A New York sports fan’s thoughts on how to cheer on the home team while respecting Boston.
Over the years, I have also witnessed many men, both New York fans and Boston fans, spewing extremely violent, sexist and homophobic language at each other in support of their team. In some cases, these verbal spats lead to physical ones. Sometimes, they lead to ejections from the stadium to the cheers of the other team’s fans. As we all know, such altercations can be quite serious, as in the case of Bryan Stow, who was beaten and badly injured at Dodger Stadium on March 31, 2011 after he was targeted for wearing San Francisco Giants gear.
A part of me has always known that investing such energy into hating another team or another city is silly. I am reminded of the T-shirt sold by The Onion that reads “The Sports Team From My Area is Superior to the Sports Team From Your Area.” But, this is how many men bond. Of course, we each imagine ourselves in the bodies of these physical marvels that are our professional athletes. It is each of us hitting a home run, dunking a basketball, catching a pass in the End Zone. And, perhaps, primitively, we attach ourselves to our home teams as a way to define and defend our territory, to support our tribe’s “army.”
But, really this sports fan thing is all about our masculinity. Just, as many men from my generation adopted hip hop culture as a way to define and prove our masculinity, when we identify ourselves with men who are physically powerful and athletically gifted we are attempting to bolster our individual masculinity. And, when our team wins, we are vicariously better men because of it.
Yet, even professional athletes have their manhood called into question. When they fail to win or make a mistake, they will inevitably be compared by some to a woman or called gay—the two slurs that most swiftly strip one of masculinity. The only point being that masculinity is something that all men must prove on a daily basis.
Since the Boston Marathon bombings, there has been a cooling of such vitriol. There has been no need to prove one’s masculinity through our teams or our physical prowess. There is no intercity rivalry. Perhaps, we have allowed ourselves to cry. We have all witnessed the true courage exhibited by the first responders and bystanders who rushed to aid the wounded, and the excellent work of the police and others to capture the perpetrators of the horror. We have seen masculinity defined in other ways—loving words, embraces from fathers and brothers and sons, the honoring of the dead and injured.
The New Yorker even ran a cartoon showing Yankee fans wearing Boston shirts, which explained “Yes, we like the Yankees, but today we’re all rooting for Boston.” Before the first game of the current Knicks-Celtics series, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce appeared side by side to state their support for the city of Boston.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with competition. So, while I will never stop rooting for my New York teams and I will always believe New York to be the greatest city in the world, I am sobered. Instead of insulting Boston or the Celtics during this year’s NBA playoffs, I have been simply enjoying and analyzing the games and discussing them respectfully with friends who are Boston fans. I encourage you to do the same.
I have been thinking a lot about the people of Boston, and realize they don’t deserve any hate, especially not now. And, maybe, I will even allow that Boston doesn’t suck.
Photo: Kathy Willens / AP