Last month I intimated that the reconstitution of the Patrick division represented something very special for Capitals fans. But by very special I didn’t mean always uplifting.
Dateline, Philadelphia, January 5, 2012. Three Philadelphia Flyers fans are wanted by Philadelphia police for their role in beating two New York Rangers fans in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s Winter Classic. One of the victims was beaten quite brutally and hospitalized. Video of the assaults emerged. (You can watch it easily enough; I urge that you don’t.) The more seriously maimed victim, turns out, is a cop, an Iraq war vet, a Marine, and a Purple Heart recipient. He had the temerity to attend a big hockey game in Philadelphia wearing the colors of that day’s adversary. You know, just as has happened with every game in every arena and stadium on the continent the past 40 years. But in Philadelphia, this hero of his country was beaten for it, brutally.
I like to think that somewhere in her eternal rest Kate Smith is restless and nauseous.
To me there is something distinctive about this instance of violence relative, say, to that we witnessed in Vancouver after last June’s Stanley Cup finals. Both outbreaks are abhorrent to be sure, but there is in our sport something enduring and singular — and brandished as a badge of honor, even — by the bellicose and beer-swilling in orange sweaters, somewhat a minority of the overall Flyers fanbase, I think, who for at least a generation have taken it as a blood oath to violently defend their allegiance.
There are fights in the stands at many rinks and ballparks, I know. But it’s really only with one civic outpost that news of them seems to be met with . . . a wildly warped sense of pride.
You see, yesterday I had to endure a soberly stated justification by a Flyers fan — a high school classmate of mine — for what transpired in Monday’s assault: that somehow the Rangers fan, likely loose of victory-bragging tongue, deserved his fate. My Flyers’ partisan high school buddy is a Duke graduate, a Gulf War vet (Marine), a lawyer, a husband and a father. And he thinks as he does in this instance. So I say he’s card-carrying member of a warped culture. I’ll still call him classmate and friend, but yesterday I wondered: just how eager would the hospitalized Rangers fan Marine be to share a foxhole with my Flyers’ friend, and would my friend really have articulated the defense he did with me in front of his daughters?
You want to say that only a tiny sliver of the Flyer fanbase could and would go perp like this, but afforded over many years ample opportunity to disavow themselves of the reputation, collectively they’ve passed. They like the reputation not just of their skating heroes being bullies but of being bullies themselves. That sweater, its wearers want you to know, represents a good deal more than division titles and Stanley Cups won. And it’s been that way for years.
I can’t say that I can recall an instance when the executive leadership of one of Philly’s professional sports teams has led some public initiative to counteract the city’s pride in its twisted embrace of being bullies. Instead, the culture of Philadelphia seems almost to celebrate that their football stadium — and theirs alone in the republic — erected a makeshift courthouse on site to address violent attacks that have become a staple of sports patronage there.
There is a seemingly lone voice of reason up there in all this — the Broad Street Hockey blog. Those bloggers did what the Flyers should have: reluctantly, but courageously, they pushed out video and narrative of this super sad story and condemned the violence. “We say so often that we don’t deserve our reputation as awful monsters moonlighting as sports fans, but when this sort of thing happens, it completely undermines everything we say on the subject,” they blogged.
By about 5:00 yesterday this story had gone viral — Fox News, NBC.com, Puck Daddy were all weighing in on the malevolence. Out of curiosity I visited the Flyers’ web site to see if the public relations damage had occasioned any concern from the team. Maybe the team wanted to intervene and assist the victims’ families in some way. Nope. A band of cretins wearing your sweater pummeled a Purple Heart vet, in broad daylight, fellas. Would it really be beneath you to show some moral leadership and remind your community that this isn’t really behavior that ought to be replicated, again, or even celebrated? This morning there is acknowledgment of injury in Philadelphia on the team’s web site — Kimmo Timonen got dinged (upper body) during last night’s game against Chicago.
I like to think that two forms of justice ultimately will visit the assailants in this crime — the formal one meted out by the courts, and then the other seldom detailed but widely understood, enacted, well out of sight, against those who harm those who sacrifice to keep us safe. More importantly, I hope at long last a story that makes you cry will occasion a leadership long lacking in a bully culture.
I’m originally from Bulgaria and immigrated to the U.S. in 2000. To this day it still feels good whenever the camera shows a mix of jerseys in the same section, in the same row. It is very symbolic to me, in certain ways reminds me of why I came to the states. It also inevitably surprises any visiting Bulgarians whenever I force them to watch the game with me.
