As I try to dig my proverbial rollerblades into the concrete that is another Stanley Cup playoffs, I can’t help but notice how douchey most of us have gotten with regard to sport. No longer do we live in an age of winning and losing, but rather an era of meaningless chatter concerning referees (and linesmen) blowing entire series with one call, mind-numbing slurs launched at anyone supporting the other team (or anyone who wants to bring calmness or rationality into the argument), and the incessant, universal need of every “fan” to be wholly accepted as not only underdogs, but victims.
Count me out. I don’t need this mentally weak view of my favorite sport, and I’m hoping that some of you may come to realize that you don’t either. In fact, this whole thing is much more enjoyable and just as satisfying once a person comes around and figures out just what this “sport” thing is, and how to go about consuming it.
I love hockey, the NHL, and sport in general. I like talking about them, reading about them, debating them. But I refuse to accept that in order to partake in these things I have to let go of maturity and accept that I have to join the idiots that might have a monopoly on the industry.
Part of the issue is that hockey has been engaging in efforts to grow the game, which necessarily means grabbing the eyeballs and dollars of middle America and Joe Sports Fan. Of course, this demographic is high on unnecessary expenses but low on poise and mastery of its emotions. I get that Twitter is always going to bring out and give a platform to the trolls who will use what minds they have to dip their paintbrushes in feces and wave them frantically as if Voldemort is nearby. But I want to examine the mindset of the collective majority that has taken over the conversation.
The psychological aspect that influences otherwise smart enough people and leads them to discard rational thought and kind human behavior is this omnipresent victimization complex. It is everywhere; it is all around you. Sport may be different from “real life,” or belong in the entertainment section of the newspaper (as hockey’s best voice, Jeff Marek, has claimed), but the folks who consume sport are the same ones who consume real life. Namely, anyone and everyone. So it’s logical to assume that where there exists a societal propensity for victimization complexes, so too will one exist in the sporting realm.
Anyone questioning the existence of a pressure to adopt a victimization complex needs only to look at politics, music, television and film or pop culture in general for glaring and continual examples. People complain about rappers bragging about their gold chains and spinning rims. But those rappers also want you to know that they came up from nothing. They didn’t get any advantages. They’ve never seen a silver spoon. They were victims, before they won.
Romantic comedies follow a pre-packaged script that makes sure to let every viewer know that the protagonist is to a large degree also a victim. Never mind that the main character is played by a woman who is a multiple-time charter on Maxim’s Hot 100, because the writer and director can throw more makeup and form fitting clothing on an equally gorgeous lady and then have this antagonist go over the top to make sure that the viewer is disgusted with the way she does our poor, homely protagonist dirty. Or in men’s terms, think Luke Wilson vs. Craig Kilborn in Old School, or Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson vs. Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers. Our good guys may actually be kinda bad, but that’s alright because the other guy is really bad. Such as it is with hockey fans: yeah, our guy jumped yours, but you started it and you got away with three similar acts earlier. You have no true claim at this win, and more importantly, we are the underdogs.
In U.S. politics, democrats cite the right wing’s “War on Women” and beliefs that public projects have no place in a free society as bigoted, ignorant and self-serving, while republicans see socialist ghosts everywhere trying to take away their guns, dollar value and dollars in general. This is to say nothing of all of these “freedoms” that half the nation claims are being taken, like the freedom from any and all pain-inducing thought.
In one of the most incredible political rally cries, Texas governor Rick Perry asserted at some point in his failed 2012 presidential campaign that he was “not ashamed to be Christian,” which is to say that he is not ashamed to be included in a group that made up 76% of Americans, according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey. I’m not sure what more proof of a victimization complex needs to be offered after a person who placed in the top ten of possible presidents of the entire nation thinks being part of any 76% slice of any pie has ever been linked with present-day shame. But we need to be victims. We need to be the underdogs.
Comparisons to War
The first step in building a victimization complex is identifying yourself as part of a specific group. In hockey, the obvious group is “fans of my team,” or “us.” The second step is establishing a rival group and relegating other individuals as simply members of this other group, which is roughly identified as “fans of other teams,” or “them.” Every team competes for the one and only prize worth winning in the NHL — Lord Stanley’s Cup. Therefore, once the us versus them is established, it becomes easy to go to step three: “they” are trying to take what’s “ours.” Which of course leads into “we” must be united to defeat the “bad guys (villains / anti-victims)” and all the other insane references to war that lowlifes seem to need to conjure up in order to justify their inability to control their emotions or treat this sport thing as what it is — a competition between separate teams competing for the same prize under defined rules.
