Kyle Williams’ overtime fumble in last year’s NFC Championship Game brought out the worst in Bay Area sports fans.
In the aftermath of the 49ers’ 20-17 loss to the New York Giants, teammates like Patrick Willis and Adam Snyder rallied to support Williams. But many fans on Twitter were less forgiving. For example, one wrote: “I hope you, youre wife, kids and family die, you deserve it.”
Unfortunately, this online vitriol is surfacing again this year with a new target: distressed kicker David Akers.
As the 49ers prepare to meet the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, there isn’t a player on either roster who is facing more pressure than Akers. If the game is close, the winner could be determined by Akers’ left foot.
Should the ball sail wide left, let’s consider it a chance for a mulligan. If you really love the team, support the players as they suffer through agonizing defeat; send them messages of gratitude for all the joy they’ve provided this season. Try to remember that underneath those hard helmets and stiff-shoulder pads, these gargantuan men are fallible human beings, like you and I.
What is the point of ranting, raving and finger pointing? We aren’t members of the team. It wasn’t our sweat and effort that propelled the 49ers to New Orleans. We sat on our couches and watched. No one should be hurting more than they do.
I was listening to KQED a few nights ago and the guest on the program was discussing the booming popularity of yoga across the country. At one point, she said something to the tune of: it’s great; the last thing we need in the world right now is more competitive sports.
What? I was dumbfounded. Clearly, this person has never been inside the locker room of a high school basketball team or spent a minute at a Little League practice.
Sports, when coached the right way, teaches kids teamwork, the art of self-improvement and resiliency. But they can also extract some of our worst human qualities, which we witnessed last year during the Williams debacle.
When outside observers witness this behavior it reinforces the idea that sports are only about winning, and winning at all costs. Of course, you want to win the game, that’s the goal, the glue that binds the whole structure together. Anyone who tells you that winning doesn’t matter is obviously incapable of understanding Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.”
But in a lot of ways, the universal experience of sports is losing. Almost everyone who picks up a ball or joins a team is a big loser in the grand scheme of things. Only one team walks away as the winner at the end of the season, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are walking around with big “L’s” on our foreheads.
Jim Harbaugh’s players get what sports are about and that’s why they had Williams’ back last year. So, if Akers or anyone else on the team commits a costly error on Sunday, let’s prove the naysayers wrong. Let’s reach out and offer support. Then we can really feel like we’re a part of the team.
Paul Gackle is a regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner and also writes at www.gacklereport.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.