It is UNTHINKABLE to go to a soccer match in Bulgaria with your team’s jersey and sit in the other team’s part of the stadium. The fans of the opposite teams congregate behind the nets and there’s a vast sea of seats (either with non-jersey visitors or empty) separating them. They even approach the stadium from opposite sides. … for same town rivalries fans even prearrange venues where they will fight after the game, crazy stuff. The police usually await them there though.
So, while the Flyers fans’ behavior is inexcusable, I’m not surprised one bit. How to make sure it doesn’t become the norm—Flyers MUST condemn it, it must be talked about, we should not become desensitized about this.
This is the soft underbelly of spectator sports. Remember the sorry expression, “Those who can’t do, teach”? Forget that. Teachers, real teachers, are a national treasure. Those who can’t do are these poor benighted souls who, in a pathetic effort to cement their vicarious involvement in their chosen team’s fortunes, but lacking athletic skills or smarts, look for opportunities to confront, then sucker-punch, fans of other teams. The problem isn’t limited to Philadelphia – sport-crazed fandom having risen to almost religious heights in our fair land – but Philadelphia is the only city that appears to take pride in its most brutal expression. Shame on those, city fathers and mothers, who know better. Philadelphia – isn’t this supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love? – is a mockery of all that’s best in sport. Their beloved athletes deserve better, and the city they represent, not to mention the franchises they play for, should demand it.
I have some specific issues with your post.
First and foremost, the incident in question was NOT in the immediate aftermath of the Winter Classic. It occurred on line at one of the steroetypical cheesesteak joints that are constantly shown during sporting events here as a symbol of Philadelphia (which in fact are NOT representative of the city, just as a large minority of Flyer-fan blockheads are NOT representative of our fan base).
Second, though I recognize you had to use this “friend” as a framing device to serve the piece, what in the hell are you doing listening to this guy in the first place? Is it because you needed the contrast between a normal productive member of society and his irrational thought process as a fan? From the sound of it, you need to take a few steps back from this dude ASAP. Hell, I wouldn’t want to be around him in either enemy or friendly territory.
And even though I am now a media member, my fan’s heart still screams out for Chris Chelios’ head on a pike — but I have the decency and restraint to not put those wishes into action. And now that I’ve made that dark secret public, does that make me as bad as these animals?
Third, I think you missed a golden opportunity to steer the piece away from a total slam on Philly and take it into broader terms given the incident last week at a Penguins home game where a pregnant woman, her husband, and two other male yahoos got into a serious physical altercation — and all of the combatants were Pittsburgh fans. Because stupid never sleeps, and we should never underestimate how uncivil our own fans can be towards each other and how ugly human nature turns with alcohol nearby.
Lastly, there is NOT just ONE voice of reason in all this. Broad Street Hockey, and its managing editor, Travis Hughes, happened to be the one place which was lucky enough to not only secure video of the incident, but also do the research to help nab those cretins when one took the extra stupid step of posting in a public forum about it. That does NOT mean nobody else was involved in trying to do what they could. It means BSH was the best and quickest at providing a solution. In fact, look what BSH has done in pulling others to the effort. Those others should be commended as well for joining in a just cause.
As far as the Flyers’ response, you can take me to task on this…since the alleged perpetrators were not affiliated with the team and not on arena grounds, they don’t even have a moral obligation to post anything on their site about the incident. I am disappointed that nothing public has come from the upper levels, but a) that’s corporate management for ya and shows the contrast between an entity like Comcast and a person like Ted Leonsis, and b) I suspect, based on a hunch and how quietly some good things have come from Ed Snider and others in the organization in the past, that the Flyers are trying something without publicity which will be revealed later.
Ultimately, whether good or bad, after more than 25 years as a hocckey fan, I’m sick of posts denigrating one fan base and propping up others for various reasons. I’m doubly sick that Philadelphia gets it most, deserved or not.
Thank you for this indulgence. I hope it spurs civil debate.
This story shows that our society has a one way express elevator ticket, doing DOWN. All fans of all sports need to either: lay off the sauce, exercise some level of reasonable self control, respect the fans of another team, be humbled in winning, and be tenacious in losing, or just not watch or engage in being a fan, everywhere. It’s just a game for crying out loud, there are other more important things to worry about, arent there? Those three philly fans are lucky the Marine wasn’t carrying a side arm.