Perhaps the war analogies were always inevitable. Many of the films regarded as the best of all-time center around wars or have wartime settings. I haven’t run the numbers on this, but I’m pretty sure shooting a movie based on war adds roughly three-fourths of a star to your movie rating on the cable guide. Just rough estimates, though. I get the feeling this need to relate sports to war is higher in people who never served or engaged in actual war, but I suppose further research would be needed to safely make this assertion. My point is that, in my opinion, framing sport against the backdrop of war is lazy, disrespectful to actual military men and women, and immature. It’s a form of lower thinking, but one that can be necessary in real fight or flight situations, such as real war. Hockey is not war. The team that surrenders more shots on goal does not have to worry about being waterboarded in some underground camp. Failing to put a body on the pinching defenseman is not followed by having to hand-deliver a folded, officially licensed New York Rangers flag to Dan Girardi’s mother. Sport and war are just not the same thing.
Not to take the conversation away from hockey for too long, but the English Premier League offers us great examples of groups’ need to play the victim. When I started really following domestic soccer, England had what was called the “big four,” which included the four teams that had won the title for the last million seasons: Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. Since that time, the stranglehold at the top has dissolved somewhat and now includes Manchester City and Tottenham. Here’s the breakdown of victims and villains according to every other fan base in England.
English Soccer: My Team is the Victim, Yours is the Villain
Manchester United are villains due to their recent hoarding of league titles and perceived propensity to be beneficiaries of poor refereeing decisions. Manchester City are villains because a wealthy Sheikh bought the club in 2008 and had the audacity to spend a lot of money on players in an effort to challenge to “big four.” It seems to be working, as City will either finish second in the league for the first time since 1977 or snatch the title for the first time since 1968. Arsenal are victims in that they refuse to divorce their manager’s ideology of raising his players through the system and playing a style dedicated to offensive beauty at the expense of overpaying for other teams’ players or getting “dirty” wins. But they are also villains in that their fans are not real fans, but rather just a group of elitist Londoners who jumped on the bandwagon when the team was “invincible” in 2003-04.
Liverpool has been the most villainous club lately thanks to their “us versus them” PR nightmare involving Luis Suarez, who was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra on the field in 2011. And then there’s Chelsea, who are despised by fans of every other team because it seems that they have embraced the role of villain and appallingly said to the rest of the victims in (and of) society, “We don’t really care if you like us.” If you’re looking for proof of this, check out the John Terry scandal. Think Tiger Woods but involving Woods’ secret funding of an abortion of the love child created from Tiger’s escapades with Stevie Williams’ wife. No joke. And John Terry’s not only still on the team, but is serving as the pseudo-manager whenever it happens that he is on the bench. And you know that whole hate Tiger Woods because he’s a dirty cheater and throws golf clubs and tears up greens but is way richer than any of us will ever be so I hate him thing? Yeah, there aren’t many better ways to typecast an athlete, his team, and fans of that team as villains than having a situation like that right there.
A Few Days In & We’re Already At It
Getting back to hockey, there’s no question that the majority of fans have victimization complexes. The playoffs are only a few days old, but already plenty of fan bases are screaming about the need for justice to right the wrongs that have been imposed on their teams. The Penguins are bitching about blowing a 3-0 lead to the Flyers due to Philly’s first goal coming from a breakaway that should have been called offside. The Flyers justify it with some “well you got one a little while after what really should have been an icing” argument.
The Red Wings (my Red Wings, I have to admit) have screamed for the suspension of Shea Weber, and then for the inherent unfairness that comes with the “Shana-ban can’t suspend anyone playing against Detroit ‘cuz then the other team would cry and play the victim” situation. Think about that folks: we are screaming and crying about being victimized essentially on the basis of a third-party judge actively refraining from giving the other group of fans the right to feel victimized. Read that sentence again. Rinse and repeat.
