Spread your wings and fly, boo birds

040511-400-hamels
Cole Hamels was booed after allowing six runs in his first start of the season. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

A segment of the local media doesn't think much of you. It's true. There's a faction that believes fan is a dirty word. That's what all the recent debate over etiquette really means, though many of my contemporaries would never admit it.

No, they like to polish their criticism and package it as free advice - a present from them to you about how to act in certain situations. They're absolutely certain they know how to comport themselves - but they don't believe you do, so they're happy to explain it for your edification. You're evidently simple and could use the help. Take notes and follow their rules, and maybe they'll admit you to their fan finishing school.

At least Howard Eskin has the guts to cut the pretense and call you nitwits and dopes.

Over the last few weeks, there have been quite a few words written about booing - when you can and can't do it and whether you need to be provided with express, written consent beforehand. Judging by all the space dedicated to your unthinkable, inexcusable, oh-so-naughty behavior - tsk, tsk - I suspect some of the local scribblers would like to smack you with a misconduct penalty and put you in the fan penalty box for an indefinite period.

Let's review: After Cole Hamels had a poor first outing of the season, a story was published bemoaning those who booed the performance. When the Flyers failed to score against the Sabres and lost Game 1 of their playoff series, a piece was published that questioned the fan reaction by repeating one simple question: "Why boo?" And, not to be left out, former governor turned columnist Ed Rendell crafted a handy guide that outlines when it's appropriate to boo and when you should stay quiet. (Expect a pocket-size travel version to hit newsstands any day now. You might want to buy in bulk and hand them out as gifts around the holidays.)

Oh, and Greg Dobbs got booed over the weekend, too. That should occupy us for at least a week.

It should be noted that I like and respect the people who wrote those stories, even though the former governor called me a contrarian. (That's ridiculous. I look forward to arguing that point with him.) But I bristle when media members - and it isn't just the print guys; TV reporters and radio hosts do it all the time - tell the general public how to act. It can come off as though they think they're better or smarter than the average person.

That's part of the problem. Many media types I know hold the fans in contempt. It's sad when, say, a cheese-heavy local baseball blogger thinks he knows it all but fails to see himself for what he is: a glorified stenographer with a bloated ego and a sweet gig. It's the misguided elitism that rankles. Reporters don't consume sports the same way fans do, and few of them have made much of an effort to understand your perspective.

What the finger-waggers too often fail to grasp is that not all boos are equal. Among many others, there's the we-hate-you boo, which is very different from the that-was-a-poor-performance boo (lobbed at Hamels) or the we're-frustrated-at-the-moment boo (directed at the Flyers in Game 1). The first boo is venomous and lasting and usually reserved for vile enemies of the state - or New Yorkers. The second and third boos are visceral and fleeting. They're ways to think out loud and vent in real time. They aren't big deals, and you don't deserve to be put in a timeout or sent to bed without supper whenever you employ them.

So boo if that's your thing. Boo individual performances and underperforming players. Boo disappointing team efforts and lackluster seasons. Boo writers and TV talking heads and radio personalities. Boo friends and family. Heck, boo me (though you probably don't need any added encouragement on that front). Boo whomever you like. Or don't. It's up to you. Just don't let anyone dictate the terms of your passion. They aren't you, and they shouldn't pretend that they always know what's right.

One last point: Context is important. Let's not forget where all this supposedly unsavory conduct occurs. We don't live in St. Paul, Minn., or St. Louis. The fans there are Stepford automatons, blinking and cheering and slobbering on cue. It's frightening.

Many of the people here take pride in being the opposite of the typical mindless water-and-sprout mutants filling seats in stadiums across the country. Philadelphians have long seen themselves as open, honest brokers - fans who will tell you exactly what they're thinking instead of what you might want to hear. There's no expectation of unwarranted and reflexive support. There's no phony posturing. There's no pretending. The players might not always like it, but they know the deal - and they don't need to be protected by the mind-your-manners mob.

 


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.