Is This How Riots Happen?

hawksChicago won the Stanley Cup last night. If I hadn’t been watching the game (pure accident, as the concert I was supposed to be at got rained out), I would have known of the victory by the non-stop honking/shouting/whooping/chest-thumping racket that continued well into the middle of the night a few stories below my  bedroom window.

But I did watch, and n the way home, right after the final buzzer, the red line was packed with Hawks fans dancing and flapping their “wings” and congratulating each other. When the doors parted, an older gentleman (portly, bespectacled, balding) couldn’t get past the wall of teenagers. After shouting “Back off! Back the fuck off!” they let him through onto the platform, but started chanting “Bruins Fan!” at him as he exited. From there, he turned on the crowd, pointed finger shoving into Blackhawk-jerseyed chests and starting yelling at them. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of his tirade went like this,

I AM a Hawks fan, I’m just not insane like you lunatics! There’s more to the world than hockey, you know? Read a book every once in a while. Pay attention to the world. Care about something other than sports for fuck’s sake! It’s just a game!”

The crowd, for obvious reasons, didn’t like his message or his tone. As the doors closed, he kept shouting through the glass, his adult-to-bad-child tsk-tsk finger-point reflected back in dozens of college students flipping him the bird. “Go read a book or something!” I was just glad that the opposing forces were separated by panes of something solid. The fury on both sides seemed so primal (and inebriated) and it was easy to imagine a drunk kid taking a swing at him and chaos erupting. So this is how riots start, I thought.

The truth is, while I would have claimed to not “get” hockey, last night was probably more combined minutes of hockey-watching than I’ve done in the last ten years, and it was actually super fun. We conveniently had a dad on hand who was thrilled to explain some of the nuance, and as many people have unsuccessfully tried to persuade me over the years, it is an extremely graceful game if you look past the brawling.

The part I still don’t understand (about all sports, not just hockey) is the whole hog, blood-runs-insert-color-here investment that people have in the records of their teams. I get the momentary excitement, the palpable energy during the game itself, feeling like if you hold your breath maybe the shot will go where you’re willing it to go, like your viewership affects the outcome. I can cheer with the best of them, hoot and holler, etc, but when the game ends, win or lose, it occupies no further brain space. I don’t dwell on it, and neither the joy of victory nor the agony of defeat linger past the last buzzer. That was fun, I think, moving on!

So Sports People, help me out here; I’m clearly missing something, a vein that millions of people worldwide are willing and able to tap into. To my mind, most of these Hawks aren’t from Chicago, and it’s not like they picked us for any special reason. They’re contracted to wear this particular jersey vs. that particular jersey, so where does the loyalty come from? What is it about a team or the community around the team that allows the outcome of a game (because the man on the train was right, it is just a game) to determine your mood for the next week?

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2 Comments

Filed under Chicago, Sports

2 responses to “Is This How Riots Happen?

  1. Betsy

    This answer is probably a bit simplistic, but I guess for me it’s about city (or national if we’re talking Olympics/World Cup sort of thing) pride. People get really caught up in what it means to be a part of a city. To me, that’s the interesting question. I get why sports becomes the avatar of that — rather than say, Nobel winners or Macarthur geniuses or something — but even though I was there screaming my head off as a St. Louisan stuck in Boston for the incredible 2011 World Series Cardinals win — and the game 6 that I STILL talk about 2 years later — I’m not sure why these “My city is the best and yours can suck it” feelings are so big and so important.

    I will also say here because I don’t dare say it while I’m in Boston: as someone who spent 4 glorious years in Chicago and would love to get back, I’m super excited about the Hawks win over the Bruins. Even though I also don’t watch hockey.

  2. There’s many different explanations to the appeal of sports – not all of them good. But what has me in its thrall, is watching people perform athletic feats that are beyond most of us. I love watching people do great things.

    There’s also the great stories that can sometimes come from sports, and also, many throw the accusation that athletes are dumb. While they may not be academically auspicious, intellect isn’t only marked by how many qualifications one has. The brain synapses that great athletes need are just as impressive as the synapses one needs to create a great novel, or work out a scientific equation.

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