I was listening to NPR in 2010 and they had a story on about Vuvuzelas in FIFA’s World Cup. If you aren’t familiar with Vuvuzelas, they are big plastic horns and obnoxious noise-makers that everyone and their mother seemed to have at the 2010 World Cup. If you aren’t familiar with the FIFA World Cup, don’t worry about it.
Anyway, a player was being interviewed and the Vuvuzelas were mentioned. He agreed that they were annoying and distracting, but simply concluded that that was how South Africans enjoyed soccer, and that he certainly wouldn’t appreciate it if someone came to his country and told him how to enjoy soccer. This had a profound effect on me, as I had never considered sports fandom from that sort of point of view and I figured it something I should keep in mind going forward in regards to other sports fans.
But when a NHL team’s fan club started advocating for fans to chant “Flood the Flames” when Calgary comes to town, the idea of not telling other fans how to enjoy the game went out the window. I started to think about what NHL fans behaving badly, and what they do or say to give their entire fan base a black eye. If you aren’t familiar with it, such a chant would be insensitive and incredibly offensive considering the massive flooding Calgary sustained this summer. I’m not writing to single anyone out obviously, but I feel like fans don’t always consider the big picture when they do something to poke fun at another team. Some of the time fans may have the best intentions, never wanting to hurt anyone and not fully realizing the impact of their words. Other times fans are total sociopaths. Let’s take a look the recent history of both!
If a team’s fans were to start a chant or make signs that were excessively malicious, they wouldn’t be the first. You may recall the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s season ticket holders proudly displayed their ignorance in February of 2012. In a series against the University of North Dakota, the Fighting Sioux, fans were reprimanded for taunting the visiting UND team with racist chants (specifically, “SMALL-POX BLAN-KETS *clap clap clapclapclap*).
No one can blame the University of Minnesota-Duluth for wanting to quell something like this as soon as possible. A student wouldn’t want to be associated with something like that, nor would a student’s parents. The University stands to lose a lot with an incident like this. If you visit the link above, you’ll notice it isn’t tagged under ‘NCAA Hockey’ or “UMD”. This fan base received attention under the category “Racism”. The underclassmen must be proud! All because a group of fans may not have fully thought through the consequences of their actions.
But these are college kids, no way we could make such a comparison to normal adults right? Unfortunately, there’s plenty of such examples in pro hockey, but you probably already knew that didn’t you? Trying to stay with recent examples, one of the biggest stories to come out of the 2012 Winter Classic was the Iraq-war veteran and off-duty New Jersey police officer that was assaulted by multiple Flyers fans.
Aside from the very idea that no one should ever have to endure more than a little verbal jabbing for being a visiting fan in a city, the individuals that pulled of such a heinous act as this didn’t just make themselves look bad, it made all Flyers fans look bad. And knowing the history of Philadelphia sports fans looking bad, that’s no small feat. If you want to see how stand-up Flyers fans reacted, you need look no further than Broad Street Hockey, because they may have helped catch the guy. How embarrassed must the rest of that fan base be to be associated with something like that?
And this wasn’t isolated to just local coverage or just a few hockey blogs. This story appeared in the goddamn Huffington Post. There’s not thinking something all the way through, and then there’s committing felonies. I always point out how sports are supposed to be fun. Why would anyone want to go so far beyond fun that it results in hospital bills and jail time?
(To be perfectly fair to Philadelphia fans, they get much harsher coverage from the rest of the media. This story was in circulation for more than a week. Yet when a Dearborn City Councilman was assaulted for telling a Wings fan to leave a Hawks fan alone, that story was gone in about a day.)
^Kinda brings it full circle doesn’t it Wings fans?^
There was plenty of other examples one can go to. From the Bruins fans racial twitter attacks on Joel Ward for doing something as unthinkable as scoring in overtime of game 7 to the genius that decided to throw a banana peel on the ice when Wayne Simmons was in a shootout. (Seriously London, Ontario, who brings fruit to a NHL game?!?) The fact that every example listed happened within a year of each other speaks volumes to how an idiotic act can stick in one’s memory and paint an entire fan base in a negative light. (This article didn’t take much research.)
I’m not a perfect person and I try not to expect others to be. In the heat of the moment, or any point over the course of a hockey game, it’s easy to get caught up and lose control of your emotions. What we don’t always think about is how our actions have a ripple effect on how a fan base is represented. We all want to believe that our fan base is the classiest, politest, best-looking fan base in the NHL and I would be mortified to know I had done something to embarrass my fan base on a national stage like some of these people have.
It’s important to remember that even if it’s a small group or an individual, people remember you based on the colors you’re wearing or the team you’re rooting for. No one remembers the vicious idiots that beat up the Jersey cop at the winter classic, they remember that Flyers fans did it. No one remembers the drunk jerk that threw a banana peel at Wayne Simmons, they remember a guy from London, Ontario did it. For better or for worse, you represent your city and your team, and no one should ever have to be ashamed of their fan base.
This is especially true for developing markets. It’s hard enough to get someone to a game in Nashville, Florida, Dallas, Phoenix, etc. Why make it harder? If I’m a resident in a city that has a new team, do I need another reason to not buy merchandise, go to team events, or join booster clubs? I sure as hell don’t want to be associated with overly offensive fans, or someone that comes off as crossing that fine-line between people that enjoy a sporting event and people that enjoy attacking and belittling people. Again, sports are supposed to be fun!
The counter-arguement to this, of course, is “I paid for a ticket, I can do whatever I want!” and this is true. You have a right to yell and scream and belittle the other team. Consume a few adult beverages, a bit of good-natured ribbing at visiting fans, this is America! It’s all good, and if you can take it as much as you can give it, who should complain? It’s part of the experience of watching a game. Hell, I snuck an octopus to a game once, it’s all in good fun! Of course, just make sure you don’t make yourself look like some lunatic that’s completely out of touch with the sport. Red Wings fans know this type all too well.
“Corey Crawford is a sub-par goal tender and his stats for the year so-far prove it.”
Yeah? Well your unemployment is really high in Detroit!
“Sergi Bobrovsky is overpaid based on his small body of work.”
Your city is bankrupt!
Someone said something unpleasant but true about your team? Go after the other team’s city of course! This of course ignores how most Red Wings fans don’t actually live in Detroit but live in the surrounding cities (Allen Park, Troy, Royal Oak, etc.). These things tend to escalate to personal attacks rather quickly and who enjoys that? Like I said, sports are supposed to be fun! The sports fan could easily turn around and point out how crummy that Detroit defense looks, or that Jimmy Howard has a tendency to give up easy goals. The bully that never quite evolved past high school will point out that the city in which the Red Wings happen to play is a model for economic ruin.
At the end of the day, we’re supposed to enjoy sports and you should be able to do what you like to get the most out of that experience. Tickets are expensive, and if you walk away from a game saying you don’t have a good time, that’s almost criminal. But that doesn’t mean you get to make visiting fans feel threatened or unwelcome, or make your own fan base look like insensitive jerks. If you can have a good time at a sports game, go do it! If you need to bad-mouth someone or something to have a good time and feel good about yourself, maybe therapy is what you need.
Or a reality TV show.