I haven’t put my ear to the ground today, but I’m sure in British Columbia there is a shortage of tin foil in the stores after the Canucks somehow have fallen behind an eight seed two games to none before hitting the road. I’m guilty of assuming that the league would make sure Pittsburgh took care of Philadelphia after the NHL seemed to be pushing a policy of fines for verbal assertions that the Penguins may be anything akin to the villains.
I’m sure the Steel City feels that it trails 3-0 not because it lost three hockey games, but because the league is in fact overcompensating for the trio of fines that it recently levied. Because, you know, winning and losing isn’t decided on the 200-by-85-foot sheet of frozen water, but rather behind some closed door that leads to a room in which old white men who are richer than us and fatter than us smoke cigars and laugh about how they’re going to screw our team this time.
But none of this answers the real question: why do we have to do this? Why do we have to act like assholes and morons about something that we really have no financial stake in? That is, unless you want to tally the negative impact our team’s successes have on our wallets in the form of overpriced championship t-shirts and hats, more time spent watching games deeper into the playoffs, and maybe even some money spent going to these games that our team is only playing in because it had a very recent triumph (and the later it gets, the more likely those tickets came from Stubhub, which means we aren’t paying face value anymore).
I’m willing to accept those financial losses as some form of bought happiness. The fact still remains that our salaries don’t increase if our team makes it out of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. There are no groupies that see Zach Parise score a big goal and think to themselves, “That deke really makes me want to hook up with an angry dude in a replica #9 jersey so hard.” Not really any power at stake either.
So there’s no money, sex or power on the table for most of us, yet sport yields actions that are (or at least used to be) unacceptable in everyday life. This can only be explained by the masses’ inability to control their emotions. Nobody is saying that picking a team and watching a hockey game should stir up zero emotions in an onlooker. Hell, I’d pity you if you could watch a playoff game and feel absolutely nothing. It’s just the way in which people are completely unable or unwilling to take a moment and let the emotion die down a little bit before saying or doing something that makes this whole thing less enjoyable for the rest of us. It’s juvenile in every sense. Kids are generally not tried as adults for crimes because of this theory that it is harder for a juvenile to understand the consequences of his actions or how to handle his emotions. But how many of the people that this writing would apply to are actually juveniles? I would say not many.
The inability to handle emotional swings can be slightly offset by adopting the underdog mentality, or victimization complex. Suffering from manic depression is seen as a disease — just revisit the Charlie Sheen coverage for evidence of that. But all manic depression really means is that a person has too wide a gap in their response to positive and negative emotions. The highs are too high; the lows are too low. In a hockey fan’s sense, winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate high and that moment of elimination from contention for the Cup is the ultimate low. There are other highs and lows like scoring / allowing goals, winning / losing a fight, being the Shea Weber / being the Henrik Zetterberg that all contribute toward that ultimate high or low for a season.
The Victimization Complex is a Foolish Attempt to Close Fans’ Emotional Gap
The people that need to be victims need this because it allows the highs to be higher or just as high, while also letting the lows be higher. When a person is the victim and underdog, they never have to deal with losing when they should have won. Additionally, a Cup will never simply yield that “whew” feeling that might come with adopting the mentality of a favorite. They never have to act like they’ve been there before, because their narrative lets you know that they haven’t been there before thanks to everyone else in the world continually beating them down for no justifiable reason.
The high is as high as they can picture it: they overcame bad officiating, the league’s hatred of them and all of the other teams. The low is a little less low: they wouldn’t have gotten this far if the league got what it wanted, the officials in games 37 and 59 blew the four points that they needed to have home-ice advantage in this series, and my personal favorite — the old, “still better than you even though you won” argument.
These are all obvious defense mechanisms employed by the insecure to protect themselves against their greatest unknown: growing up. Why admit that something’s just a game, albeit a really great game, when we can instead turn it into a war? Why take the life-or-death stakes out of something that gives us those euphoric releases of dopamine that some of us evidently still haven’t figured out how to control, let alone use to our advantage?
Fans are so Emotionally Invested that They Need to Hedge Their Bets
Mental and emotional weakness is on display quite often thanks to our need to declare a series “over” as quickly as possible. It never ceases to amaze me how many fans need to stick a fork in their teams after the second loss in a best-of-seven series. This aspect of the problem isn’t limited to just your run-of-the-mill fans, either. When was the last time a television program on sports did not at least debate the question of whether or not a random series is “over?” I’ve seen it frequently with 2-0 series, especially ones in which the team with the lead is heading home for two games. I’ve seen it in 3-1 series all the time, despite the fact that the trailing team has two of the next three games at home and is theoretically the better team anyway, as evidenced by their higher seeding. I’ve even seen it in series that are at 3-2, which is the epitome of insanity. If the thing goes seven, all the clichés will come out about anything being possible. We’re one game away from anything being possible, and yet we’re going to even entertain the idea that the thing is “over?” Incredible.
