An Editorial on Team Fandom: Shut Up

The NHL season is here.

As the sole OnBlast member who understands the comfort of khaki shorts (#WHITE), I believe it’s my duty to touch on the one ‘Big Four’ that’s predominately played by those with limited rhythm, gluten sensitivity and diverse portfolios.

It’s been about 365 days since we last saw NHL hockey, so people are understandably pumped to FINALLY see some post-CBA-ratification-puck. Whoop whoop, my ninjas!

What? Half-season last year? No, 2012-13 was a lockout year……I have no idea what you’re talking about.

2{*Googles stuff*} So, apparently there was some NHL hockey last year. I must have repressed it. Oh god, it’s all coming flooding back.

While I’d rather have been born in North Korea than see the Bruins be in the same building as the Stanley Cup, they came just nearly as close as you could get to once again laying their lips on the most promiscuous trophy in sports.

Good things happen to bad people (like Bruins owner/nazi sympathizer/bad tipper: Jeremy Jacobs). It happens, and we all find our own ways to move on. Personally, had the Bruins won, I’d call Dennis Leary a “fahkin queah” on Twitter every six minutes until he blocked me and I’d boycott Matt Damon movies for a year. I heard Elysium was a pile of dung, anyway.

Anyhoo, my evident hatred of the Bruins got me thinking of team fandom; what differentiates people and what determines their allegiance. (Spoiler: it’s mostly geography.)

As a former resident of Montreal and fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the idea that influence outside of the sport itself molds the fanbase’s personality had a certain clarity to it. This has existed since sports began, but it’s interesting to see it in the flesh. I remember understanding right away that the wedge between the Leafs and Habs stems little from matters that occurred on a hockey rink. Instead, the beef can be more accurately traced back to the Plains of Abraham instead of because ‘grandpa’ told you about THAT TIME Henri Richard/Dave Keon sent a packed Maple Leaf Gardens/Montreal Forum home with a bad taste in their mouths.

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Ethnocentric ideals brought on by race, religion or politics not only can determine the fanbase’s behaviours, but often mold just how these groups of fans see themselves. And importantly, how they see people that aren’t them. Like many Leafs and Habs fans, Celtic and Ranger fans in Scotland are another group of delusional idiots who can’t seem to detach from the idea that adults can compete in high-level, organized sport with repercussions that have nothing to do with the Queen, land claims or the Pope.

Hell, a dog was recently beaten by Rangers fans for wearing a Celtics jersey. No matter your allegiance, let’s go though a few options of what someone might say when encountering a cute dog wearing a particular sporting garment that you don’t agree with:

  1. “Haha, cute!”
  2. “We’ll see you on the pitch, pooch!”
  3. “Does this scadge know this a RANGERS CORNER?! Let’s throw a boot in his arse, Hamish!”

Someone didn’t realize that dogs can’t actually dress themselves and therefore have no way of expressing any particular team affiliation and chose option 3. Those people don’t have the mental stability to be able to deal with the emotions that come with team fandom. (If they were really into politics instead of sports, they’d probably be drawing a Hitler mustache on someone’s picture right now.) But, while it’s easy to finger wag acts like “Dog-beating Scots”, it’s even easier to remain ignorant to your own, albeit less intense, mental blind spots.

Case in point; I’ve always had a problem with the Ottawa Senators. They’ve always just seemed like the runny-nosed, third-wheel to Montreal & Toronto. (A “Mr. Me Too”, for all you Clipse historians.) Now, because of this, I’ve always unappreciated their players. I not only hated Zdeno Chara and Marian ‘Don’t call me Marcel’ Hossa for years, but I couldn’t see their skill past the crest on their jersey. It wasn’t until they were no longer members of the Senators for a few years that the Senators stink wore off — I can now appreciate them as great players.

My brain didn’t become re-wired during this period of sanitation, nor did my understanding of hockey change. I just needed time to forget that these excellent players were once a member of a group that represented a whole bunch of things I didn’t like. Things that really weren’t there in the first place.

The point? Supporters, myself included, need to stop taking themselves so serious and understand that their allegiance is based on arbitrary and completely subjective factors.  At the end of the day, sports are just games where adults get to watch kids do things they can only emulate with the help of EA sports. The old Montreal forum was converted to a mall with a Future Shop in it, and Maple Leaf Gardens is now a Loblaws – WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?

That awe-inspiring cathedral feeling I once had from walking into the Gardens has been sanitized because it was worth more on the real estate market. For the most part, team loyalty is a commodity that eventually ends up on a balance sheet.

“Oh, you went to Leafs games in the dreaded 80’s/Harold Ballard days? 
Congratulations. You financed a nicer quilt for him in hell.
“Oh, you have season tickets these days?”
Cool. Your commitment guilds the artisanal toilets in MLSE’s upper floors. Believe me, they’re thinking of you when they’re using ‘em.

I don’t mean to preach, as in the past I have been as guilty of the thinking that I’m now deriding. But a little perspective goes a long way, and watching sports for me is now less…heavy. I now enjoy sports for what they are:  an enjoyable distraction from the idea that we will never be able to outrun the reaper.

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So what’s my intended takeaway here?

Let’s just say; your city’s full of heroin addicts and mine smells like garbage. Your team sucks and my team sucks. Let’s grab a beer.

– Ryan

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