Tuesday, April 07, 2009

In Defence of Toronto Sports Fans

From the perspective of a 500 level fan at the Blue Jays Home Opener last night....

From my seat at the game, third row from the top of the 500 level down the first-base line (that's right, spared no expense!), I chuckled and shook my head as person after person failed to launch a paper airplane from the 500s on to the field. Only two seemed to make it all the way — from my vantage point anyways — out of the good hundred or so that were launched. The farthest one from our side was sent gliding out to the middle of centrefield, with the crowd going wild as the paper plane caught an updraft and just kept on going. The plane rested between the outfielders for a while before being scooped up by grounds staff.

Hey, blame it on Detroit, the fans have to do something to stay entertained when the score is 9-1 (PLEASE please note the sarcasm!). For the most part the fans on the night were vociferous but happy, rowdy yes but in good spirits. But there's always that 3% out there, that splinter of the population that, as the cliché goes, "ruins it for the rest of us."

Unable to see the balls that were thrown onto the field like many others (heard about it only after the game), and thanks to Rogers Centre staff sitting on their hands for what seemed like forever, I assumed like some others it was the paper planes that caused the stoppage in the game, which was rather confusing. While I don't condone throwing balls onto the field at players in any way, it was isolated - it's not like the incident was an epidemic. While it doesn't change the seriousness of it all, it does take the blame off of more than 48,000 in attendance. I think that need be remembered.

The number of fights in the 500 level were surprisingly low considering how many Detroit fans seemed to make the trip up for the game. Not to say that there weren't some fights last night, just that they paled in comparison to last year's Home Opener, as well as the first few Toonie Tuesday games of last season. There were 500-level alcohol bans on Toonie Tuesday's following swiftly behind those games and rightly so as I was in the attendance at the Tuesday game just before the banning. Last night the crowd failed to match that tenacity though, last night does not warrant any bans.

The crowd was drunk and rowdy yes but not more so than usual, and certainly not overly violent. Paper planes were the main distraction for the masses this season, unlike streakers and fights at last year's home opener. Yet Toronto sports fans are once again en masse taking the blame for the isolated incidents that took place. The fans of Toronto are no more to blame here than our very own culture of sports. And maybe it's time to give that one another look over.

It is built into our nature it seems to allow these "few bad apples" to thrive at sporting events. The hecklers are cheered on and even encouraged by the crowd when they're giving it to an opposing fan or player, spurred to the point where some of them eventually take it too far with violence or interacting with the field of play. While North Americans appear deathly afraid of the term "hooliganism" it is already present in all major sports and tolerated as well. Of course it's tolerated just up until that point of violence, that is, and that's when some people are suddenly disgusted with the actions of these people and become self-righteous. This is not just isolated to one place, it's a common occurrence while heading out to games anywhere it seems!

An entire fan base cannot be painted negatively as a whole for the actions of the very relatively few, that will never help the situation. When an entire city, across all its sports organizations, starts to get labelled as violent and out of control that's not helping to curb this stream of "hooliganism." There's elements that do warrant it but it certainly doesn't apply to all. Since the TFC incident though and now after this Jays Home Opener there are speculative eyes taking aim with seemingly every sports fan residing in Toronto, but you just can't paint them all with that same negative brush. Negative portrayal and stereotyping, that's what they do in Russia.

Reasonable, well thought out plans can actually deter some of these issues altogether. Some incidents can be blamed more on poorly thought out planning than anything else. Not all, but definitely a good number. With this increased interest in fan activities and interaction at sporting events recently, hopefully the time to pay more attention to planning will finally arrive. Odds of that happening...

Like it or not Toronto is not only not that bad, but no different than any other sports city across the country/continent/likely the world. Once we face up to facts that it is not the geographical location of a team that dictates the temperament of its fans but something deeper maybe things can be addressed. Until then though punishing and labeling a group will only makes things worse. Before everyone starts pointing fingers and playing the blame game, it's time to put some perspective on this whole matter.


kinger said...

Well said. Good on you for actually realizing it's a small minority of fans who are stupid enough to affect the game itself. The only time someone's crazy activity at a ballgame crosses the line is when it affects the game or a good chunk of those surrounding the person (I say a good chunk because there are those killjoys who find any kind of noise or enjoyment to be disturbing and a massive problem that must be combatted).

Since there's no chance of a crowd that size at any other point this season (unless it's mostly Boston or New York fans) the whole thing will probably blow over within a couple of weeks and the people who whine endlessly about it can go back to turning around and yelling "shhhhhhhhhh" anytime a fan tries to heckle a Yankee.

Jim Maddon said...

Just keep the TFC fans busy with their "sport" and ban them from the Rogers Centre. After that, everything will be fine.