Tuesday, August 25, 2015

When Fans Were Fans


Before the advent of social media, the internet, television, and even radio, fans of calcio could only witness their heroes play in one way: go to the stadium. True that they could also read about the matches in the newspaper, but that was also a time when being a journalist was a respected and they actually adhered to a code that required them to report the actual news. My how times have changed. Fans today can watch matches anywhere on their phones, or go on any social media platform and say anything they want about their team or players without fear of repercussion, offering their “expert” analysis, even if they’ve never watched a game. And don’t get me started on those journalists today. Suffice it to say that very few are considered moral, upstanding, or respected. And because of these things and more, it is sweetly nostalgic and very inspiring to consider a time when fans were fans.

Remember when people actually supported their team?

I have oft questioned the behavior of fans at the stadiums today and whether their actions even still qualify them as fans. Some of this has long tarnished the beautiful game, but perhaps more powerful now are the voices on social media. Between the fans in the stadium and online, I’m not sure whether or not sportsmanship even still exists, whether it be in loss or victory. It’s bad enough that social media exists as a way for people to say whatever they want, but worse still that it takes away the human component from discusssions. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten what a fan is actually supposed to be altogether.

But I am most troubled by the effect people on social media have on the game today. It is well known that our screens can remove the psychological conection we would normally have when communicating with human beings. Or that the lack of human interaction at all absolves us of any kind of conscience regarding our worst thoughts and behaviors. But what about the impact our typed words have on other people? The personal abuse people receive is ridiculous, and there are whole new task teams and laws to deal with this despicable behavior. It is absolutely wrong, and yet incredibly pervasive, particularly in the realm of football where sadly passions often exceed morals.

Changing the way fans speak

I think most people are often unaware of the far reaching effects of their “voice” on social media, or even that there are some things that can get you in trouble with the law. Take one, fine upstanding Milan fan on Twitter, who during the game on Sunday opted not only to display his complete ignorance of the rules of the game to the thousands who follow him, but also made multiple death threats toward our ref. I suppose we’ll see if he lives in a country that prosecutes those who cross the line or not, but with the extensive amount of douchebaggery on social media, I’m sure he’ll keep going with no consequences at all. And while there are always instances of poor reffing, this certainly was not one of them. While fans and pundits alike will argue for hours as to a ref’s performance, death threats are never appropriate. Not breaking any law on social media should be the most obvious rule of fanship. But what about a higher code of ethics?

Will we ever develop a level of social media responsibility as fans? Do our tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram images, etc. affect the team? I wrote about some examples of this in a post a couple of years back called “The Birsa Effect.” Since then, I have seen many other examples of social media’s “voice” impacting individual players and the team as a whole. Not to mention the comments of players, coaches, and management to respond to undue criticisms and more, but especially to correct rumors and urban legends propagated by social media. For example, most recently there has been an urban legend about Carlos Bacca having been a fisherman, which he has then had to waste time and energy denying in interviews in an attempt to set the record straight. Yet if you do a google search for this myth, you’ll find the story lives on, complete with graphics.

11,500 followers and counting

That is a rather innocuous example, but there are many that are far worse, some downright disturbing. But a lesser recognized trend that is more pervasive are the negative comments, insults, and threats aimed at individual players and teams as a whole. Like the banners and whistles and worse in the stadiums, they not only impact the teams and players at times, but even more so, they impact the views of other fans worldwide. Not just the propagations of lies and creation of urban legends, but the mentality of fans toward their teams and individual players. The fans in the stadiums can potentially face punishments for the same kinds of things, but on social media, there is little to no responsibility whatsoever.

It’s as if fans have forgotten what it means to support a team in good times and in bad. That ability to say anything we want whenever and however we want, as well as the platform that social media gives us has real consequences, only no one seems to see them or takes responsibility for their part in the consequences. If we could all go back to the time when kids would discuss their teams in the school yard, sometimes getting heated in their words, but always being able to look into the eyes of the other people they were talking to, the world would be a better place. If we went back to where a person’s platform for his views on his team and players was only as big as the local barbershop, maybe people would choose their words more carefully. Instead, we have many kids and even adults whose social skillset in real life would typically and rightfully limit their platform to just a few people, and their immature and irresponsible comments appeal to others who might fit in that same category, until they have a platform of hundreds or even thousands of people. And that is where the danger lies.

They don't tweet 'em like that anymore

While perhaps all of us have said something they later regret on social media, maybe more often than not, what are our intentions when we discuss our team and our players? Do we embrace the very definition of being a fan by simply being passionate about our team? This means we might worship, adore, criticize, suffer, and more with others. But doing it responsibly includes being fair with our criticisms, and retaining the human part of fanship. Would you say this looking into the player’s eyes? Is what you have so important to say that you would put it on a giant banner in the stadium, asking others to hold it, and would it cause your team to have a ban? Do your words threaten, insult, or otherwise potentially direct harm to another person or people? But more prudently, what will the effect be on those whom you are addressing? How many people will read them and will your words serve to help or harm your club when others read them? If your comment was to go viral, what would the far-reaching impact of your words be?

The answers to some of these questions are unknown, as for better or for worse, we can’t always know how other people will react. But we can ask ourselves these questions before we post, and we can develop our own conscience in a world that is often unconscionable. We may have access to games, news, players’ social media accounts, and more at our fingertips, but it is a privilege that should not be taken lightly. Like the fans who would grab their newspapers first thing in the morning to read how their team had played away and then race to talk about it with their friends, we can embrace that spirit and yet retain the human aspect of being fans, even in this world of cold, glowing screens. Most importantly, we can remember how our words can impact others, negatively or positively, especially our teams themselves. We can express all of the pain, frustration, and disappointments, but still do it responsibly. And it never hurts to express your joy and gratitude to your team, either. If all else fails, just try to remember that time when fans were fans.


This post inspired by the music of  ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry”


Our next match is
Serie A Week 2
Milan vs. Empoli
Saturday, August 29 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)