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.


To me booing is a form of voting. If they're bad enough they get booed. If they are not that bad, I will be silent, which to some may be worse, because I will just tune out what ever I am choosing not to boo. It may be worse because it's like saying, hey I don't like what you're doing, but you also don't make me care enough to say anything. When I boo, at least you are doing something that gets my attention, albeit the wrong kind. If anything, I see booing as cheering against something, but if I do not wish to legitimize something I will be silent and ignore it.

Bobby G

I boo mostly at sporting events, and rarely at performance-related incidents. I'll boo when I disapprove of an umpire or referee's call. This is the most common occurrence for my own booing habits, and it's when I boo the loudest, aside from very unsportsmanlike conduct.

I'll boo when I disapprove of a particularly bad decision made by a player (you've missed four 3-pt shots in a row, stop shooting them please, or you went for a flashy play thinking it was a gimme and you mucked it up), or when an opposing team's player celebrates or showboats, particularly when it's in bad taste.

As I mentioned, I'll boo at unsportsmanlike behavior on either team, like a cheap shot.

I'll also boo somewhat sardonically at opposing players if they do something somewhat harmless like, say, attempt to unsuccessfully pick off the player on first base 3 or more times. Most of the time with these "silly" boos, I'm trying to get into the player's head if I can. I don't expect to. Sometimes I'll boo when players I particularly don't like are announced, either as an at bat or in the pregame announcements (I don't just boo the opposing team's best players, though).

I don't ever boo at performances. I've been a performer myself, and frankly if you don't like something I think you should just walk out. What's the point of staying in your seat if you're not enjoying what you're watching? Saying that, I think about my sports booing behavior, and I conclude that I still have fun enjoying the drama of the game despite there being obstacles and events I would rather not have happened. I don't know if people who boo during performances are experiencing the same thing, but I certainly don't.

I suppose I could see booing at a performance if there was some longer-than-expected delay during the performance, but chances are you aren't booing at the performers themselves in that case. Still, if you're that upset, just leave.

Politics... I don't know if I'd ever boo. The only occasions you'd have to boo would be at a political rally (where you'd be booing, most likely, someone who has many people there to support him/her, people who would probably not take kindly to their speaker getting booed) or a debate. In the debate context, booing seems immature to me anyway, I would prefer to express my disagreement with an intelligent, objective retort.

Finally, I will also submit that I boo at other audience or crowd members. If someone is causing a disruption (that I don't find amusing), I'll boo at them. If a guy takes a foul ball away from a little girl at a ball game, I'll boo at him. Sometimes I'll mockingly boo if, let's say, a girl won't kiss a guy on the kiss cam, or if the "by round of applause" selection was clearly wrong (in my opinion), but I'm booing there for fun.

Interesting question. I've never actually thought about it before. My apologies if the comment is kind of long :)



During Irish international rugby matches there was always booing during a Mexican wave before the team oved into their new stadium. It only occured at a certain point however. Once the wave passed through the middle of the West Stand, the place where all the dignitaries and rich people sat, the crowd would boo because they wouldn't stand up and do the wave properly. Otherwise the crowd wouldn't boo anything other than the referee.

Steve S.

In the Philadelphia sports dogma there is a theory about the boo. Booing under most circumstance is a way of expressing constructive criticism towards the individual/team that you support. However, there exists an elite group of athletes who are "above the boo" or "unbooable". Many successful athletes have publicly recognized these principles, perhaps the most outspoken of which being Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams.

Steve S.

Is the thumbs down icon the de facto "boo expression" within the social media domain? Fascinating.


I haven't booed at any type of event. I just observe others. I sometimes think it might be a "hive" mentality. Once a couple of people start booing, everybody else does it. My girlfriend actually thinks that booing at a sports event is kind of immoral. She says it hurts the players feelings and it shouldn't be done.

I think people boo at opposing teams at sports events because words can do so much. Booing is much longer and seems to carry over a much further distance. Perphaps booing can be a way for crowds to distract players.

I just like to be silent instead of booing. If my team makes a great play, I like to cheer for that. I'm not really a booer.

Gavin Will

A bit of swearing here but worth it...


Fred Mcauley - Sometimes boo isnt enough


To the best of my recollection I have only actively booed once at a live event. Even then, it was more of a hiss than a boo. I was a 29 year old married Roman Catholic mother of two sitting in my parish church (St. Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco) and John Paul II was addressing the laity.
I don't remember his words or the words of the woman who spoke before he did. I do remember the tone.
She spoke of the complicated lives we, wives and mothers and bread winners and women of faith, led. She spoke of our deep commitment to a church that often did not seem to recognize or value us. She asked the Pope to pay attention.
He spoke of the need for good Catholics to stop thinking for themselves and do what he told them to do and think.
Most of the people in the cathedral cheered his every pause. I hissed quiet boos under my breath.
When I left the cathedral that day I never went back.
My life of faith did not stop stop. My life as a Roman Catholic did.
Perhaps this booing story is far off your radar but it was a trans-formative moment in my life.



Whenever I see the commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, I have an uncontrollable urge to boo.


