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Everything’s The Best: On Loris Karius, Liverpool FC Fandom, and YNWA

Loris Karius found himself in the crosshairs of some Liverpool fans this weekend.

Chester FC v Liverpool - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

Shame is a difficult emotion to manage. Probably my least favorite. The feeling of it is like a searing in my chest, a hollowing of my stomach, and definitely a flushing of my face. There are few things in life that activate my flight reflex like being embarrassed.

I remember one such moment as I stood in front of my boss, looking over a publication we’d worked on, and spotting errors everywhere. It was my first time as the editor for our seasonal publication and I was excited to be given new responsibilities that took me beyond the mundane work I’d been inhabiting as a clerk. But I’d never been the most eagle-eyed editor. And my fears all culminated in the embarrassing fact that, in trying to do things my way for a bit, I’d completely left off the entries from one of our most important clients. They would not feature in this season’s catalog, putting their earnings at risk, and tarnishing the relationship my organization had built with them over the better part of a decade.

It wasn’t my best moment. And I carried that weight all the way to my car, on the drive home, and, if I’m being honest, every time I looked at that catalog.

I’d like to say that the experience taught me a lot about editorial work and that I improved to the point of never making a mistake. That wasn’t the case. What was unfortunate, though, was that I wouldn’t learn the truth about editorial work until much later: that when I am the only set of eyes looking at a 70 page item, it’s easy to be miss things. More: our publication was organic in that even after publication, changes to the events and programs listed would inevitably happen. Meaning that the document was always a relic even by the time the finished copy was received.

Because my work was so high-profile (in my tiny, tiny sphere), those mistakes always stood out. And people that had no idea what it was like to proof these pages while juggling the other responsibilities at my desk would often - with both good and snarky intent - try to give me advice or tips or just dive-by comments. None of it really helped.

That level of scrutiny is one I always wore uncomfortably. Thinking of sports, I often wondered how my favorite athletes cope when they would be skewered under the unflinching eye of analysts and fandom for gaffes committed during the run of play. Yes, I sometimes found a bit of a laugh from the sporting bloopers. But even those wore on me as I began to identify closely with how heavy shame could be when I’d made a mistake. How it felt like my vision would focus on how inescapable the present felt. How I wished I could go back and make things right.

I’ve gone back a lot to those days as I’ve thought about Loris Karius. In the immediate after math of the Champions League Final, through his attempts to regain his footing in pre-season, and now especially as Karius took to social media to defend himself form Liverpool fans trolling the German International after errors committed during the team’s friendly against Borussia Dortmund.

I think about how difficult the past three months must necessarily have been on him specifically. An inescapable truth, I presumed, because he was so visibly emotional immediately following the loss to Real Madrid, taking to social media then to apologize for his performance. An extraordinary step not many would expect following such a public set of errors, made even more amazing when you consider that a month later, revelations of an undiagnosed concussion would surface.

I think, and am stuck, on the lack of empathy from fans of a team whose motto is You’ll Never Walk Alone towards one of their own who is clearly working through a heavy storm in their own life. I am stuck on how lonely Karius must be at this moment.

There’s no great pronouncement here and no flowery exhortation. There is simply a “be better” to the sector of fans who thought it wise and best to harangue a Red trying to regain confidence. The lack of patience towards an athlete who had his worst day on the job in the most public of ways - and a day that was likely precipitated by actions beyond his own control in the form of a concussion - is what galls me the most.

I have written - likely ad nauseam at this point - multiple times about the ways in which fandom and the way we consume sports has allowed for the conditions in which athletes become dehumanized. Whether its in the form of failing to recognize the ways in which an athlete is politicized in sport, making politics and sport impossible to be disentangled from each other, or the myriad ways in which fans - especially those of marginalized communities - are subjected to dehumanizing rhetoric, the ways in which we talk about each other reflect how we sometimes value certain lives over others.

I am most struck by how people have reduced his personhood down to his contributions to the club. We are all complicit in this to some degree: discussing a person’s value directly related to transfer fees, wages, and any number of things. We point to how Player X deserves his wages because he contributed loads of goals and how Player Y needs to be shipped out because they’re driftwood. We demand loyalty of our players, harassing them if they don’t bend the knee at the club crest or fail to kiss the badge or when they dare to look elsewhere for employment, but do not interrogate how quickly we turn our own loyalties from them. We spend not one moment in the shoes of human beings working the job best suited for them, trying to manage impossible expectations, and only seeking just compensation to ensure the best possible lives for them and their family.

I often like to joke about Karius being The Singularity and his seemingly awkward devotion to wistful photos on his Instagram, and I recognize now how my own joke - as innocent as it is - still plays on the idea that he isn’t human. A discomfiting wrinkle when I consider that if it were me, after having just played my most miserable game on the biggest stage of my young career, and dealing with the news that my employer sought one of the world’s best at my own position, while receiving abuse from people who would tear me to shreds if I were to have won the CL and turned in a transfer request to Bayern Munich, I would likely have words far less patient and kind than Karius had for his detractors.

Because it is a thing that makes my heart soft and tender and ache to consider that in the midst of this shameful and dehumanizing experience, it was The Android, himself, who managed to look most human.

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