But there’s also this, so let’s talk about this. (Warning: Bad language below.)
Before overtime began, our friends Craig and Doug of the intrepid gay hockey blog PuckBuddys shared the video below, taken right outside Verizon Center on F Street, a popular place to smoke during intermission.
Caps fans behaving badly chanting faggot and suck dick to Pens fans. pic.twitter.com/gOVLA9QKJK
— Puck Buddys (@PuckBuddys) April 29, 2016
In case you can’t or don’t want to hear, the video contains a handful of male Caps fans yelling at unseen Pittsburgh fans. They call the people offscreen faggots and shout “you suck cock.”
During the previous series, we ran a few stories about bad fan behavior in Philadelphia. We would be negligent if we didn’t cover this as well.
First, this isn’t rare. This isn’t an anomaly or an aberration or whatever. This is a small but stable percentage of Washington hockey fans who abuse and intimidate people using hate speech. You can find this to some degree at 41 home games every year.
It’s detestable and unacceptable. I’m embarrassed that my team, my city, and my sport are tainted by this behavior.
I’m thinking about these guys who are yelling. I hate the words they used and I hate that they intimidated guests to our home rink, but I would bet they’re not bad people deep down. Seriously. I want to believe that this video doesn’t tell me who they truly are, only what they did. I’m also thinking about how rivalries between sports teams and cities stir up animosity, and how that doesn’t have to be a bad thing like it was here.
But what does it say about us that “trash talk” so often resorts to using language that torments smaller groups of people and invokes sexual violence? Why is it so easy for these conversations to include those words and thoughts? Why is that language the go-to shortcut to hurting someone?
I don’t know. Maybe that’s just the background noise of our culture. Maybe some of us get to tune out the background noise (lucky us), while others get figurative tinnitus. That painful buzzing in your ears is a constant reminder, saying you’re not welcome here.
I know well-meaning people who might say they’re just words and I should lighten up. I would ask them to consider the perspective of the folks who actually are targeted by these words. In this example, there were the people who were targeted directly: the Pittsburgh fans not seen in the video, guests in our city. But there are many more people who are targeted by the implication of those words: gay people, but also women and trans people and people of color as well, dammit. These words and words like them are designed to hurt anyone who isn’t a “normal” hockey fan, i.e. a straight white man.
And why should those people be left out — be it by that implicit, persistent, pestering buzz or by outright harassment?
Washington is supposed to be a global city where everyone is welcome and where anyone can be heard. And yet we were reminded on Thursday night that we’re not special after all. We’re not immune from the same cancer that we’ve seen in Philadelphia and Boston and a hundred other cities. Let’s stop telling ourselves otherwise.
Photo: Matt F.
The Penguins didn’t win on Thursday night. If they had, the custom would have been for Pittsburgh fans to congregate and celebrate on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery. I’m glad the Penguins lost, mostly because I’m a Capitals fan, but also because I worry about a possible confrontation on those steps. I worry for the people who’d be in the thick of it, but also for all the people within earshot who would hear the same message in a hundred vile variations: we don’t want you here.
It’s a problem, and it’s not just limited to hockey. I don’t know what to do about it except to say I’m sorry and I do want you here.
To the fans in the video, I don’t have any bad names to call you and I don’t have anything profound to tell you. Maybe I’ll just ask you to think about the experiences and feelings of people who aren’t you, and maybe to consider those experiences and feelings next time around. Or else it’s possible that one day it will be you who isn’t welcome here.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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