"F-a-n" is not a four-letter word.
Boston sports fans have a well-earned reputation for being knowledgeable, arrogant, loyal, fickle, passionate, opinionated and ruthless.
It's a wonderful time to be a fan of the teams that play in and around the Hub. Eight championships in 12 years. It is perhaps the most successful era many of us will see in our lifetimes. It's certainly the case for those of us on the north side of 40.
But it's also a dangerous and difficult time in the world of sports fandom.
There have been too many sickening stories of fans being attacked, usually by those who root for the other team, in and around stadiums. Ticket prices continue to rise - see the Red Sox 2014 tier plan. Getting to and from big games is trying in the best of weather conditions. Stadium and arena crowds have turned back toward the coarse and profane. Games run far too long. They are used as an excuse for extended happy hours in the parking lot and drunken louts always seem to find a way to ruin the game for those nearby. All of this is magnified on social media, which gives any a-hole with a smartphone a digital platform with a potential world-wide reach.
Yet fans keep coming back. In Boston, and on the road when the Red Sox/Patriots/Celtics or Bruins roll into town, Hub-loving fans show up and cheer and/or jeer their team and tune in nightly.
Winning helps for sure. But I've been to "road games" in four North American time zones as a ticket-buying fan going back to the 1980s. There's only been one game where I felt like was the only New England-native in the house. That was the Patriots' 20-7 regular-season loss to the Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago in September of 1985. The Pats crossed the 50 once. Someone told me that day they had never before met a Patriots' fan.
Fans never get enough credit for being the reason why there are pro sports teams, sports sections, websites, all-sports talk radio stations and all those cable channels. Corporate sponsors cough up all that cash because major-league teams and leagues offer one of the few places that provides them a mass audience. No pro sports fans. No pro sports.
In the past decade, the sports media landscape has experienced an Apocalyptic-for-some transformation. Gone are the days where one or two city newspapers, the quick sports wrap on the local evening news and a few hours of talk radio dictated the agenda. The explosion of technology and the expanding presence of State Run Media have spread the spotlight across the digital spectrum.
In Boston alone, you have the city's two newspapers and their branded websites; boston.com; full-time sites run by NESN, Comcast Sports Net, ESPN Boston, WEEI and other radio stations; team-run sites that offer "news" and other information; sites build on content aggregation and media folly like Bleacher Report and Deadspin; a flurry of alternative fan-focused sites like Barstool and Masshole Sports; and a litany of team-themed sites from both independent and corporate entities covering the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, Patriots and Celtics.
There are voices everywhere. Click away.
Each one of those voices has a responsibility to be honest with its audience, whether they fancy themselves as fans or not.
One thing is certain, the old-school matrix of the local newspaper sports section dominating the market unchallenged has been obliterated by time, technology and the marketplace.
There is still an important place for "old-school" journalism that was once the dominion of newspapers. It is needed now more than ever. I love journalism. I still love newspapers. My first job was as a paperboy, delivering the Herald and the Globe. My college degree is in journalism, not communications or some other morphed alternative. Some of the best journalism in newspapers, on the internet and on TV comes from sports writers, columnists, producers, editors, photographers and videographers.
The way it goes in the traditional sports department is simple:
Beat writers report news. Columnists offer opinions.
It ain't rocket science, kids.
Reporters, be they covering city hall, the Patriots, Beacon Hill, business or the environment, are supposed to report facts, question everything and effort to get at least two sides of the story, without bias or a hidden agenda. Sadly, that is not always true, especially when it comes to politics. That bias, real and imagined, is a much greater threat to journalism than any "sports" bias. Remember, not even the esteemed John W. Henry has the power to levy taxes, declare war or take over the health care industry.
Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy Wednesday reminded his readers on Page One of the paper that it was not his job or obligation to root for the teams that he writes about.
Sports columnists are there to offer opinions, Shaughnessy noted.
Why that was needed to be said is mystifying to a permanently-ink-stained wretch like myself. Apparently, the masses have become too overbearing. It stands as another reminder of the low standing in the polls that "fans" enjoy these days.
"It turns out that fans love reading other fans," he added.
Thank God for that.
Fans having their say.
Imagine the journalistic malpractice?
