This past Sunday, the New England Patriots disappointed most of the nation by winning their sixth Super Bowl, all with Tom Brady at quarterback. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I didn’t watch the game. Something about it all just didn’t appeal to me, despite my having rediscovered a strong interest in watching football of late (NFL Red Zone was the seismic shift that drew me back in), despite rooting for first-favorite (Miami Dolphins) and second-favorite (NY Giants) teams that have done little to fulfill my fandom of late. Instead, my wife and I went to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in a near-empty theater (we both quite enjoyed and recommend the movie).

Rather than extol my prescience for opting not to watch what turned out to be a snoozer, I’ll instead delve into why most of the country was rooting against quite arguably the greatest quarterback and quarterback/coach combo of all time. A good part of my own personal disdain for the Patriots isn’t about the team itself. After all, they are just professional athletes, looking to do what they do, get paid for it, and win games for whoever hires them. No, it’s the Patriots fans that turn me off. Yes, I know not all of them are smug, insufferable sore winners, but they’ve achieved a critical mass, and in the aggregate are one step below Philadelphia sports fans in their [redacted]ness. That said, I do understand why Brady gets under people’s skin.

It’s not just that he’s as good as he is. He’s got that all-American look about him, he married one of the most beautiful women on the planet, he’s not the most charming personality out there, and he’s a bit of a weirdo, to boot. Stack that up with half a dozen Super Bowl rings and an aura of inevitability during two-minute crunch time, sprinkle on some allegations of shenanigans, and anyone who’s not a fan has plenty to find antipathetic. Of course, most would change their tune if he had performed as he has for their team, be proud of his off-field successes, and ignore or rationalize the negatives.

So, a big part of the anti-Brady attitude found through most of the country is rooted in envy. It could have been softened over the years with a conscious effort towards likability, and a more careful management of his public persona (exhibit 1: Derek Jeter), but it is what it is.

In professional sports, hatreds, rivalries, envy, and the like are positives. They drive interest and excitement, which increases attendance and viewership, which enhances the teams’ bottom lines (and allows players to demand and get higher salaries). It’s fun to hate on a highly talented but prickly athlete when he’s playing for a rival, but it’s the rare fan who would turn his back on a superstar coming to his team, assuming he performs and carries the team to victory. Woe, however, be to the superstar that gets the nine-figure contract and then either dogs it or fails to deliver the goods, but that’s all about victory and nothing about likability.

In politics, however, envy is a poison. Envy taints one’s perception of another, leads to questioning his morals, his motives, and, most dangerously, the legitimacy of his success. It causes people to view others as less worthy of admiration, or even of being viewed as fellow humans. In conjunction with its cousins greed and covetousness, it prompts people to call for forcibly taking from others, and is followed up by rationalizations of the morality of using that force. If we think poorly of someone more successful than us, we’re less likely to regret doing bad things to him. Or, as is typical in politics, assigning a proxy to do bad things to him.

And, when that proxy tells us we are justified in supporting those bad things, we’re encouraged to feel good about ourselves, and feel good about telling politicians “that guy over there has more money than I think he deserves! Take it from him!”

Not everyone would be comfortable saying it that starkly, of course (although a disturbing number of people are). It’s uncomfortable – and against the teachings not only of most major religions, but of normal human behavior itself – to openly advocate for theft born of envy. So, it gets made more palatable through depersonalization, through qualifiers, and through promises that the money will be put to good use. People often think of Robin Hood, but Robin Hood stole back moneys the tax collectors took from the poor, not the wealth that people earned themselves.

A recent survey showed that a majority of Americans are cool with raising taxes on those who earn more than $10M. Many of that majority are probably unaware that those millionaires already pay more than their proportional share of taxes, thanks to our highly progressive tax code and the overlapping layers of credits, refunds, and social programs afforded to the lower income brackets. Many believe the falsehood that the rich get all the breaks, that they are the beneficiaries of Trump’s tax reforms, and that they, the working and middle classes, bear the heaviest weight of income taxation.

This myth is perpetuated by covetous, redistributionist politicians and their allies in the press. This lie serves those politicians well, because it gives voters an excuse to act on their envy without feeling guilty. If the rich aren’t paying any taxes, it’s easier to say “raise taxes on the rich” without feeling discomfort or remorse. People are told that envy is not a bad thing if directed at the right people. People are told that covetousness and greed are OK, if they point them at the right targets. Envy is channeled and weaponized by people who are themselves envious – of others’ money, of others’ power, of others’ success.

And, as it goes in pro sports, envy is at the root of hatred for those who’ve done better than you. But, unlike pro sports, that hate causes harm. Real harm, to all of us, and not just those who are envied. It corrodes society, it saps productivity, it slows the improvement of living standards, and it exacerbates distrust and dislike of our friends and neighbors.

So, sure, go ahead with your hatred of Brady and the Patriots. It’s part of what makes pro sports fun. Just don’t let that mind set expand outside the world of entertainment. Politics may be entertaining, but it’s not entertainment. It’s the real world, and envy in the real world is poisonous.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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