Friday, September 7, 2007

Sports Propaganda

The management of hockey teams and their fans closely resemble the governments of nations and their citizens in terms of behaviour. Regardless of the actions taken and the real-world results, the spin provided by both a government and a team's management can be classified as propaganda.

Just as a wide swath of citizens of a nation will lap up any rationale, excuse or narrative offered up by their rulers, so too will a good portion of any team's fans dutifully respond to the propaganda delivered to them by the owners and management of their team. Those same fans will turn on other more critical followers, accusing them of being disloyal, helping opposing teams and not being of a character worthy of such a great team.


The next tier of fans tends to give their team's management the benefit of the doubt. They will grumble as questionable moves are made, the team's on-ice performance declines and playoff hopes evaporate. Ultimately they will close ranks as the flags are flown and the battle cries raised, satisfied that going down with the team still means they are part of something bigger than the sum of its parts.

The rare eternal critic holds their team to an exceptional standard and harshly criticizes anything short of winning it all. They know that the only way to push a team forward is by creating pressure through criticism and detached analysis. They hammer away, oblivious to being shunned by other fans and take small pleasure when they see an issue they are championing taken up up by others and sometimes even addressed by the team. However, the team management treats the entire fan base as a single entity and swings into propaganda mode whenever the need arises.

As soon as something guaranteed to generate comment about the team occurs , the official line is trotted out. It is quickly repeated by the general manager, coaches, players and adopted by the fan faithful, regardless of the lack of underlying logic. There's no time for questioning or analysis when you've got a pre-packaged line that can be repeated ad-nauseum.

The recent trade by the Toronto Maple Leafs in which a bundle of high draft picks were given up for a goalie with great potential, VesaToskala, and a forward who is a chronic off-ice screw-up, Mark Bell, brought the usual questions regarding the competence of Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. The criticism ramped up as Mark Bell was sentenced to 6 months in the slammer following the upcoming season and then suspended indefinitely by the NHL. Surely the Leafs management had to be aware of this fact as they finalized the deal. Any objective observer can state with some plausibility that the Leaf were fleeced and (should be) embarrassed by such a deal.

But according to the prevailing line that just isn't the case. Y'see, Ferguson had absolutely no choice. The Sharks made taking a Bell a part of the deal and to have tried to have taken part in some persuasion of his own or engaged in the kind of wheeling and dealing that separates the great GMs from the dupes would have nixed the deal. No siree, there's just no way you can pass judgement on this move by Ferguson.

Just as with the most powerful nation in the world, it seems as though the most powerful hockey organization in the NHL is governed by another set of rules about what constitutes success. Winning and pride for their fans (education, health-care, infant mortality rates) don't mean a damned thing. It's all about enriching those at the top. Yet the spin has convinced the vast majority that this somehow dove-tails with their best interests as fans.

Other teams are leaner and operate unencumbered by many of the surreal and artificial pressures of the more powerful clubs, experience more success and have fans willing to take to the streets when a period of unacceptable play occurs. Ironically, many of the fans of the wealthy and arrogant teams see that kind of fan pressure as a weakness.

When things get really bad, there is of course a period of relatively mild and cautious criticism, almost as if going through these rather unpleasant motions is part of being a fan. A relatively inexperienced figure-head ruler takes the heat and is mocked relentlessly while those pulling the strings behind the scenes continue on, completely unaffected by the laughable grumblings from the proles.

Defeat is Victory

Invincible Gullibility is Loyalty

Ignorance is Pride

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