Ed Rendell on the Rules of Booing

(GETTY - Paul Zimmerman)

In our most recent Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Boo…Who?”, we talk to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell about Philadelphia’s reputation as the city with the meanest sports fans. Philadelphians are passionate, Rendell argues, but they don’t make exceptions for poor performance, not even for Santa Claus.

Still, sometimes things can go too far, which is why Rendell came up with his rules for booing. Sort of an Emily Post handbook for rowdy sports fans. Since Rendell’s rules are aimed mostly at the sports crowd, we decided to expand and ask him a few some non-sports booing questions. He has replied with direct answers.

Q. If you went to a play and it was really bad. Would you boo during the performance? Curtain call? Not at all?

A.  No- I would just show my displeasure by leaving.

Q. Is it OK to boo a politician while he’s giving a stump speech? During a debate? Is it OK to boo the president, ever?

 A. No- it’s boorish to boo during anyone’s speech. You can boo to your heart’s content when it’s over. 

Q. Lauryn Hill was booed at the Apollo when she was 13, but went on to being a multi-Grammy winner. Is it OK to boo kids because it can be a form of constructive criticism?

 A. No- that excuse is pure hogwash.

Q. Is booing verbal vandalism or an expression of democracy?

A. The latter, if it is done at appropriate times.

Q. Do you think booing has anything to do with how much people paid for a ticket? 

A. No.

Q. Say your team stinks. As a fan, is it better to buy a ticket and boo your heart out? Or vote with your feet and not go at all, therefore sending an economic message?

A. Either sends a strong message, but you probably will feel better booing.

Vince Skolny

The booing line of demarcation among sports fans is between those that view fans as consumers of a purchased product supplied by the team and those that view "fandom" as membership in a constituent community with its attendant duties and obligations (It's not okay to complain about mom's cooking).

Dave J.

So was the final "what's it all add up to? I'm not sure" an attempt at garnering a chorus of boos of listeners? Really, that was lame way to end the show...

And just as I was connecting the dots between booing and the RadioLab episode Games, which had a discussion of why we root for underdogs.


"Philadelphia’s reputation as the city with the meanest sports fans."

No, sorry Mr. Rendell, it is generally accepted that that title goes to Montreal.


Getting boo'ed at the Apollo is traditional. Same goes for the Gong Show.

If you don't want to be boo'ed, don't take occupations where it is part of the job.