Two New York Times reports this week, on how professional teams expect fans to mindlessly align themselves with their local jocks, are the latest evidence that the sports world is as intolerant of personal allegiance, and personal preference, as any other segment in our culture-wars society.
Following a dispatch on how NBA teams provide T-shirts for all spectators to don, in support of the home team—and often badger non-wearers on in-game video screens—came the news that the Tampa Bay Lightning freezes out non-Florida residents from buying tickets to its hockey games, and prohibits opposing teams’ fans from wearing their team’s apparel in certain sections of the Lightning’s arena.
This partisan ploy is just more incitement for the most passionate sports fans—who already are, by definition, zealots to the point of demonizing opponents as lesser forms of life. To lend institutional license to this narrow one-sided mentality is spectacularly bad policy.
There already is enough us-against-them venom among team loyalists, and it has been something like 30 years since a Miami sociologist named Irving Goldaber explained to me that fans “dressed with team colors….feel a part of the team” to the extent of believing their behavior can affect the game’s outcome.
I long ago came to the conclusion that the bygone days, when spectators wore neckties and other neutral clothing to sports events, allowed everyone to better appreciate the beauty and drama of sports, minus hate of The Other. There was a clear demarcation then: Those in uniform then were players, and fans were just fans.
Now, it is thoroughly reasonable for franchises to want to use team-shirt giveaways as a marketing tool and a means to find favor with customers. (And as a monochromatic TV visual.) But there is something dictatorial—sports fascism—in insisting that everyone dress alike for games. Worse, to bar the door against visiting-team fans, as if they are dangerous insurgents, is depressing. These are just games.
Among the comments about the Times article, on the Lightning’s decree against opposing ticket-buyers and attire, were laments of a “complete embarrassment to the city” of Tampa, a casting of the practice as “lame, petty, anti-fan” and “un-American,” and wonder at whether there might be “violations of federal law.”
There also, of course, were arguments cheering the Lightning edict, because “fans wearing foreign jerseys”—foreign! as is they were Mongolian invaders—would make the Lightning’s parking lot “like Waco;” that accommodating fans from other teams would “create a hostile environment;” and that a private organization such as the Lightning could set any rules it pleased.
Apparently, it can. But that, like so much about present day “sports,” misses the spirit of fun and games.