(Victoria Kannen responds to Neil's recent blog about the Joel Ward Twitter-controversy. Victoria may not choose to watch sports, but she does choose to watch The Jersey Shore, and is a doctor of sociology.)
While I agree with Neil's apt assessment that what Joel Ward experienced following his series-winning goal was fueled by systemic racism, I also believe that the responses by these "fans" speak to larger and more complex issues occurring within popular sport as of late. I, as an admittedly non-sports fan, have begun to recently consider the ways in which "fans" are responding to those who they seemingly idolize, support, and "employ."
Upon reading Neil's discussion, I was reminded of David Beckham's visit to Toronto in early March, where "Beckham was far from a fan favourite from the opening whistle". The "fans" booed, threw streamers and, eventually, hurled a beer can at him. The resulting commentary on this incident was discussed in terms of "the few" who ruined the experience of seeing Beckham for "the many."
|Photo by Steve Russell, Toronto Star|
So, where does this aggression come from? In Beckham's case, unlike Ward's, the violent reactions were unlikely to be racially-focused, yet they were similar in tone. Attempts by "fans" to demean and humiliate those who excel at the sport they are supposedly fans of cannot be easily dismissed as strictly related to team loyalty. I feel that the ways in which masculinity, class, and race are working together are particularly important when trying to think through these reactions.
The complexity of being a fan for sports positions the viewer as one who is both powerful and powerless. Powerful for, as I implied earlier, "employing" the teams that one is watching - buying tickets to their games, donning their gear, blogging about them, etc. which all create the existence of professional sports teams to begin with. But, fans are simultaneously positioned as "less than" - unlikely to have the prestige, ability, or earning power of those that they habitually watch play these games.
In Ward's case, hurling violent and racist comments was easily achieved by these "fans," as hockey is a primarily white-dominated sport. For Beckham, his beauty and fame could be symbolically tarnished by those who (momentarily) were above him (in the stands). As these sports reactions exist within a cult of incoherent masculinity, it becomes clear that the most basic way to engage with feeling of cultural and social inadequacy is to take it out on those you most resent - the hero for the other team.