Sunday, March 27, 2011

Passion or Poison

During the hue and cry over the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty there were passionate opinions expressed on both sides of the issue. "Chara is a thug"; "Patches faked the severity of his injury" were some of the tamer comments expressed by fans of the Canadiens and the Bruins.

Sometimes, the comments and opinions degenerated into venom and hatred. Actually, they often did.

Where does the line get crossed between a passionate attitude and rooting interest for your favorite team and into the poisoned, angry rhetoric that sometimes emerges between fans? How does passionate support keep from becoming angry vitriol?

My good friend, C.J. Shepard, who covers the Bruins for Hockey Independent and is a passionate Bruins fan, wrote a thoughtful and very well written piece on this subject. Her article appeared on the All Habs blog ( after the Chara/Pacioretty incident and before the Bruins and Canadiens played again. With her permission, I have reprinted it in its entirety.

It gives fans of all teams something to think about.

If I said, “I HATE THE HABS,”‘ or “Hab fans are Habitards,” or perhaps this little gem, “Scab fans are classless,” does that make me a better or TRUE Bruins’ fan? Believe me when I tell you if, as recently as a month ago, someone had asked me what is the BEST thing about social networking, and Twitter in particular, I would have responded, “Getting to share my love of the greatest game on earth with other passionate fans.”

Yet, the past month I have seen my team, my position as a fan, and individual players come under attack.  Some of those attacks are from passionate fans who wear their colors proudly and feel the need to defend their team’s honor. Other attacks have come from people who watch nothing more than a highlight, listen to a soundbite, or read an article slanted from a single writer’s view.

Have fans always worn the colored blinders of their team? Absolutely, myself included! However, in this information age it has become increasingly about hate, venom, poison pen blogs, and painting every fan and player on a team with the same broad brush. Yes, teams and their fans have their identity, their style, their persona, but would it be the end to rivalries as we know them for it to include some small element of respect?
A bright and intelligent Hab fan, and fellow writer, posted a link to an eloquent piece by McGill University Principal and Vice Chancellor, Heather Munroe-Blum, in which she urges all of us to resist the urge to feed into the hate.

Munroe-Blum notes, “I have become increasingly concerned by the general societal escalation of rhetorical excess, the distortions in political arguments, and the harsh tenor of discourse, intended apparently, to demonize and destroy.” (entire article–-but-just-as-strongly-against-hate/)

There is little doubt in my mind that the Mainstream Media (now lovingly referred to as M$M) is not only aware of this societal shift, but plays to it, and is no longer treated in reporting facts, but sensationalizing information for ratings.  As we have witnessed first hand, the M$M has become as big a part of the story as anything that has happened in the game itself.

I have witnessed so called “sports radio” hosts inciting 911 calls, and others on the opposite side of the coin lobbing ethnic slurs across the border in response. These shows are no long “sports discussions,” but a boiling cauldron of hate seeming incapable of discussing much of anything intelligently, and even less capable of accepting a dissenting opinion as potential valuable or insightful.

Their goal: stir the hate and raise ratings, regardless of the potential threat of any backlash.  Drown the voices of reason, and any member of the media who dares tread in the unpopular view contrary to the vocal fan base might be tolerated, but only as a temporary distraction or a commercial interruption prior to their vitriol filled rantings.

Fans want to hear from players and not have them trot out the all too familiar and safe cliche phrases, “We need to play our game,” “The two points are the most important thing tonight,” “We need to protect the puck and generate scoring chances,” on and on and on. So when a well respected veteran turns the tables on the media and fans and utilizes the power of the spoken word to change the tide of controversy, people were surprised?

I spoke out against the comments made by Mark Recchi, for the context I knew they would be perceived, and because I truly believed there was a better way to shift the pitchfork wielding masses from chasing Bruins’ Captain, Zdeno Chara on the eve of the rematch.  However, no one, regardless if they believed Recchi’s remarks were ill-conceived or based in some locker room talk, can honestly say they were ineffective.  The media pounced, vilifying Recchi for the temerity to question a rival organization’s injury report; which for the record ALL NHL organizations have been guilty of far less than accurate injury reporting.

Others celebrated his remarks for saying what many were allegedly whispering around the game.  Both are extremes, and the media and social networking once again made a non-story THE story.  The shouting  commenced, and any reasonable and rational criticism was immediately cast aside for the more favorable, “The Bruins are complete scum and have proved it again,” and “We know the Habs are all fakers, remember Ribeiro?”

What was lost in the last 48 hours was a game, an important one in the Northeast Division standings, and with weighty playoff implications.  What was also lost? Perspective. That same remark made 25 years ago stays local, and who knows, is probably never even spoken, because the sideshow distraction would not have been necessary.  But hate sells, and the faster it is spread, the higher the ratings, and the higher the ratings the more money there is to be made.  “Die Chara Die” t-shirts, are not quite the same as the rivalry merchandise of “Habs Suck” t-shirts which have been sold for decades.

So where is the line between hated rivals and respected rivals? Is it possible for teams and fans to “hate” without the violent undertones of wishing someone to “break their neck” or be killed for wearing a jersey or supporting a team?  Is there a way to return the “healthy” hate to this Bruins and Canadiens rivalry which seems to be too much like a runaway train?

Here’s an idea: pause before you assume you know what the fan or player intended to say, and put your mouth or fingers in neutral before you add gasoline to the fire.  Accept that you might be allowing your black and gold or red and blue glasses to color your view. Last but not least, remember it wouldn’t take much for your team to be on the other side of the coin – and if you have been a fan for any length of time, you can probably remember without too much trouble a moment where that is certainly true.  Our teams are like us – human, and certainly not beyond reproach, and certainly not perfect!

I have the privilege of sharing my love for the greatest game on earth with people around the globe, and yes…even north of the boarder! With this in mind I proposed a little “friendly wager” to one of my favorite Habs fans, Michael Kuyaz (a member of the All Habs team), last night to see if we could use our Twitter and blogging platform to harness the power of the GREATEST rivalry in sport for a good cause.  With the playoffs on the horizon, I suggested that the “loser” make a donation to the winning team’s charitable foundation.  As all of us fans know, our teams do great work in our communities, and it becomes just another positive way to show our undying allegiance to our teams!

There will be details to follow and links for pledges, but for now my deepest hope is that  as fans we can wrestle back control of this rivalry, return the healthy respect, and yes, even loathing for our opponent, without the veiled threats, venom, and vilification of our teams and fellow hockey fans.

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