The word Fan derives from fanatic. Because when you are a fan of a particular sports team, a true fan, you live and die with them, relish their victories and endure their defeats.
Yes, they often disappoint, even embarrass. But that’s the trade off that comes with the commitment. And in those times when they disappoint, you find a reason to keep loving them, to support, to hope they’ll one day find their way.
But sometimes …
This morning, Toronto Maple Leaf forward Phil Kessel, bemoaning his team’s dramatic slump and his own month long scoring drought, wondered aloud, “Oh my God! Who did we piss off?”
Well, I’ll tell you, Phil …
Maybe the hockey Gods too. But mostly it’s been me.
A couple of weeks ago, the Leafs fired their coach. Not an unusual occurrence for this continually mismanaged team. But one with an unusually cruel twist.
Randy Carlyle was fired while standing at the bedside of his dying brother, over the phone, because he wouldn’t drive five hours to Toronto where he could be fired in person.
Yeah, I know. Life’s tough. Professional sports is tougher. Suck it up, Buttercup. It’s about what’s best for the team and winning.
I also know that the prime driver of sport is that it’s supposed to build character.
Odd how character seems to so regularly desert those in the front offices who manage teams filled with athletes of character.
We’ve seen that in the way Major League Baseball looked the other way on Steroids to bring their game back from a strike that was also caused by executives lacking in character.
We’ve seen how the NBA overlooked criminal activities. The NFL has done the same, adding the ongoing medical mistreatment of their players to their exemplification of character.
But what the Leafs did was personal. I’ve lost two brothers. Both younger than me. It’s a special kind of pain. I can’t imagine dealing with it while the people who were supposed to have my back decided that was the moment to pull another rug from under me.
That takes a very special flaw of character. A failure of humanity .
So, my Leaf sweater has been put away for the rest of this season. Maybe longer. I honestly don’t care how far they fall or who in the corner offices suffers for it.
I’ll feel bad about players who deserve better, the same way I feel bad about a dog with a sorry excuse for a master. But the ones with character will find a way to be traded or exercise their free-agency options.
Yeah, Toronto’s a nice city and a terrific place to play hockey. But there are lots of nice cities. Many where being a person of character appears to matter more.
First published on The Legion of Decency