This need to get out early is akin to a poker player needing to fold after the flop so as to avoid further losses during the next two betting rounds. I understand it. If I quit now, then once I’m really eliminated it won’t hurt as badly. Except it does. It always will, if you allow yourself to care, which I totally think you should. But here’s the thing: there aren’t future betting rounds to come. It’s not poker. If you miss the playoffs, you lost. If you lose in the first round, you lost. If you lose in the seventh game of the conference final (or the Cup Final, if you think winning the conference is meaningless), you lost. The result is the same for you emotionally no matter when the elimination comes. So there’s no need to try to figure out if something is “over” or not while there’s still another game on the schedule, and doing so saves you absolutely nothing emotionally, especially when we consider that those fans who declare things “over” are always pumped up and back on board for the next game anyway.
If We’re Incapable of Holding it Together, Is Ambien the Answer?
The transformation into an insecure, mentally weak culture has been years in the making and probably will continue if the content of television programming is any indication — there are currently six different Real Housewives of… series that have also spawned five different spin-offs on Bravo and Slice in the U.S. and Canada, respectively. And let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that women are the only ones watching. This might not be your world, it might not be my world, but there’s no denying that it exists and thrives in our world.
Upon considering the mental weakness aspect of unacceptable fan behavior, I naturally had to check out the stats regarding Americans on anti-depressants, since that seems to be a running joke in our society. I was actually surprised that the 11% figure released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2011 was so low. Maybe one in ten is a lot, but the way we talk about depression these days had me figuring the proportion would be higher.
Then I did some reading and noticed that not only were anti-depressants the second-most prescribed drugs in the U.S., but that studies suggest that a lot of people are afraid to talk about their depression with physicians because they are afraid of the stigmas associated with being prescribed antidepressants or referred to psychiatrists.
There are many stats of intrigue in these studies, but one that I thought might be relevant to the jerkoff hockey fan debate is that women and adolescent girls are 2.5 times more likely to use antidepressants than men or adolescent boys. My thoughts upon reading this couldn’t help but drift back to Twitter, where I then couldn’t help but recall that most of the angry, immature, hypocritical or no value added tweets from hockey fans this time of year seem to be disproportionally from dudes.
This left me in a quandary — I got all shook up. You see, rightly or wrongly, I’ve been the kind of person to poke fun at members of our “Prozac Nation,” or Ambien or whatever the drug might be. I’ve always taken a skeptical view of the idea that everyone on this stuff needs to be, or should be. You know, the old “quit being a sissy and get it together”-type of thing. Or as Barney Stinson once explained it, “When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead. True story.”
But, if it turns out that manic depressive tendencies are in fact near the root of all this unacceptable fan behavior including widespread victimization complexes and the need to relate sport to war, and the demographic that is less likely to use antidepressants is the same one that seems to be more likely to put on their asshole face, then maybe more of these angry, irrational, hypocritical, indoctrinated pretend soldiers (or pretend generals, let’s get real) should look into the whole sad pill option.
Let’s Get Our Shit Together
What might be the ultimate irony in all of this is that most of these symptoms are not experienced by the actual professional ice hockey team as a whole. Players give interviews and are sometimes candid, but in reality they always think they have a chance to win the next game, and hold most of their teammates in high enough regard to stick up for them during a game, but when summer comes they take off the skates and go back to their real lives just like any well-balanced adult would. Why can’t fans take the same dose of perspective and refrain from looting local shops, lighting cars on fire or trolling the internet?
These playoffs are still very young, so it’s not too late to take a chill pill and realize that hoping our teams win is just about all we can do. Trust that your boys are trying to win. Get a little upset with those dodgy penalty calls because that’s human nature, but then take a deep breath and shift into penalty killing mode, rather than spamming everyone’s timeline with biased hate. Trust me, win or lose, it’s a better way to enjoy the game for you and me both.