarton/Georgetown Prep combined alumni game.

Or it could just be the nature of a helmet sport. Because everyone’s face is hidden, the bonds fans build with or against players while watching basketball, baseball and tennis just don’t exist in lacrosse. Last week, I rewound an on-field skirmish between UNC long pole Milton Lyles and Hopkins defensive midfielder Dave Spaulding five times to try to figure out why the two were getting into it to no avail. This inability to plumb the depths of their dispute forms a stark contrast to, say, seeing Josh McRoberts cry on the Duke bench.

Regardless, it got me wondering: If college lacrosse continues to grow, what school is likely to draw the most ire? Will there ever be a viral YouTube video telling some college lacrosse team exactly why they suck?

Hopkins certainly seems like the most likely candidate. Like Duke, the Blue Jays' rabid fan base can be taunting, entitled and merciless -- from the “We want more” chant to overeager online message board posters to the traveling pep band. And, drawing another comparison with Duke basketball, Hopkins makes it in Division I lacrosse as a brainy, academically intense school.

This distinction doesn’t go unnoticed; I remember Maryland defenseman Chris Passavia once firing up the Blue Jays by saying he would never go to Hopkins because he wanted a more balanced college experience. Because Hopkins lacrosse is the school's only Division I sport, the team has more independence and the ability to schedule anyone, helping the Jays accommodate the NCAA selection committee (who value strength of schedule more than anything) and ruffling a few more feathers in the process. Finally, Hopkins’ grinding style of play and the way they milk possessions and take possession shots certainly doesn’t endear them to fans looking for some fast game action. 

The other team would probably be Syracuse, which has a huge fan base that extends well beyond the campus borders. Like the New York Yankees, who are hated because the absence of a hard salary cap in Major League Baseball allows them to acquire ridiculous amounts of talent, Syracuse’s lacrosse team has clear advantages. They not only get to recruit from the ripe backyard of Upstate New York, but after the college transfers, the community college transfers and an influx of Native American talent (who attend the school for free), the Orange often end up with the deepest team in Division I lacrosse. 

Still, right now it’s hard to direct any animosity towards either team. For Hopkins, having a freshman from Scottsdale, Ariz., in the cage, a relatively unathletic defense backing him up, a lack of playmakers at the midfield (what if they hadn’t unleashed Tommy Palesek?) and a brutal schedule means the Jays will continue to hang on for dear life in the week’s top 20.

As for Syracuse, I just have a difficult time rooting against exciting, creative athletes who push tempo. Am I really supposed to hate Joel White when he gets it in transition and winds up from 15? I mean, c’mon.

Maybe one day my sympathies will dissipate and the hating will begin. Then we’ll know, as a sport, we’ve made it. 

Odds and Odds

• Really excited this weekend for UNC-UVA at the Meadowlands. I'm leaning toward UVA right now in a two-goal game. I just think the Cavs will win too many possessions at the faceoff. Plus, I’ve never seen Tar Heel goalie Chris Madalon really tested. We’ll see how he does this week because, as good as the UNC defense has been, the Cavaliers are going to get shots. A lot of ‘em.

• With sophomore defenseman Chad Wiedemaier back in the lineup for Syracuse, I'm expecting Princeton’s defense to continue to get stingier. The Tigers will be back to giving up single digits. The first to 10 goals will win the game.

Joel Censer is a 2008 graduate of Haverford College, where he was an All-American defenseman and helped lead the Fords to the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament. The self-proclaimed media darling passes along the following clip from a D.C. radio podcast.

Comment below and check LMO each week for more "UnCensered" musings.


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