What's next, the Globe endorsing a Republican?
Having worked as an award-winning sports editor and/or reporter in five different states, I've spent more than three decades covering teams with complete dispassion and had a great time while doing it. None of that curtailed my journalistic instincts or standards.
The same works in reverse. I stayed home from school and cried the day after watching the Red Sox lose Game 7 of the 1975 World Series. I was in no shape for math. Then again, I was 10.
The last major sporting event I covered with a media credential was the 2008 ALCS between the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. That series ended three weeks before my first liver transplant, which was an even greater catastrophe. The surgery triggered a series of health woes, resulted in a second transplant and sidelined me professionally for three years.
The day of Game 7 in 2008, I went to the Rays' ticket office and was able to purchase two left-field Party Deck seats for face value. [You can always count on Rays fans not to show up.] They went to my son and cousin. During the game, I stopped by and sat with my boy for a couple of innings. After J.D. Drew took a called third strike in the top of the eighth to thwart the Red Sox' last viable threat, I turned my son and said: "It's not going to happen tonight." His response: "Dad, that's OK. Nothing is worse than 18-1."
God, I love that kid.
As they left the Trop, I went down to the media room and began writing. After the last out, I was on the field amid the Rays celebration, chasing down members of their pitching staff for quotes. No time for quotesheets. My 450-word story was written, proofed by one of my fellow scribes, and then filed at 12:28 a.m., with all of 90 seconds to spare before deadline.
After getting my work done and paying a visit to the media post-game party, I went back to my hotel room to vent.
There is an implication and assumption that people who root for teams - not in the press box of course - are incapable of delivering any sort objective reporting as journalists or comprehensive and honest commentary as bloggers or columnists.
Professionalism while working and having a Tom Brady jersey in your closet for those special occasions are not mutually exclusive.
I'm willing to stipulate that this space is hardly the best example of "comprehensive commentary," but the record of cynicism, ire, criticism, inquisitiveness and sarcasm toward all of Boston's teams at one time or another in this space is self-evident and unparalleled. So is the passion for their success. It was preceded by a lifetime of the same. That resulted in me being given the "OBF" moniker by Orlando sports columnist and radio talk show host Mike Bianchi and being asked to write this blog by the power brokers at Boston.com.
Fans often see things clearer than sports journalists. One glaring example: the Red Sox fan base was 100,000 light years ahead of virtually every columnist, baseball expert and insider, and TV analyst in Boston when it came to the nuclear disaster that was Bobby Valentine. Those tainted by access and favor lauded Valentine's quick wit and public savvy. Meanwhile, Red Sox fans, except those at NESN's Town Meeting, universally laughed at this clown, knowing full well what was coming.
The large-scale apoplectic rage generated when all but four members of the Red Sox skipped Johnny Pesky's funeral is another. That was not considered a legit story by the card-carrying members of the BBWAA.
The internet has opened the door for many voices. It is not closing. Once, the challenge in the news business was not enough space and/or airtime, and far too much content. Now, space and time are virtually limitless.
Too often, the discussion of diversity in newsrooms is limited to race, ethnicity and gender. Diversity of viewpoints, cultural beliefs, life experience and perspective is equally important. Having someone who identifies with, and shares, the emotions and passions of their audience, is another step in right direction. To paraphrase Bill Clinton: "I feel your pain because it's mine, too."
There's room for everyone in 2013, even for those who want to be honest, reasonable most of the time and responsible while hoping the Red Sox go 173-0 [don't forget the postseason], Brady finds a time machine and plays until 2060, and Boston hosts four Duck Boat parades a year for the next two centuries.
Let me be that guy in the old "Twilight Zone" episode who was a criminal in life, then died and got everything he wanted before he realized he was stuck in Hell.
There are reporters on every beat in every newsroom who hold views on one side or another of an issue they cover [see any political campaign] and are wholly capable of leaving those views out of their story. Sports journalists who may root, root, root for the home team, are no different.
Wanting the Patriots to win each week and realizing that Josh McDaniels is incapable of dialing up a consistent game plan, the offensive line is tattered and the team has no pass rush, are completely compatible.
Unless you're 10.
And you don't feel like going to school.
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