So, I was in St. Louis last week for a business trip. Returning to my hotel room after a long day of site visits and business meetings, I did what any of us would do at that point, I flipped on ESPN and laid down to relax. It just happened to be 6:00 and Michael Wilbon was in the process of “tossing it up to SportsCenter.” The SportsCenter anchor took over (someone I didn’t recognize) and launched right into the lead story. Half paying attention and staring mindlessly at the TV, this is what I heard:
“As human beings, we all do many things naturally, instinctively, without consciously thinking about them. For most of us, these things include blinking and breathing. For Philadelphians, it’s booing…”
What?!? Really? Now, I know that the entertainment business is competitive and, in this era of 872 cable channels and the worldwide web, journalists rely upon shock, exaggeration, and ridiculousness to draw attention and retain viewership. I understand that. And, yes, I understand that journalism is more of a mirror that reflects the sentiment of its readership/viewership than it is any sort of ethical or righteous vehicle to guide that following. And, I’m certainly not going to make the argument that — like some of the radical news stations attempt to do — it even should be a vehicle of that sort. What I don’t understand, however, is why the so-called best journalists in the world are so creatively inept as to always lean on gratuitous slaps at a city, its sports teams, and, most importantly, its extensive fanbase. Honestly, it is just downright lazy.
I really don’t mind when I’m sitting at Busch Stadium, with my Phillies hat on, minding my own business, and someone asks me “You’re from Philly? Didn’t you guys throw batteries at Santa Claus?” I usually just laugh and say things like “Don’t believe everything you hear…we only threw snowballs at Santa Claus. The batteries were thrown at J.D. Drew.” But, it’s quite another thing when the national media perpetuates a reputation on a city and its fans that could, without much difficulty, been heaved on at least a dozen other North American cities. Like I said above, it’s lazy, creatively inept, and actually extremely outdated. To steal a joke from Seinfeld: It doesn’t offend me as a Philadelphian; it offends me as a [quasi-] journalist.
Think about this. What are the most commonly cited “atrocities” of the Philadelphia fans?
“You Philadelphians boo everybody. You even booed Santa Claus.”
This is, by far, the most common reference to Philadelphia fans and their ruthlessness. But, does anyone ever bother to mention that this occurred in NINETEEN SIXTY-EIGHT?!? And, there was enough of a justification for the fact that Santa was just a proxy for a cheap, soulless owner, who skimped on everything, from the product on the field to the cheap Christmas float run out there that the Santa himself (who was drunk and wearing a jogging suit) actually said that he “had no hard feelings” and “thought it was funny.” To recap, the most oft-cited atrocity perpetrated by the Philadelphia fanbase happened 42 years ago, and was actually blown way out of proportion.
“You Philadelphians are so classless that you throw batteries at opposing players.”
Let’s be clear here — there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for doing anything that jeopardizes the safety of any player on any team. Health and safety are, obviously, far more important than any result of any sporting event. And, yes, it was reported that two fans threw batteries at J.D. Drew on the night he first returned to Philadelphia. Now, like I said, there is no excuse for this behavior whatsoever, but should the actions of two fans really dictate how we judge an entire fanbase? If so, how do we feel about Cubs fans whose brethren throw beers at players during games or ostracize fellow fans for “interfering” in the game? How do we feel about Islander fans whose compatriots decide it’s a good idea to boo the Canadian national anthem? Not the equalivalent of throwing batteries? Okay, well, do we think that all Pistons fans should compromise their reputation because some Detroit natives like to brawl with NBA players? Yeah, but that wasn’t an unprovoked attack on a defenseless player. Good point. I guess Philadelphians are the types of people that attack defenseless people. By that logic, why aren’t there gratuitous slaps at
Chicagoans? A father and son at a White Sox game in 2002 randomly and mercilessly attacked Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. But, no one ever mentions that. Should all German tennis fans be construed as attempted murderers just because one of their own literally tried to kill Monica Seles? Are all Europeans racist because there have been countless accounts of monkey chants and Nazi salutes directed at black soccer players all over Europe? Now, these may seem like overly dramatic examples of the worst things in the history of sports, and they may be dramatic, yes, but all of these events have occurred since any Philadelphian has thrown a battery. And, the point is that if you only listened to what was reported, you would think that the dregs of the world hail from Philadelphia simply because some guy vomited on a girl at a Phillies game (again, I am, by no means, making light of that situation, I’m just trying to point out that it’s just as ludicrous to label all Philadelphians hooligans as it would be to label all Germans knife-weilding lunatics.)
