Friend? Enemy? Or both?   

Updated: February 22, 2007, 3:56 PM ET

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Allow me a female moment to explain something women have dealt with for years that recently crossed into the world of sports.

Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Is this a real celebration or faux congratulations?

What's going on between Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter can be explained by a concept illustrated perfectly in "Clueless," "Mean Girls," "Sex and the City" and junior high school.

A-Rod and Jeter, like a lot of people in sports, are "frenemies."

If you're not familiar with that pop culture term, here's what it is in a nutshell: A frenemy is someone who passes him or herself off as a friend, but secretly, he or she hates your guts. Pluralized, it's frenemies.

Women understand frenemy relationships. We've had them forever. I had my first frenemy in third or fourth grade. I hated this girl because she could do fractions, and I was notoriously dumb when it came to numbers. Yet as much as I hated her, I needed to be accepted by her. It was very "Single White Female."

Men -- especially professional athletes -- are not familiar with the ways of the frenemy. They know not where a frenemy lurks or how one operates. Frenemies aren't player haters, even though they hate like haters. Besides, frenemies don't just hate, they elevate. The frenemy also tries to use the relationship to his or her advantage.

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Jeter and A-Rod are textbook frenemies. They have perfect looks in common, but that's about it. This is what is so classic frenemy about their relationship: Their opposing traits play off one another in a way that is detrimental to one person -- A-Rod.

Jeter is comfortable in his own skin. A-Rod is awkward and needs to be liked. A-Rod has the numbers. Jeter, the rings. If the Yankees don't win the World Series, it's going to be A-Rod's fault. If the Yankees do, it will be credited to Jeter's greatness.

A-Rod just can't win. Not that that should surprise anyone.

"We were like blood brothers," Rodriguez said when describing his faltering relationship with Jeter.

But Jeter and A-Rod are hardly the only ones in sports with this relationship dynamic. Frenemies abound in sports.

Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal

Andrew Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The greeting says, "Hello, friend," but we all know these guys totally can't stand one another.

Shaq and Kobe: Maybe the greatest frenemies of all time. There was betrayal, a public pissing match, and tattle-telling to the cops. Shaq was the most popular guy in the NBA, and Kobe was like the little nerd with a pocket protector. Just like Paris Hilton replaced Nicole Richie with Lindsay Lohan, Shaq replaced Kobe with D-Wade.

Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb: Owens actually called McNabb a "friend" in a 2006 Penthouse interview. Comical. T.O. never betrayed anyone as badly as he did McNabb. They've been reduced to awkward exchanges at Super Bowl parties and the real rub is that Super Bowl XXXIX might be the final, major career highlight for both of them. McNabb tried to be classy throughout the T.O. ordeal but there is no way he didn't consider having T.O. killed at least 400 times.

Buddy Ryan and Mike Ditka: Were there any two coaches that hated each another more during the late 1980s than these two? Once a close friend, Ryan was Ditka's defensive coordinator during the Chicago Bears' dominance. Urban legend is that things got so bad between Ditka and Ryan during one game that Ditka threatened to take Ryan outside and beat him senseless. Ryan left the Bears to coach the Philadelphia Eagles after the Super Bowl, and the week Ryan and Ditka met for the first time as head coaches, Ditka told reporters: "The guy that was here in 1982, I liked, but he's not here anymore."

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

When the term "friendly rivalry" is used, does it actually mean that the players hate each other?

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson: "Tiger is the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he's stuck with." -- Mickelson, 2003. Remember that quote? Another one of those uneven relationships where one frenemy's flaws stand out like Britney Spears at a PTA meeting. Mickelson: dumpy body, chokes at major events and reportedly is not well liked by other golfers on the PGA Tour. Tiger: God.

Mike Tyson and Don King: The guy Tyson once called a "surrogate father," and "brother," bilked him for an estimated $100 million. Now that's a frenemyship with benefits.

Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones: Amazing that both of their egos could even fit in the city of Dallas. Both wanted to be the smartest person in the room. Both wanted to be given the credit for the Cowboys' success. Ultimately, Jones won, but the Cowboys lost.

Jemele Hill, a Page 2 columnist and writer for ESPN The Magazine, can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.


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