Trash Talk

Image c/o Lady Neat

Last year, I know I did a post about superstitions, especially relating to sports. I believe there is even a beer commercial now that highlights that. I had never, never been superstitious until I became a hockey fan. Then, there was this thing with wearing a certain Flyers shirt, sitting a certain way, etc. and so on. I concluded that despite its silliness, it’s just our way (the fans) of trying to control the situation; the game that we have absolutely no control over (isn’t this season so far enough of a testament to that?). It’s just one of the many new habits and experiences I’ve been introduced to these last three years.

I have also, never lived in the place where my team is. This is even true with college football. I am a fan of my parents’ alma maters (Oklahoma Sooners and Florida Gators) and except that I lived the first three years of my life in Florida, I’ve never been for the home team. I lived in Tennessee and Illinois during my short tenure in Flyer fan life, and since no one knows anything about NHL hockey in Tennessee (where I was anyway, Nashville is a bit better…any of the cities are better), most of the opposition or persecution I’ve endured has happened here in northern IL.

And that’s fine. We are passionate about OUR team. I get that. I don’t want to see other teams beat out my team. But I honestly don’t care if the Blackhawks do well. I like them. I like a fair amount of their players and even though it hurt so bad when they won the Cup in 2010, part of me was happy to see them win after like fifty years or so. I have never said anything bad about them. Or mocked them. Nor would I mock their fans.

But there’s this thing called trash talk. And apparently (according to my sources), it’s part of being a fan. There is some unwritten rule book out there that states ‘to engage in fanatic culture, trash talk is allowable; nay, required to enhance the overall quality of fanatic experience.’ I have talked to several people about this lately, trying to get a handle on why fans ‘must’ trash talk. I admit most were male, but a few females also who join in trash talk.

I do not get it. Now, I will admit that I’m a sensitive sort. I have two older half-brothers, but I basically grew up as an only child, which means I didn’t get picked on or teased at home. It happened at school and I reacted like the emotional, melodramatic child that I was: I cried. It hurt. So as I’ve come to hockey (even sports) fandom later in life, I missed out the early training of trash talk and how to give and talk appropriately. I hate it, by the way.

I understand trash talk on the ice. I even find it mildly amusing to watch the players chirp at each other on ice or from the bench. It seems very much a part of hockey. I usually can’t hear what they say so it’s just facial expressions and general demeanor. And it makes sense to me that players, who actually play the game and have the talent, provoke their fellow athletes because well, they have the ability ‘to walk the talk.’

Fans don’t play NHL hockey. They might play hockey in whatever form in whatever venue, but most fans do not play for the team they call their own. Which means that they have no ability to back up their ‘trash talk.’ Sure, if their teams beats your team, they’ve ‘won’ the sparring match, but the fan has NOTHING to do with it. That’s what boggles my mind.

I figured out as a kid that if I committed a prank of some kind, then I was inviting a prank to be played on me. I didn’t want that so I didn’t commit pranks. I feel the same about trash talk. I don’t enjoy the smugness of other team fans sneering and patronizing me as my team doesn’t do as well. Because one, well, it doesn’t feel so good and two, I have nothing to do with how my team performs. I’ve even explained this to said coworkers and friends, implying that I’d really like to not have the Flyers verbally lacerated in front of me. But apparently, I just have to suck it up and deal because that’s what part of being a fan is about.

So in these conversations with others about why trash talk is done and why it’s important, and subsequently realizing that I’ll just have to ‘suck it up and deal’ because my reason and explanations are dismissed; I’ve figured out that the need for trash talk is much like superstitions. It give the fan the illusion of control. The idea that whatever they say affects the team they watch so faithfully. It doesn’t, of course, but that doesn’t matter. The sparring, the verbal insults are part of the sport fan experience because without it, one would have to admit that there is no control for the fan. It’s ownership and possession. That is MY team. My team because I watch avidly and care and get so frustrated with by events that I cannot fix. Never mind that I’ve never lived in Philly and don’t know the players and staff personally (and never will most likely), that is MY team. I claim ownership for MY team.

So YOUR team sucks.