Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Open Letter to Wings (and other) Fans on the Eve of Game 5

It's been a long season for fans of the Detroit Red Wings.

Of all of the seasons that I have been a fan of this franchise, this one feels a little different for a few reasons. This season may in fact mark the end of Nick Lidstrom's career, a fact that every Red Wings fan and blogger has denied or avoided at some point. It will likely mark the end of Tomas Holmstrom's career. It may mark the beginning of some dramatic roster overhaul, depending on how aggressive Ken Holland is come July. As a fanbase, we have all experienced nearly every emotional extreme at some point; the agony of losing streaks, the joy of celebrating an NHL record, the pain of losing playoff games, the honour of marking statistical achievements of our players. It has been an exhausting season for everyone. This season, more than ever, has it felt as though the fanbase has become disjointed and at times openly hostile towards one another. It is understandable, of course. With so many extremes and the increasingly digital awareness of all hockey fans, there is enough vitriol to fuel 30 fanbases.

This isn't a eulogy. Nor is it an inspirational speech for the fans to "hold the line" as our team faces the daunting task of competing against a very hungry, very worthy Nashville Predators team. This isn't an acknowledgement that "our time has passed" nor is it a fluff piece about how the Red Wings will continue to be the cream of the crop in the NHL. Everything you, the readers of this piece, need to form an opinion about this franchise is readily available to you on a dozen other websites. It's in the statistics. It's in the records. It's in the rafters. It's in the Joe Louis Arena. It's written on blogs (both friendly and rival), in newspapers, in books, and in magazines.

Today I want to write an open letter to my fellow Red Wings fans, but also address a concern of mine.

I love everything about this team, regardless of what happens tomorrow. I love the players, the fanbase, the passion, the past, the present, the future, and every single moment I spend watching this team. This is the first full season where I have had the chance to enjoy the digital interactions of fans across the world. I have the tremendous honour (a word I don't feel brings enough justice to how I feel) of being a part of a blogging community that does outstanding work. I got to be on a podcast, for which I am ever grateful of the opportunity (Thanks Winging it in Motown, thanks JJ). I have found about 100 people who are willing to follow me on Twitter. I found friends who share my distaste of NHL officiating. It has been a season to remember.

After this season, though, I feel like I have discovered something as strongly negative as all of the positives I have discovered. I found that the digital rivalries that exist (even within a fanbase) produce so much bile, so much hate, that it borders on irrational hate-mongering for the sake of irrational hate-mongering. It's one thing to be angry about a loss, about someone criticizing your favourite players, about losing to a rival team in the playoffs. It's another to debase oneself over a game by engaging in some of the most utterly shocking and violent hate speech imaginable. This isn't exclusive to Red Wings fans, or any fanbase. I've had run ins with all sorts, and I will admit readily to engaging in snark-talk. That doesn't mean I don't find it disappointing. What happened to the idea of friendly rivalries?

At the end of the day, the good certainly outweighs the bad. I would never ask anyone to "ease up" on their hastily-tweeted snark, only that maybe it's time for everyone to take a step back and remember that we're all fans of the same game. Bob MacKenzie tweeted some very potent words that have stuck with me since he posted them. You can find them here and here. The 2012 playoffs have produced a lot of really outrageous garbage out of people who I believe would have otherwise not said these things. Because there is next to no accountability in the digital age, we can say horrendous things without worrying about consequences. It has deformed us. It has stripped us all of manners at times.

Regardless of what color jersey you put on, regardless of who is acting like an irreverent jackass online, we all deserve respect and we all should be showing more tact than we do.

It's been a long season for Red Wings fans. I don't want to see them lose tomorrow, but I'm prepared to watch them play for the last time this season. I hope that on the eve of Game 5, fans of all teams think about the things they've said and done, and can realize that this is a game we're watching, and we're all fans. Sportsmanship is important. Let's not lose that sense of sportsmanship.

Go Wings Go.

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