When the Bruins visited the Canadiens on December 4th 2013, a friend of mine was attacked on the subway. He was on his way home from the game when he was confronted by two clearly inebriated Habs “fans” wearing Canadiens jerseys. They began verbally assaulting him before pushing, shoving, and eventually punching him. Thankfully, a bystander came to his defense and threw the two instigators out of the subway cart. He went home with a couple of bumps and bruises, the worst being a swollen left eye.
The reason for the attack? My friend was wearing a Bruins jersey.
There are far too many stories of fans attacking one another, based only on the colours on their backs (although alcohol consumption may be a contributing factor). This by no means isolated to hockey; both baseball and football have had recent incidents which will forever leave marks on the sport. The most extreme cases, such as soccer in Europe, unfortunately lead to many people getting injured or even killed, all because people support different teams.
Since when does being a fan of sports involve violence? Is it not enough to respect each other’s allegiances with sports teams, or is it now the duty of fans to belittle opponents with violence and intimidation? I find it extremely alarming that the lifestyle of some fans now resemble that of street gangs when it comes to rivalries. I know you cannot compare the violence between the Bloods and the Crips in L.A. to the violence between sports fans, but the hostility is still there. It’s sad that one person can end up hating another over the knowledge that the other person supports a rival team.
I don’t consider people who disrespect opponent’s supporters as fans. It goes completely against what sports is supposed to represent, which to bring people together and enjoy a display of skill and entertainment. There is no need to include violence or abuse for any reason. The fact that some cities have developed reputations for being some of the most hostile venues for visiting fans is a cause for concern. Buffalo and Philadelphia, from what I’ve heard in the news and through word of mouth, are two of the scariest places to be as a visiting fan. A friend of mine went to a Buffalo Bills game to watch them play against his team, the Miami Dolphins. He was told by his friend not to wear his Dolphins jersey, or even cheer when Miami makes a good play or scores a touchdown. That’s sad. Something is terribly wrong with the fan mentality if one fan can’t wear his team’s jersey without fearing a backlash from the opposition’s fans.
What is encouraging is that it is a very small minority of people who use fandom as an excuse to be violent. Many professional sports teams and leagues try denounce and discourage all forms of fan abuse, whether it be verbal or physical. I recall a few years back during a Canadiens-Bruins playoff series when a surprisingly large group of Canadiens fans booed the American National anthem (video HERE). The following game, the announcer introduced the Anthem singer and named all the Canadiens players that were American. That incident is more an example of mob mentality than anything else, but the team’s response demonstrates an effort to try and eliminate the lack of respect among sports fans.
Fans should not have to live in fear when they support their team. Everyone has the right to be a fan, and people need to learn that. Even though the Habs and Bruins have been fierce rivals for decades, there is no reason a Bruins fan and a Habs fan can’t sit on the same bus, in the same restaurant or in the same arena without throwing slurs or punches. Hockey is about respect, and it’s about time fans started showing some to one another.