Sunday, December 23, 2007


As a fan, I am constantly whining. I openly question Ron Turner's aptitude for his position -- for which he receives substantial compensation (I now also question whether David Haugh is the latest in a string of sportswriters in Chicago with little understanding of the the sports they cover and even less interest in improving their knowledge, but guess given how the rest of the country must now suffer Jay Mariotti and Skip Bayless this is a good route to follow). I loudly voice my opinion that perhaps Scott Skiles' coaching philosophy regarding young players is far too influenced by the thinking that sent Dusty Baker packing (and, conveniently, now to our division rivals -- hope everyone in Cincinatti enjoyed what Harang and Arroyo have done for you the last couple of years). It is, of course, possible that Joe Smith doesn't deserve a starting spot on the team, that Gray, Noah, and Ty's respective youthful "mistakes" on the floor are more than compensated for by what they do well, and that a quick trigger on both Hinrich and Gordon would now be entirely appropriate given their consistently poor performances. But voicing these opinions is, unfortunately, annoying to all who must suffer hearing them . . . . including those within immediate earshot last Wednesday night at the Verizon center (but what, for pity's sake, was Joe Smith doing on the floor for most of the third quarter?).

I spent an inordinate amount of time today complaining that: (a) David Moyes cost Everton at least a point by failing to keep up offensive pressure on a less than impressive Man U defense; (b) the Milan derby featured worse acting than the Spanish-language infomercials for "natural enhancement" products that aired opposite the match on GolTV (and, more importantly, that Serie A matches are unwatchable unless you enjoy dudes extending their arms, screaming, and throwing themselves to the pitch every time they are touched); (c) Blackburn -- sans Friedel, Santa Cruz, and Bentley -- has quit on Mark Hughes and they should have taken at least a point off of Chelsea's lackluster performance; (d) Ronaldinho had no business being in Barca's starting XI for today's Real Madrid clash; and (e) Dave Toub should be named offensive coordinator or, if that seems wrong to the Bears' brass, perhaps a modified Magic Eight Ball should be used in lieu of an actual person.

For this and many other reasons, I am an idiot (but that doesn't change the fact that Ron Turner is one as well). As such, I am one of a proud nation of stupid sports fans. But as much as I accept this fate, I am hesitant to accept this states of affairs fully. I am, for instance, not stupid (or drunk) enough to argue (apparently seriously) that Alan Pardew should be sacked regardless of how poor the results were from Hull's brief stay at the Valley. And as much as I screw up rules about what constitutes a foul in soccer or how the intentional grounding rule works in the NFL, I believe that screaming at refs at a sporting event requires a clear understanding of the rules of the game that you are watching (a prerequisite not met by a family of people heckling the referees at Saturday's Maryland-American University basketball match near our seats -- the use of the jump stop is not, unfortunately, travelling).

The distinction is important, because there are shared responsibilities in the interactive nature of a sporting event. In professional sports, players, whether they admit to it or not, owe their livelihood to the spectators and, as such, must earn their income by performance. Coaching staffs only exist to assist players in performing to their full potential and, in consequence, must ensure that players are able to earn said income. Fans, obviously, pay the price of admission. But that is not the alpha and the omega of fandom. The purchase price of a ticket does not absolve one of further responsibility. No team is going to be successful with the support of just one fan or one small group of fans. Although the shirtless kid waving his clothing over his head (with jeans pulled down to reveal the top half of his boxers) was bestowed adulation by the Jumbotron operator at Wednesday night's Wizards-Bulls game, the Wizards depend on ticket sales to that idiot, that idiot's friends, the two sections that are suffering that group of idiot's ranting and heckling throughout the game, and the other 14,000 fans in attendance to keep Agent Zero and crew on the floor. All of this means that the fans of a team have, at base, a responsibility to ensure that those around them are enjoying the experience. I interpret this responsibility to mean that I better have a good reason for booing or openly disapproving of a team that I am supposed to be cheering for, that I take into account the views of those around me at a game, and that I remember that the stadium is not a pub (I can get trashed at a bar after the game).

This last part seems to be the most important at the moment. I am certain that American football games have been inundated by alcohol well before I was born. But I do not believe that the behavior accompanying the public drunkenness of stadiums I attended two decades ago was as nasty as what I've experienced more recently. I harp on the theme a second time in reaction to an article that appeared in Saturday's Washington Post on the Redskins-Bears game penned by CBS News' Editorial Director, Dick Meyer. I've had different experiences than Meyer: I have enjoyed the atmosphere at Soldier Field (at this year Lion's game, the drunken fan next to us with the traffic cone on his head was either ignored or jeered by most surrounding fans when he did something obnoxious; at last year's 49ers' game, the small group of fans in our section who took to berating another fan in our section who was wearing a Montana jersey were publicly rebuked by other fans who were deliriously happy with the game's progress); I brought a large group to the Meadowlands for last year's Jets-Bears game and had a great time (despite all of us being decked out in Bears jerseys); and we've driven down to Charlotte and enjoyed the college football-like atmosphere of Panthers games.

Unfortunately, while club level seats at the Redskins-Bears games led to the worst fan experience I've ever had, I've had similarly horrible experiences at Wizards and Nationals games. All of them have involved more than just the liberal application of alcohol. Indeed, the most important factor was the desire of others to be abusive. And the rise of the idiot DC sports fan certainly is having expected results. Attendance is poor at Nationals, Wizards, and Capitals games. Non-traditional sports have achieved some measure of surprising success in the area -- although attendance has fallen sharply recently, the Washington Mystics have had the highest attendance of any franchise in the WNBA in six of their ten seasons and there are four professional soccer teams between DC and Annapolis (DC United; Washington Freedom; Crystal Palace FC USA (Annapolis); and, now, Real Maryland F.C.). The Redskins are the exception, with a long waiting list for season tickets (but seeming difficulty in selling corporate seats).

And while it is probably not representative of what anyone else in the area might think, the problems posed by alcohol combined with idiot fans has changed my thinking about my rabid sports enthusiasm. I've asked for my name to be removed from the Redskins waiting list and will continue to politely decline requests to renew our Nationals' season tickets. I'll renew our United and Hoya Hoops tickets (where there is plenty of alcohol, but far less abuse), pick up Mystics season tickets again, add Freedom, Crystal Palace, and Maryland football plans to my list of sports expenditures, and watch the rest of it on television, if at all. I'm grateful to have the options.

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