Monday, October 8, 2007

A Ticket to Boo

Jets logoLeafs logoWhat an odd word and an even stranger way to express your displeasure at something. To actually yell "Boooooooo!!!!" Sure, booing often incorporates more than just choruses of that sound, but many times, that's it.

Years ago while attending Winnipeg Jets games, I can remember getting into the action as the entire arena rained down abuse on opposing teams. There seemed to be particular type of play or penalty committed by an enemy player that elicited the genuine and spontaneous boos. It's that essence of gutlessness that isn't always easy to articulate but when you see it, it's visceral and at once enrages and motivates.

The habitual booing of a certain player is something different and is almost surreal when the arena is otherwise sullen and detached. The off/on switch of the puck on the hated player's stick has got to have some kind of effect, though I've got to think it could be more of a motivator than anything. To know that you've got 18, 000 baboons watching your every move and waiting to utter a moronic sound in unison has to induce a certain amount of glee in many players who have been targeted. Hammer one home and shut the primates down, make them hoarse with your possession and enjoy the fact that they respect your ability and are utterly helpless to do anything else. Individual players may be tagged for a game, playoff series or their entire careers.

To boo an individual player on your own team is something I've never fully understood. I can understand letting the entire team have it on occasion but to target a player for a period of bad play is counterproductive in my opinion. What is the rationale? Obviously, the fans who engage in such behaviour must loathe the player to such a degree that they would like to see him hounded off the club.

The practice has got a nasty air of unfairness about it and I've no doubt it turns into nothing more than a habit for many of the lunatics who haven't got their fill of nastiness at a particular game. I've often thought that such behaviour is partly because of the thrill people get from letting others know how far they're willing to go. Part of the appeal of being a sports fan is the tribalistic aspect of of living and dying with your team. But within the fan base there are of course divisions and cliques just as there are in any group. The "I'm a better, nastier, more dedicated etc. fan than you because..." is something that occurs amongst fans, though usually never so brazen as to be stated directly like that.

It's even further beyond comprehension that the new Leafs' goalie Vesa Toskala would get booed in his first game (albeit preseason) in nets in Toronto. In such a situation it's beyond the play of Toskala, who hasn't even been given a whiff of a chance to show what he's got. It's more from the frustration of missed playoffs, years of poor management and the thought that "here we go again."

I guess fans who are willing to boo one of their own players at the first sign of less than stellar play should ask themselves what they really hope to accomplish. Clear away the usual (and completely legitimate) lines about "paid for my ticket," "when they play well enough not to get booed," "want to send a message" etc. and consider that the net effect is to produce some gut-churning anxiety for someone like Toskala whenever he may let in a soft goal. Do you really want any of his mind space devoted to the angst related to the expectation of the first wave of derision? Or do you want him to focus completely on the task at hand?

If that's irrelevant in what you consider the world of the hockey fan, then carry on...

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