I'm a fan of the Vancouver Canucks. I have been for most of my 23 years on this planet. The team's had some tremendous highs in that time, including runs to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 and again this year, but they've also had some tremendous lows (the whole Mark Messier and Mike Keenan era, for one). Still, if anything's more likely to make me abandon my fandom than an awful team struggling under the mismanagement of Keenan, it's a few entitled idiots who take a loss in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals as an excuse to start destroying property. I'm watching the images on CBC right now, and it's absolutely horrifying. It's that sort of hatred and destruction that's the worst part of sports, and for it to show up here sickens me.
If I could do away with one thing in this world, it would be hate. Hate not only leads to suffering, but it blinds us, convinces us to think irrationally, and tells us that whatever disgusting feelings we have are just fine, because whoever they're aimed at isn't worthy of consideration. It's hate that spawns hyper-partisanship, where fans blindly clothe themselves in their teams' colours and ignore whatever happens on the other side. It's hate that leads to messes like the football hooliganism we've seen over in Europe, or the reported attacks on Canucks' fans out in Boston (which probably happened in Vancouver too).It's hate that leads us to believe that sports are more than just a game, more than just a fun diversion, but rather some divinely-ordained way of determining that one group of people is better than another group. That's not acceptable with races, religions, political beliefs or anything else, so why should it be the case in sports?
I was reminded of this today thanks to a couple of excellent NBA pieces, one by Joe Posnanski on why there's nothing wrong with rooting against the cartoonish aspects of a character like LeBron James, and one by Tom Haberstroh on how even that kind of innocent hate tends to spill over into the personal. In my mind, both have points. There's nothing wrong with villains, in sports, literature, films or otherwise. There's nothing wrong with rooting against villains. The problem comes when "hate" is invoked, as it's a complicated term with a lot of baggage that can mean anything from "I dislike your team" to "I wish your star player's family dies." Part of that spectrum's obviously more acceptable than the rest, but our culture tends to glorify the hardcore "superfans", and one of the ways they show their devotion to their side is by hating the other side more than anyone else. That atmosphere is what leads to riots like the ones we've seen tonight in Vancouver.
These riots are just so short-sighted. If the Canucks' "fans" involved actually took the time to get to know some of the great Boston types out there, they'd realize they have far more in common with Bruins' fans than they think. Moreover, Vancouver made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and pushed the series to seven games; in a 30-team league, that's incredibly impressive. Throw in that randomness means the best team doesn't always win (contrary to narrative), and really, Vancouver fans have a fair bit to celebrate instead of things to get angry about. They didn't reach the top of the mountain this time, but they came as close as one possibly can. They're also in good shape to try again next year. To me, that's more of a reason for celebration than anger.
To the mobs of "fans" out looting and rioting, though, I hope you have fun. Your behaviour reflects on the rest of us who happen to live in the area, and it reflects on all the people who at one time or another have donned a Canucks jersey. Hopefully, it won't reflect on us too much, though. We may all be Canucks, but we're not all idiots.