“You Philadelphians hate your superstars. You booed Donovan McNabb on draft day.”
Okay, another reference to something that happened last century, but let’s address it nonetheless, since it comes up CONSTANTLY. The thirty guys (inspired by a ridiculous shock jock radio host) who painted their faces and drove to New York to boo McNabb are about as representative of the Philadelphia fan base as Jimmy Fallon is a representative of Red Sox Nation. But, I understand the accusations. I mean Philadelphia did run Scott Rolen out of town, and he has caught on with another team and showed what an incredible person he was. Oh wait, no, he’s had squabbles with every team he’s played on and every manager that has coached him. He has been run out of town by the “hard core” fans Toronto and Saint Louis.
And, when the guys come back, what does Philly do? They boo, right? Wrong. They give an emotional standing ovation to Allen Iverson on his first game back with the Denver Nuggets. They flood the Linc with #20 jerseys and give a thunderous welcome to Brian Dawkins when he returned as a Denver Bronco last season. Pat Burrell received one of the loudest ovations of all when he returned (as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays) in 2009 to receive his World Series ring. But, The Sixers aren’t rivals with the Denver Nuggets. The Eagles barely even consider the Denver Broncos, except the once every four years when they play each other in the regular season. The Phillies have no rivalry with the Rays, unless you count the 2008 (and 2010) World Series.
And, then there was yesterday. Donovan McNabb (a star-crossed figure in Philadelphia sports lore) returned to Philly yesterday wearing the jersey of the passionately hated Washington Redskins, and this is what transpired, to quote from the story on ESPN.com:
“When McNabb came out as the final Redskin introduced before the game, nearly everyone in the stadium — many wearing No. 5 Eagles jerseys — stood in tribute to the quarterback who led the Eagles to five NFC title games before being traded in April.”
This was not a “smattering of boos” or a “mixed reaction.” This was unadulterated appreciation. Yet, this sentiment is buried in the ESPN game story and probably won’t even be mentioned on SportsCenter, unless it’s in “shock” of the class of Philadelphia. All the front pages continue to talk about is booing Santa Claus in 1968. Compare all of these aforementioned examples of Philadelphia treating its returning players to the way Red Sox fans treat Wade Boggs, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, or Roger Clemens. Do we even need to talk about the way the Packers treat Brett Favre or how the Giants fans welcomed back Tiki Barber this weekend? Hell, just look at the letter written by Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert to LeBron James this summer, which was supposed to — and probably did — represent the thoughts of the majority of his fanbase. Will anyone chastise Cavs fans for the ruthless treatment that they are bound to give to James upon his return in a Heat uniform? No. And, why, because we feel sorry for them with the way LeBron handled it? Because they haven’t had a title since 1964? Imagine if that was Philly. Would anyone feel bad for Philly fans or, more likely, would all the stories be about how LeBron should be worried about his safety and other comments by “experts” about the actions of the fans in welcoming him back will “define a city’s reputation” (as Trent Dilfer said on NFL Live this week about McNabb’s upcoming return)?
Okay, I’ve gone off on quite a tangent (I guess I had a lot to get off my chest), and I really don’t want to be seen as whining about how my city is viewed by the rest of the country because, quite frankly, I couldn’t care any less about the national perceptions of Philadelphia. Yes, there is an inherent inferiority complex living between New York and DC, but we’ve dealt with that and are quite content with where we are as a city — and more importantly, as people. We are currently enjoying the best baseball team in the history of the National League, including an end to the 100-season title drought of a proud sports city, so it’s hard to complain right now.
In the end, I do understand what’s going on with Philly’s reputation. [There was a jail in Veterans Stadium — which, by the way, has ben a parking lot since 2004.] But, what I Just Don’t Get is why the national media is so inept and lazy that they have to keep going to the well with gratuitous slaps at a city’s fanbase when the overwhelming evidence is that Philadelphians actually exude an incredible amount of compassion, acceptance, and gratitude (to go along with an over-abundance of passion) towards its sports teams and all professional athletes.
The first-place Phillies have sold out every single one of the last 123 home games. The first-place Tampa Bay Rays drew 12,000 fans to a September pennant-race game against the second-place Yankees. I’m pretty sure that, for 123 straight game nights, 45,000 Philadelphians have bought tickets to Citizens’ Bank Park for reasons other than their love of booing or their uncontrollable desire to throw batteries.