How the Need to “Know Ball” Is Destroying Sports Discourse

Bryan Boanoh ’25 (Sports Editor, 144th Board) in Sports | April 19, 2024

          Everybody wants to be factually correct—this is not a revolutionary statement. No one enjoys taking a stance or making a claim only to realize that what they said or thought turned out to be wrong. This forces an individual to ask questions of themselves. What can be said about a person if they are consistently wrong? Is it worth it to keep putting your thoughts out into the open air if they are so often grounded when they come into contact with reality? Again, I am not making any profound discovery here; insecurities are real, and they can manifest themselves in many different facets of our lives. 

          Considering the section in which this article is being published, you can make an educated guess about what backdrop I am going to use to examine the ideas of insecurities.
          Sports discourse, at its core, is built upon conflicting opinions where no side is necessarily “wrong.” Of course, statistics do exist, and they play a large part in influencing our opinions—LeBron James’ career average of 27.1points per game would prove to be a large obstacle if you were trying to convince someone that he was worse than Killian Hayes and his lofty 8.1 career average—but stats only serve as a numerical confirmation of what we see. No amount of advanced statistics can ever paint a more accurate depiction of an athlete and their playstyle than their actual on-field or on-court performance, and that’s something that you see for yourself. Therefore, you are free to make almost any sports-related claim you want, as long as you cite your eyes as evidence. You are your own primary source.

          But damn us and our inherent human need for external validation. Our own confidence and assurance in the validity of our own thoughts and opinions simply is not enough for us. No, we need to outsource these opinions to the masses with the intention of establishing our own intellectual superiority in the realm of subjective analysis. We must prove that we “know ball.”

          In the attempts to prove that we have “ball knowledge,” sports fans will lead crusades to social media comment sections. We will engage in near-fatal combat in lunch table colosseums, performing for raucous crowds. Some of us take up the microphone and make our own auditory “ball knowledge” applications through the creation of podcasts (listen to Two Brothers and their Sports, available on Spotify, Apple Music, or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts). The alleged “best of us” have our faces broadcasted to millions, as we have morning shows devoted to our debates, essentially monetizing our “ball knowledge.” It’s truly inescapable. The insatiable need to prove we have ball knowledge has become an epidemic, leeching its way into every avenue for sports debate. You can’t swing a cat in an Instagram comment section without hitting someone spewing controversial sporting opinions, hoping to gain a sufficient number of intangible internet points from strangers in order to reinforce their own belief that they do indeed “know ball.”
          Comparison is the theft of joy, which is why, of course, the need to compare our levels of ball knowledge to those of our peers is perhaps even more important than just confirming the fact that we do indeed have it. “Okay,” the sports fan thinks, “I know, through the meaningless plaudits of strangers whom I will never meet, that my subjective sports opinions are valid, now the only way to further prove the superiority of my sporting knowledge is to tear down the subjective opinions of my peers,” and the sports fan sets out to do just that, because why strive to just be correct when the possibility of becoming more correct than somebody else exists? This question has become a poison seeping its way into every crevice of sports discourse, nearly ruining the medium. Nowadays, people tear down any opinion that runs opposite to theirs with little to no effort being put into understanding where the opposite side is coming from. Oh, you think that the best soccer player from the 2020s even holds a candle to my childhood heroes from the 2000s? Clearly, you are an inept child whose frontal lobe is merely too underdeveloped, otherwise, you would agree with me. Because I have ball knowledge, and you don’t. It is much easier to classify anyone with differing opinions as someone who is merely on a lower plane of intellect than you, and it is equally effortless to devalue their opinions and declare yourself above them. In this day and age, that’s how you win.

          I’ve been using the word “we” throughout this article because I am no stranger to this landscape. I have engaged in numerous sports debates with my friends and made many sports-based predictions, some of which have been printed in this very paper. I too, have accused many people of “not knowing ball.” Some of my own takes have not stood the test of time; in fact, the very premise for this article came about when I was reminiscing about my article predicting that the Buffalo Bills would hoist the Lombardi Trophy this year. The response to the article was exactly what you would have expected: I received a good amount of flak for my take, especially after Buffalo proceeded to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs two days after the article was published. The flak was warranted. I’m not saying that we are not privy to some criticism if our predictions do fall short, but it is important to mention that no criticisms were ever levied at my reasoning for the prediction in the first place. After all, how could it be refuted? Everyone saw the Bills win six games in a row heading into the game, and everybody saw Kansas City’s offense record their worst season in the Patrick Mahomes era. My claim, even in its inaccuracy, was still valid.

          And that’s what is so often lost in our modern sports discussions. The winner of a debate isn’t the person who can make more correct predictions regarding the outcomes of games they can’t control. It’s not about who has more insulting terms to hurl at someone who disagrees with them. It’s about having faith in your own opinions, no matter what they might be. It is the belief that the conclusions you come to are important, regardless of how many other people agree with you. You can be wrong, like I was in the Buffalo Bills article, and it won’t matter. In fact, keep being wrong. Keep going against the grain. If your eyes tell you that your favorite team is going to win the Super Bowl next year, then by all means, tell everyone. No one can take away the personal experience that led you to make that claim, nor make you unsee what you saw, or say that your opinion is invalid. Scream your opinion rooftops with confidence; that’s the mark of someone who truly “knows ball.”