Delving deeper into the hockey world, interacting with players, coaches and organizational personnel, Iâ€™ve learned a big lesson.
Weâ€™re dealing with people.
Guess what; fans are people, too.
Theyâ€™re constant targets those Leafs fans, jabbed by non-fans, media, bloggers, anyone not supporting the blue-white. And it’s not like the organization gave them much to fire back with over the course of the post-lockout where bad decision after bad decision wiped out a growing sense that something special was happening pre-lockout.
Participating as a fan means being sequestered among a group of tortured souls who have experienced the yo-yo effect of ups and multitude of downs, along the road to which we stand today.
Despite calls of the few being trumpeted as the voice of the many, Leafs fans get it from every direction. It seems everyone â€“ except the teamâ€™s own fan base â€“ has the â€˜rightâ€™ opinion on what the Leafs should be doing; everyone has an opinion on how bad management is/was, and anyone with two lips or typing fingers can see that itâ€™s the fans fault they perpetuate this myth of progress by buying tickets for mediocrity, â€˜a jokeâ€™ of a franchise. Right?
Not like fans of other clubs are strictly in it for the prestige of putting out winners, right? Lord Stanley or bust? Is that what the Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning are doing? Theyâ€™re not in it for the money, are they? Nah â€¦ thatâ€™s preposterous, itâ€™s only the Leafs that do that.
Cause/effect doesnâ€™t fit into the logic of the situation. No one, aside from a few drowned out fans acknowledge any sense of success for Toronto. Itâ€™s all about Ballard, 41 years and 1967. Mention Pat Quinn, they talk about the Leafs firing him, not taking the club to within a series of the Cup Finals twice.
Some in esteemed positions, radio personalities and scribes take pot shots at the fan base regularly, mainly inciting reaction, and a reaction there is. The severity of the attack determines the brutality of the verbiage rebuttal. No sticks, no pitchforks, words. Just like those used to intentionally rip out the heartstrings of the fan base.
Lost in the process is that this reaction sells papers, generates hits, increases radio listeners and pays bills. It’s part and parcel with delivery and message. Who is at the heart of this issue?
People. Human beings, with their own agendas.
Players aren’t just ‘assets.’ Management isnâ€™t just GM’s, scouts, directors etc … itâ€™s a cadre of people with well defined objectives; sales, page hits, increasing radio listeners, winning hockey games, playoff rounds, and Championships.
These are people with families, roots and responsibilities, simply making a living doing a ‘job’ just like people do daily in offices, construction sites, on the ice, in retail, in arenas and fast food joints all over the world.
The concept of players compensated in exorbitant amounts is out of scope. In essence, they are still doing a job; a lucrative job, but still a job. I used to mention to those complaining about athletes salaries that even athletes (“Another *#@*% road trip!!!!”) and porn stars (“Damn, I gotta &%$@ him/her today?”) occasionally hate their jobs.
I used to scream about player’s performances; trade him, he’s garbage, get rid of him. I thought about possible returns to make the club better, giving up nothing for gold … but when I stepped into a locker room that all changed.
These are real people, simply doing what we all are; making a living.
Surviving. Some did it with books, pens and laptops, others with sticks and pucks.
I find it difficult to support a notion of firing someone for doing their job, regardless of the polarity of their philosophy.
There is a simple way to diffuse this. Don’t read the said person. Don’t listen. Boycott the media outlets providing the commentary. Take away the power of the delivery and the message fizzles. Thatâ€™s a slow process, however, and we live in a microwave, please me now, immediate results society. We all want a quick fix, and arenâ€™t willing to wait it out.
Lashing out only provides more fuel to the fire and gives the outlet another reason to publicly mock those opposing the rhetoric, further humiliating the attempt and belittling those desiring philosophical change.
Perhaps it wasn’t wise for reporters to make such blatant attempts at slapping a fan base in the face. There are repercussions, perhaps not immediate, but they lurk.
This here is where the problem lies; the fact that people’s feelings and emotions have been repeatedly bludgeoned. Imagine someone making disparaging remarks regarding an emotional state, a remark about a family member, close friend and/or nationality. It festers until explosion in your emotional core, held together by a strong bond to emotion, not logic, with an outright reaction.
