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Shut Up and Smile

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This weekend our local minor league hockey team, the Memphis RiverKings, lost. Twice.

I’m still smarting. Upset like I was on the ice. Or that someone owes me a win. That’s what fans do. We cheer when the team does great, and pout when they don’t. It doesn’t matter that these were the first two games of the season, and we still have a very long way to go. All that matters is that we lost.

Now, this may start to sound very touchy-feely for a hockey fan. But don’t worry, I promise I won’t get too sensitive or offer anyone a hug.

Hockey players have it rough. All professional athletes do. Except maybe professional dodge ball players. (I’m still not convinced anyone is watching that.) But professional athletes have to do their job in front of everyone. And they hope everyone is watching. Can you imagine? I can’t type if just one person is looking over my shoulder. I can’t imagine performing in front of hundreds or thousands. But for 64 games this season, our RiverKings will skate hoping that we’re all looking. Do they hope for all the criticism that comes with that? I hope they’re not all sadists, but I guess it’s possible.

I know that there are people who say that they don’t have real jobs. They get paid to play a game. And it’s true. But they’ve earned that right. If everyone played hockey that well, we wouldn’t need the NHL. But they’re stars. They’re incredible athletes, with amazing talents. And I’m not just saying this because I’m no good at it. I haven’t played hockey since the 5th grade, and even then, I was bad. (My mother cringes about that time in my life, if anyone asks. But that’s another story.)

These guys get paid to play because they deserve it. And they have to do it in front of hundreds of spectators looking for them to mess up, or score the game winning goal. Sometimes we fans are dying to see a hat trick, or the save of the year. Sometimes we’re just praying no one falls down. The point is, as fans, we’ve come to count on something from these men. We pay for our tickets, and then we expect a good game. And we can be remarkably harsh when we don’t get it. I know that as professional athletes they live in the public eye, and should anticipate this kind of scrutiny. But at the same time, just because we’re a ticket holder, that doesn’t give us the right to critique the players like they’re our personal whipping boys. They’re grown men with families and responsibilities like the rest of us.

Now I know some of you are thinking that the good comes with the bad. Professional athletes are treated like gods, and with the cheering and the autographs come the comments good and bad. I’ve heard from fans that are singing someone’s praises one second and then ready to rip his head off the next. It may be true that this goes with the territory and I just don’t get it. I just believe in supporting the team, win or lose.

Does this mean that I don’t yell helpful hints at the players on the ice during the game? Of course not. I’m very vocal. And I think that statistically, I’m due for a profound bit of insight that should be shared while the RiverKings are down by two, on a power play. But what I am most often yelling is “Go ‘Kings!”

I guess the moral of the story is this: treat athletes like you would like to be treated. My mother told me if I didn’t have something nice to say, shut up and smile. In the IT department, I don’t work under the same scrutiny as the RiverKings. When I don’t finish setting up that printer, or fix someone’s email, or figuring out why they’re not connecting to the network, I don’t get booed. No one spends anytime wondering about what a loser I am, or if I was tired or distracted. What about when I fix someone’s mysterious shutdowns, or get their graphics looking beautiful? I get no applause. I would like to.

I want to get treated like Hank from that Starbucks commercial. I want my own personal cheerleaders. But with the cheerleaders and fans come the living in a fishbowl feeling, and I know I couldn’t deal with that. So as long as these guys are brave enough to get out in front of everyone and play, I’ll keep cheering. And on those rare occasions when I’m not thrilled with the way our team played, I’ll just smile.

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About The Mad Cow

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    I would like to counter this sentiment with that of paid attendant Homer Simpson:

    “This ticket doesn’t just give me a seat, it also gives me the right — no, the DUTY — to make a complete ass of myself.”

  • Stephanie S.

    Great Job Chris!!!!!

  • Kristin Grey

    GREAT read!