On Fans and Cheering

Gregory Shamus - Getty Images

The NHL lockout has been tough on everyone. With no NHL hockey to watch, fans have been forced to go elsewhere for their sports entertainment.

For a lot of the US, that means NFL football. A very interesting thing happened in the NFL this past weekend. In a game in Kansas City involving the home-town Chiefs, their quarterback took a hit that rendered him injured. While he was laying prone on the turf, the fans in the stands (not all of them, but some of them) did something that shocked and outraged a lot of people: they cheered.

It’s long been established that every fanbase has some bad apples. What those fans in Kansas City did crosses a line of decency that should be apparent to people with common sense. We may not like the way a player is playing or how a coach is preparing their team, but deep down I think we all understand that these guys are human beings just like us, trying to make a living doing what they love.

The fact that they earn boatloads more money than most of us will see in a lifetime tends to cloud our judgment. These guys become elevated in our minds, so much so that we forget that an injury (specifically to the head or another serious injury) affects more than just their team. These are husbands, boyfriends, fathers and sons. When they are laid up with a concussion so bad they can’t remember anything that happened 10 minutes ago, that has a major impact on their family. To cheer someone lying on the field makes me very uncomfortable.

Do people take these things so seriously that they would sincerely wish an injury on another human being? Is this a case of a small group of people taking advantage of a situation to behave in a way that is clearly against what we would expect from a group of civilized human beings or is this some sort of mob mentality where people get caught up in a moment?

Consider the recent MLB Wild Card game where a seemingly incorrect call was made against the Atlanta Braves, a call that caused many of their fans to litter the field with debris. Think back to the riots in Vancouver that came about after the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

For Red Wing fans, there are 2 events in the last 15 years that have occurred that have caused fans to have similar reactions. On the negative side, last year’s playoffs saw Shea Weber attempt to re-create a WWE move by throwing Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass like it was a turnbuckle. It was a play that was obvious in its intent. For anyone to argue that Weber was trying to do anything but injure Zetterberg was immediately shot down by the video. Yet there were fans attempting to rationalize it by saying that he was sending a message to the big bad Red Wings.

The flip side was Fight Night at the Joe. Claude Lemieux, a man who will forever be hated in Detroit, was effectively jumped by Darren McCarty and pummeled, retribution for his malicious hit on Kris Draper the year before. Maybe it’s just me, but I find there is a distinct difference in the reactions to the 2 occurrences. With Weber, that was a guy who was clearly attempting to hurt an opponent for no real discernable reason, and he was doing so in a way that was clearly beyond the scope of what anyone would consider a reasonable way. Lemieux had perpetrated a dirty hit (although it was at least within the flow of play) on Draper, injuring him so bad he required facial reconstruction surgery. No matter what side you were on in the ensuing retribution, you could at least understand why it was happening and that it was done in a way that was "traditional" in that historically players had often attempted to settle differences or settle scores via this route.

What is it that causes fans to act this way? Some might suggest the rise of the internet has played a large part, but I seem to recall the Richard Riots in 1955 and Philly fans cheering when Michael Irvin was lying on the turf. No doubt there is increased outrage on the internet. Look no further than the exchange between Red Wing and Predator fans after the Weber/Zetterberg incident last year. Can you imagine if Twitter had been around on March 26, 1997?

Maybe it's just about common decency. There should never be a reason to cheer an injury or a dirty play. We all want to be entertained, and there's nothing wrong with cheering for physical play. But smart fans understand when to cheer and when to stay silent. Here's hoping we never see in the NHL what we saw in Kansas City.

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