Toward the end of the Flyers’ dispiriting Game 6 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, a number of fans saw the looming specter of another premature playoff exit and decided they had enough – to drink. As Penguins winger Bryan Rust slid the puck into the Flyers’ empty net to put his team up by a score of 8-5, beer cans rained down on the Wells Fargo Center Ice.
“There’s heavy artillery flying all over down here,” analyst Pierre McGuire reported. A lengthy delay ensued as the Flyers ice crew worked quickly to clear the playing surface.
It didn’t take long for the criticisms to roll in from the social media universe. “Flyers fans throwing things on the ice: a playoff tradition like no other,” Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Mike Sielski tweeted. Even Pittsburgh radio host and columnist Mark Madden, who is a big fan of Crossing Broad, took a shot at the Flyers’ fan base:
It was great to see half the Wells Fargo scum-suckers leave early, &the other half embarrass themselves by throwing ***t. Flyers are good up front, disastrous in the back. Gudas got the Penguins back in the game.
— Mark Madden (@MarkMaddenX) April 22, 2018
Madden’s assessment was more or less in line with other Twitter reactions to the scene. And then there were the media takes, like this offering from Pittsburgh 97.3 The Fan’s Colin Dunlap. “Flyers fans are trash. Philadelphia fans, by and large, are trash,” Dunlap declared in a piece that could have used an editor. The Washington Post‘s Cindy Boren called the display “one of the most Philly fan things ever.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Jason Mackey reported that Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford was incensed by the antics of the crowd.
Left unmentioned in the various columns excoriating Flyers fans for their improper behavior was the inconvenient fact that Penguins partisans had committed the same sin during game 2 of the series:
Pitt fans throwing things on ice after ref’s call.
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) April 14, 2018
Outside of hockey, Cleveland has a particularly sordid history involving inebriated fans throwing debris on the field. New Yorkers littered venerable Yankee Stadium when a call went against the Bronx Bombers in the 2004 ALCS. And who can forget the tossed drink that sparked the Malice at the Palace in Detroit in 2004?
The above examples constitute a small sampling, but they lead me to wonder: why are Philadelphia fans the only group that gets stigmatized? We are consistently defined by the worst elements of the fan base. Bad fan behavior in other sports towns seems to be regarded as exceptional, whereas any incidents in Philly are treated as exemplary.
I hate to engage in “whataboutism,” in large part because it’s a rhetorical tool used to avoid accountability through deflection. Frankly, there is no excuse for throwing stuff on the ice, ever. It was a bad look, especially in the aftermath of the wristband incident during the Flyers-Capitals series in 2016. The fans who took part in it were completely in the wrong.
Of course, the referees missed a number of calls that cemented the Flyers’ fate. Kris Letang’s trip of Sean Couturier that led to the Penguins’ sixth goal was a particularly egregious no-call. It’s fair to be frustrated, but only to a point. Referees make mistakes. They’re bound by the same limitations that human subjectivity imposes on all of us. I would have hoped that the fans in attendance who launched their beers on the ice would be a little more sanguine in the face of defeat given the outstanding sports year the city has already experienced.
Nevertheless, when negative fan interactions that happen outside Philadelphia are either stored in the deepest recesses of our collective consciousness or completely ignored, I need to ask: what about it? Aren’t the Philadelphia scolds in the media guilty of the same crime of deflection when they actively feed the “Philly fan” narrative while ignoring the obvious reality that bad fan behavior is ubiquitous?
Perhaps the real problem lies with the formulation of sports narratives in general. The storylines we create around the games we watch drive much of the content we consume. The “Philly fan” bit is so entrenched in the sports talk universe that I would expect a practiced carnival barker like Skip Bayless to deliver a ten-minute off-the-cuff set on the subject that would closely resemble the mediocre content he usually provides.
With the “Philly fan” topic established, it’s simply a matter of finding anecdotes that support the thesis. Stories that align with the topic are highlighted, while others that add nuance or suggest bad fan behavior exists outside the 215 area code are discarded. The folks in the media who are perpetuating this charade may claim they are just reporting “the truth” or “the news,” but what they’re actually doing is engaging in a confirmation bias experiment.
The stories aren’t designed to enlighten or inform; they’re produced to enrage. They cater to people who enjoy living on their own islands of self-assurance, never daring to walk to the water’s edge where their knowledge ends and their ignorance begins. If a factoid or an argument aligns with your worldview, embrace it; if it challenges what you think you know, attack it as stupid or label it as fake.
Nuance seems an increasingly scarce commodity these days. Is it possible to condemn the activity that occurred at the Wells Fargo Center without feeding the “Philly fan” myth? Can someone attempt to contextualize the larger issue of fan conduct without being labeled an apologist? Are you allowed to explore both sides of an issue?
I can’t say for sure. What does seem apparent is that the “Philly fan” narrative is alive and well outside of Philadelphia despite the sports renaissance our city has enjoyed in 2018. Our detractors will demand we take responsibility for the bad apples among us, although they will never seriously contend with the state of their own orchards. So it goes.