Saturday, April 27, 2013

To Boo or Not To Boo


Do fans have the right to boo their team at a sporting event?

I say they do.

And mine isn't some First Amendment rationale.

First, when fans pay their hard-earned shekels to be in the building - or in the bar, or in their living room - they buy the right to boo.

But I think there's more to it than that.

As an aside, there's a difference between booing and Bronx cheering and being uncouth and inappropriate. I think you can boo or ride your team when they play poorly, but you can do it without swearing or crossing that line that is hard to define but that we all know exists. I'm not anti-swearing in general. But I know I don't like it when my own kids are exposed to truly blue language, so when I boo at a game I try to keep it clean. Pointed and clear as to my displeasure, but clean. Plus, I give big ups to the fan who can creatively heckle his or her own team when they deserve it, without resorting to wild and unsubstantiated claims of incest.

Back to the point.

Here's my personal fan credo: I hold that I may cheer for my team in support of them, but that, should they play poorly, my willingness to cheer for them also provides me the right to boo them when they play poorly.

During a discussion about this in the Shp recently, my point was that cheering/booing is a way to get invested in the game. If I pay $100 to go to a game and I cheer and boo, and tap into the emotions of the ups and downs of a sporting contest, I'm going to walk out of the building having experienced a stronger connection to the event. And that experience, to me, is a better value for my $100 than if I had paid the same amount of money, and sat on my hands all night, not uttering a peep. Or, if I only cheer when I was happy, and didn't boo the poor play, then I'm only tapping into half of the available emotional outlets. So I only get half of the opportunity for catharsis.

This is entertainment. In the stage shows of the olden days, they cheered the hero and booed the villain. The contrast between good and bad is part of the entertainment dynamic. And there's nothing wrong with reacting to either side of that dynamic.

Last night, the issue was whether or not fans were acting appropriately in Bronx cheering and mocking Josh Harding. This becomes a secondary issue rather quickly, but the bottom line for me is that: yes. If Harding - like any other player - doesn't do his job, then he is fair game for boos. The secondary issue is obviously the existence of his MS. But the fact of the matter is that, as long as Harding judges himself, and is judged by team officials and doctors, to be an NHL-capable goaltender, then he should be judged as one. Not as an NHL goalie with MS. That's unfair to Josh.

So, if you would boo Backstrom or any other goalie for a similar performance but would check your boos if it's Harding - because he has MS - then you're treating him differently, holding him to a different standard. I think he deserves more respect than that. If you want to honor Josh Harding for his brave fight against a truly ugly disease, then don't treat him differently than any other player. If his MS is inhibiting his ability to play at the NHL level then he won't be playing at the NHL level very long. That will likely end up being the reason he stops playing in the NHL as it is. But, as long as he's worked hard enough to be in the NHL, treat him like he's an NHLer.

Now I think the reason for the jeering should be kept in perspective. Harding was certainly not the reason they lost last night. But he had a job to do, as a backup coming in off the bench in a very difficult situation, and he didn't do it. But Bronx cheering a save was as much about the whole situation of the Wild laying an inexplicable and massive egg in a huge moment as it was about Harding's individual performance, and you know that.

The final piece of my argument here is the Minnesotan-ness of this situation. The X is a pathetically quiet building most nights. Absurdly quiet. Not just bereft of boos, but of cheering, too. Look, I readily acknowledge that paying your money to get in buys you the right to NOT cheer/boo just as it buys you the right TO cheer/boo. But the apathy the Wild crowd shows most nights glaringly belies the "State of Hockey" moniker. I get it. It's not in our nature to be ostentatious or outlandish or demonstrative. And it's really against our moral code to draw attention to ourselves. But, A) you'd think the residents of the "State of Hockey" would be more into the game - it's not like they're that quiet in Canada - and B) I can't believe - given our history with NHL teams leaving the state - we're willing to risk being seen as taking the NHL for granted like that. But, then again, this is a crowd that booed Bettman when he walked on the ice before the first ever regular season home game in Wild history. So, maybe the joke's on me.

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