@Bobby G & Steve S (re sporting events):
True, but there were always the players who produced noise in the "boo" data set - like Mooookie Wilson or Looou Piniella.

Steve S.

True, arguably the most well supported player right now on the Phillies is Carlos "Choooooch" Ruiz

And again, along the lines of Philadelphia sports lure: The loudest boo I've witnessed first hand was during former Mayor of Philadelphia, John Street's speech before the opening Citizen's Bank Park in 2004.

The antithesis to all of this: its widely thought (example of cognitive bias?) in baseball circles that St. Louis Cardinals fans never boo. I can vouch for the contrary, they're human too, see: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLN/SLN201106210.shtml


I boo Kyle Busch in NASCAR. Almost every lap. I've booed him on tv, I've booed him directly to his face (from about 5 feet away). I don't like him, his attitude, or some of his actions, therefore, I boo.


I have booed several times, but the one that comes to mind was at a rock concert. Not towards the musicians, but towards the sound technicians. I don't know what was wrong, but the people running the sound board could not keep feedback from entering the sound system (I swear it felt like it was 10+ times, but I know for a fact it was at least 5 times). Every band had to deal with it and you could just see it in their actions how mad they were.

I have some friends who have become professional sound engineers and so I've been taught to appreciate good sound work. I learned that, in their minds, 2 moments of feedback during a show was enough to consider a sound guy suspect. So you add all of those moments of feedback to a sound mix that my untrained ears thought was suspect and I turned around and booed after every feedback. (I wouldn't have booed just because I didn't like the mix as that can be pretty subjective, but I had no problems doing it once the feedback started repeating.)

So frustrating to pay money and have to suffer through a bad set because a 3rd party, who I didn't come pay to see and can only get in my way, is at fault. As the first poster said, it was the only way I could voice my opinion that those people running the sound board were idiots who didn't earn a penny of their wage.



In Philly, booing is nuanced. Here, when you boo the other team in general its basically the easiest way of conveying your hatred towards them. When you boo a former philly athlete who is back in philly but on the away team, its partly to say welcome back partly to say you suck for leaving (even though most everyone knows it wasn't directly their choice). When you boo a philly athlete on a philly team, its to say you've been slacking and we all know it and you better step it up. when you boo a philly team after a loss or bad period/inning/quarter, you're saying to the whole team we all know you can do better and if you dont we will continue to boo/berate you. when you boo Santa Claus or throw batteries at players, there's really no explanation. However, when a former well-loved philly athlete returns, we go out of our way to welcome them back

Dave Diamond

Only at home, i.e. in private. I would never boo in public.


I have a really high threshold for booing a sports player. Regarding the other locations, I guess I've been fortunate, I've never been to a theater or opera show where anyone booed. I don't go to political events, so I'll vote "present" on that one.
For sports, the booing threshold is dependent on how professional they are. I won't boo for bad plays, only bad sportsmanship. Little league kids, high schoolers, and some college sports don't deserve booing no matter what. Some of the BCS league football and basketball players are available targets, but I prefer to direct it at the coach for not controlling his players. All major league players are eligible. They're old enough that they should understand good sportsmanship.
I guess I would say that the "love of the game" negates most booing potential for me.

Cañada Kid

I boo only at Giants games. I'll boo, as well as most fans at the ballpark, when the umpire makes a bad call, a disliked player (Miguel Tejada *cough*) plays poorly, or the Dodgers are in town. Every player on their team gets booed.

bonnie lynn

I never boo. I may have once or twice in jest, but I've never been a genuine booer. This might be because I'm a counselor by trade, and so I'm fairly cognizant of how my actions might make others feel, and I typically try not to do things intentionally to make people feel bad. Being that I'm from outside of Philadelphia, the city infamous for booing Santa himself, I've often felt like I might be the minority in this, particularly at Philadelphia sporting events where fellow fans have been known to boo our own players if their performance is not up to par. I have wondered what makes people feel entitled to this type of behavior and what effect, if any, this might have on morale. And what is it about Philadelphia that makes people seemingly more prone to booing??


My dad was a high school basketball referee¬¬ for many years (when he wasn’t at one of my own games). From about 5th grade on, he would take me to games with him. These games were always between teams that I didn’t have a stake in – he never refereed games for our home team, so I was a pretty impartial observer.

Watching those games was a great way to learn how to stay composed when emotions are high. My dad spent countless hours studying hypothetical game situations and evaluating how to be as fair as possible. Despite his best efforts, there was always the subset of fans - usually parents - that felt they needed to get their two cents in by booing.

From that experience, I learned to never boo anyone, ever. Maybe the person deserves to be booed. More probably, the person is doing his/her best and person’s kid is sitting in the stands watching you act like a jerk. I think the safe bet is to keep your mouth shut.


Amar Mahdi

Don't forget that in the "urban" (I hate that word) and underground hip-hop scene in the UK, it's fairly common to hear people in the crowd boo in support of the act that they like. It's the typical adoption of the antonym as being cool; you know, bad meaning good. So if you're ever at a UK artist's performance, boo to send your salute and admiration. #linguisticsrules