The change in philosophy in Leafs management has trickled down through staff, pouring onto the ice as the club stands today, despite early season overachievement. These changes have been documented and discussed ad nauseum. Overkill at its finest, I wonâ€™t go into heavy details here.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the mainstream media, having seen/heard this before from the organization – from the best of sources, no less – only to see it dwindle once the puck dropped, was starting to believe in the chatter behind the scenes, witnessing the on-ice product early on. They were buying into the philosophical change.
Then Burke was hired, and the decisions being made now are surely for the best in the long run, acknowledged throughout the mainstream media.
The overwhelming mentality proved to impose praise and dissension of the club amongst news outlets in the media-saturated Toronto market.
What happened to the fan?
Philosophical changes to club, and a softer position by the mainstream media, placed the fan into the position of whipping boy. As pen devils started to believe in the on-ice product, they turned their vengeful, â€˜business as usualâ€™ pens, microphones and cameras directly at the one element they view as static.
And why not? This is a sheepish fan base that takes the organization’s view hook, line and sinker … right? They have no say in the alteration of the club philosophy, provide no opposing voice when their club struggled last season, or set the wheels in motion to trade Doug Gilmour to New Jersey in the mid-90â€™s. Right? That wasnâ€™t fan-initiated it was â€¦ what? Initiated by the media? The organization? Anyone?
Thatâ€™s what Leafs fans are all about, right? Cheering for mediocrity? For a shoddy product? One that made it to the Conference Finals four times since the last time a Canadian team won the Holy Grail, yet are still labeled as â€˜mired in 41 years of mediocrity.â€™
Yeah, koolaid sipping, delusional fans were stupid to cheer for a team that was heading into contention as the lockout loomed. Stupid fan base … don’t you know anything? Haven’t you learned? How can you blindly follow what the team gives you? Forty-one years of mediocrity.
The 1992-93 Conference Final appearance was an illusion, like the following year. The Pat Quinn era never happened. The Conference appearances against Buffalo in 1999 and Carolina in 2002 never happened. They don’t fall into the concept of mediocrity and never mentioned. Doesnâ€™t support the facts, so itâ€™s truncated from memory.
What the media is really intimating is that the fans shouldn’t be listening to the organization; they should be following what WE (the mainstream media) offer you – the fan – everyday.
The Truth. Unwavering, unabashed, unfiltered levels of truth.
Perhaps the issue here is that the mainstream perception of the organization’s change in philosophy has been somewhat reluctantly embraced, while the fan base is still being regarded as that of ‘sheep,’ delusional.’ â€˜Fansâ€™ themselves haven’t changed in accordance to those of the organization.
In other words, sometimes, pokes made at the organization go too far to include a generalization of the supporting public, blinded by years of precedent, and some otherwise questionable editorial judgment.
In the first 10-15 years of the Maple Leafs Championship drought (the Ballard Dark Ages), there wasn’t a voice, a unified, adjustable voice, to counter futility. Last season, for Maple Leafs fans, the onslaught against the current ways of the club led to a firing of their General Manager, a switch in philosophy from ‘one-round’ playoffs, to rebuild into consistent contention.
Thatâ€™s not acknowledged, except through the Barilkosphere.
This has been lost on a fan base, attacked from every angle; other fans, in-fighting between philosophies (Tank nation vs. Leafs Nation) and recent, more flagrant attacks from some mainstream media members.
The schism exists between followers and reporters. One faction wants to be better. The other just wants to do their job. Mainstream media covering the Leafs, have had the run of exclusivity since the last time Toronto won the Stanley Cup. The limelight used to be yours; you had it for 41 years.
But times, they are a-changing. No longer does the fan have to sit back and take consistent negativity towards themselves and their kind. There is an outlet now, something not available 20, or even 10 years ago. The common fan now has a voice, culminating in a grassroots effort like starting an online petition to get someone fired.
The lesson in this entire endeavor is that while Iâ€™ve realized that there is a personal, human side to the entire structure of the game of hockey, perhaps before mainstream media figures start intensifying the onslaught of verbal shots across the bow of the average fan, they, too, should realize that they are not just dealing with an anonymous, blind blue and white monster.
They are dealing with people.
With a voice, gathering momentum.