A Freakonomics Radio Bleg: Do You Boo? If So, When and Why?


We’re working on a Freakonomics Radio piece about booing — when it happens (and doesn’t), who does it (and doesn’t), what it means, etc. We’re looking for good stories and insights, so please let us know in the comments section what you’ve got, whether you were the booer, the booee, or a witness. The story might concern politics, sports, the theater or opera, whatever. Did you ever see kids boo a bad clown at a birthday party, e.g.? Am also interested in how booing breaks down along socioeconomic and cultural lines — does more booing really happen in the cheap seats? In a nutshell, we’re looking for the most interesting, surprising, revealing booing stories you’ve got. Many thanks in advance.

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  1. Steve says:

    Another Philly comment, since it seems like we’re the home of the boo.

    1. Intense rivals are booed on principle, just for existing. Thus Sydney Crosby gets booed from the moment he hits the ice.

    2. Opposing players (especially on intense rivals) who are perceived to take a cheap shot at one of our guys or to milk an injury are booed.

    3. When 1 and 2 converge, you get unfortunate incidents like the Michael Irvin thing.

    4. If you’ve stood up to it over the course of a career and kicked our butts anyway, and we know it’s the last time we’ll see you, you are entitled to a one-time exception cheer. Unless you play for the Cowboys, in which case there is no booing exception.

    5. For home players, you get booed if you give less than your best effort, or if you make the same mistake over and over again. Failing to run out a ground ball is an automatic boo. Shane Victorino popping out to 2nd base with one out and a runner on third is totally boo-worthy – even though we don’t hate him. Some players are immune because they are known to always give their best effort and we know they are more upset at their failure than we are.

    6. Santa and such? If you’re going to put yourself out there, do it right. It was a bad Santa. Earlier this year they brought a robot out to throw the first pitch. It wasn’t even close. Sorry kid, we’re booing your robot. If you are an adult, and you put yourself in a position to be evaluated, then you need to be prepared to accept judgement. Same principle apples to the idiot who reaches in front of a kid to catch a foul ball. Or the ball girl who doesn’t give the foul ball to the kid in the front row.

    7. Any hometown player or ex-player who criticizes the fan base, especially if it’s because they’re thin skinned and complaining about #5, when in fact complaining about being booed is a sure-fire indication that you don’t deserve immunity, no matter how well you play.

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    • Bobby G says:

      I disagree with the principles, but I’ll respect them since they’re yours and I really enjoyed reading your insight. Thanks!

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  2. xq says:

    i’m a Simpsons nerd so i say “boo-urns” a lot.

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  3. Butch says:

    I boo at sporting events will the booing mob without worry of shame or judgement. I boo ironically mostly though, as a form of sarcasm. However, just recently I booed from a place of true protest in a very inapropriate setting for booing. A lecture…

    I booed someone lecturing about his work teaching architecture students in a socially minded, real world setting. He was actually given an award for this work, I think even the equivalent of best in show, with many other projects and programs that are also socially minded. The background is that this award is supposed to seek out and award inclusion in the design process, something that is not in the nature of architects and designers at all. This conference was a lot of talk about this inclusionary process, but little evidence to back it up. So my frustration levels were high when this person was at the podium and began to talk about the poor, predominately African American neighborhood the project was in. FYI it was just remodeling a run down house. As he explained all the data collection and mapping the students did, he said that information was only for the designer, because they were the only ones sophisticated enough to understand. At that moment, with little warning a boo slipped out of my mouth, and luckily I was in the back of the audience so only 25% of the audience heard this and promptly turned to look in horror who did this in such a high minded civil setting. Oops. But if I had it to do over again I’d boo again, just louder.

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  4. Jeremy Smith says:

    I boo at the commercials before movies. I boo at the bad guy in midnight screenings of cult classics. I boo at public officials who have recently made particularly odious statements, and at unwelcome election results. I boo when the police shut down a rock show.

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  5. BSK says:

    At a sporting event, I’ll boo what I consider to be a subpar effort. As a former athlete, I understand that physical miscues are going to happen. You’re going to swing and miss… drop a pass… flub a throw. It happens. I won’t boo that. But when it’s obvious that the effort is lack… mental mistakes… obvious lack of hustle, I’ll boo.

    I’ll also boo an egregiously bad call by an official, but that has a certain psychological element to it, since Scorecasting found that crowds can influence officials.

    I’ll boo a comic who I think crosses a line or who is just flat out not funny, the former because it is a way of registering my disapproval and the latter because I hope it provides feedback and/or fodder for them going forward.

    I’ll boo a band that seems to have mailed in a performance (too messed up on stage, no encore for a finishing act, ignoring the crowd energy).

    Basically, if the effort is there, I won’t boo.

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  6. Brian says:

    In my view, booing is one of the great joys of attending a professional sporting event. There is no other place in our society where such a primal act is not only tolerated but encouraged. I reserve my booing for particularly loathsome members of the opposing team (e.g. LeBron James) and for bad calls by the officials. Out of respect for my fellow attendees, I never ever use profanity. My go-to move is an outraged: “Come on!” followed by booing.

    I have no qualms about booing in front of my children. In fact, I allow and encourage them to boo if they think it is appropriate. I believe that professional athletes and professional officials should expect to be booed on the road as part of their job.

    That said, I would never boo at a youth league or high school sporting event and would think poorly of anyone who did engage in this behavior. Similarly, I would never boo a politician or an entertainer. Being booed is not an expected part of their job.

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  7. David says:

    Two stories stand out, both about baseball:

    The first is the story of the Cubs and booing. I’m in my mid-twenties and have been a Cubs fan for my whole life. While everybody knows about the Cubs long run of impotence, but until the past two seasons, the past decade had actually been a pretty successful one for the Cubs. They made the playoffs three times, and almost made the World Series in 2003. What I’ve noticed: the better the team is, the MORE the fans boo. I barely remember any booing prior to their string of playoff appearances in 2003, 2007, and 2008. But during that stretch, the boos rained down at Wrigley like never before. There’s something about booing that has to do with unment high expectations.

    The second story is also about baseball, only about the Nationals and booing. Living in DC, I go to a lot of Nationals games these days. I have only ever heard the home fans boo once, and it was the day during Strasburg-mania when he came down with tightness in his shoulder and was pulled pre-game for Miguel Batista (the infamous Miss Iowa, himself). Most of the time, the crowd is too apathetic to boo. They’ve seen plenty of losses and one more screwed up game isn’t anything new. But when Batista went out there people booed like crazy. Crowds at Nats Park rarely make noise about much, good or bad, but that day they booed and booed. Again, it only happens when people have some sort of expectations.

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  8. Claire says:

    I think I’ve only really booed at hockey games, especially the minor-league games. They’re pretty rowdy compared to the NHL games, where I cheer but almost never boo. Truth told, I don’t even know that much about hockey, (I go because my husband likes it) but it doesn’t feel right to sit there all prunes and prisms like we’re at church.

    My favorite boo-er at those games took it up a notch. He used to sit by the ice and describe to the players all the explicit things he had done to their sisters, and how ugly/hot/slutty the sisters were. Not sure if he was doing it for the benefit of the players or for the amusement of the people in the stands.

    I’m 29 and female and think of myself as lower-middle or working class. :)

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