The following is a multi part essay in which I attempt to relay my personal journey as a hockey fan who hails from the Southern United States…….Its a labor of love. Enjoy……….
It does not take much effort to call oneself a fan of a professional or college sports team. Even though society deems rooting for a team an active pursuit, seemingly, all one has to do is to watch a game, attend a party with friends, buy tickets or wear merchandise with a team logo. Anyone can do it; since the energy required to be active is minimal within the context of vicariously and passively experiencing the oscillations of the accomplishments or failures of the ones actually playing the game. It is one thing to expend one’s own time, energy, effort, or emotion sedentarily slated on the couch. It is quite another to sacrifice, work, endure, compete, overcome challenges, imprint life’s lessons as taught uniquely through sport, and navigate the friction underpinning the business aspects that are required to make the show go on.
What follows depicts my personal attempt to probe a pathway toward both ends;
This is the cavernous gap between the player, manager, or other professional and the casual fan. The former is in the game, the latter is in the stands; an observer who is free to come and go as he or she pleases, arbitrating the expenditure of the aforementioned currencies as they see fit. The participants in the sporting world do not share that luxury. After all, they are players.
Nowhere is this dynamic more relevant than in the southern United States. Generally, the populace south of the Mason Dixon Line is obsessed with football, not necessarily for its own sake, but because the game, and the active pursuits of its fans, spans the gamut of races, creeds, cultures and norms. It’s a religion; and some zealots would even claim, life itself. The identification of the southerner with his team, his tribe, his people, his band of brothers or sisters, ingrains the sport and its pursuit into the collective psyche of the region. Even from a young age, people from all walks of life are encouraged to fervently uphold this level of identity and inter-generationally inculcate it for time immemorial. The team is never referred to as “they.” It is denoted by the phrase, “we.”
I myself have observed, and am the product of, a similarly vigorous indoctrination process to the world of sports for the reasons I will cite herein. Except that the axis upon which I identify with my own thesis is that of a hockey fan. Yes, a hockey fan – from Virginia – and an avid, studious, and intellectual one at that. I even have this website on which I have transferred my passion for the sport into a complex series of theories of how teams either succeed or fail.
I guess you can say that I am a rare breed.
So much is my case unique geographically, that my whole life, people within whom football or basketball is a unifying force ask me, “how is it possible that you could like…..hockey” (with the word itself emphasized in speech through a tone of disbelief, at best, and outright contempt, at worst)? They consider the mere thought of it to be nothing more than a nomadic existence in a prehistoric expanse, or worse yet, boxing on skates. Since the closest professional team is a several hours drive, I empathize with their ignorance of the finer, or any, points of the game. How terribly unfulfilling the life of a hockey fan in the south must be, they surmise. What they do not recognize as well as I do is that all the games we enjoy are essentially the same.
To wit; common to sports generally are winners, losers, rules, mediators, scoring, defense, offense, strategies and tactics. However, none of those facets of a game are particularly interesting by themselves, nor are each important enough to spark the degree of vitality necessary to foster the development of an identity vis a vis “your team.” What I have told my curious, yet unconvinced, inquisitors is that I do not necessarily love hockey, but the process by which I access it. Let me explain.
You have to be a special person to be a serious hockey fan. It takes exceptional individual to appreciate a game in which scoring is at a premium, order stems from chaos and vice versa, rewards are only earned with precision, diligence, hard work and mistake minimization, and where unbridled aggression is both encouraged and can be employed as an appropriate sidekick to frontier justice.
While that paragraph may be the best ever written on this site (and there has been some stiff competition for that honor), it is the root of why hockeyfreeforall.com exists…..in the south……with much more to say on this subject in the coming submissions.