By Tim Whyte
I’ve learned some hard lessons being a crazy hockey dad for the past 20 years. There have been more great times than bad, but I’ll admit, once or twice my temper got the better of me.
Dirty hits that injure your kid will do that.
I’ve seen and heard a lot in hockey rinks over the past couple of decades. And other than the aforementioned cheap shots, the one thing that gets under my skin is disrespect and poor sportsmanship.
For the most part, I’ve seen more good sportsmanship than bad. But the exceptions are something else.
I was at a college game once, watching my son’s team play, and one of his University of Oklahoma teammates suffered a season-ending knee injury.
As the player was literally being carried off the ice by two people, the fans from the other team viciously taunted him as he was being taken to the locker room, calling him names and telling him he deserved to get injured.
I’m betting most of them have never laced up a pair of skates. So maybe they’re not aware of the tradition of a respectful round of applause for the injured player, even if he wears the other team’s jersey?
And then this past weekend I witnessed another show of disrespect and poor sportsmanship, when we went to watch Luc and the Sooners play the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Each time Arizona scored on OU, some — not all — of their fans, including kids, engaged in a chant aimed at the OU goalie. I’d only heard that chant at one previous college game, ironically enough also in Arizona, at an OU game vs. Arizona State University.
It goes like this, all chanted while repeatedly pointing their fingers at the goalie:
“Hey goalie! You suck! It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault! Because you suck!”
Well. It does have a certain rhythm to it, doesn’t it? But the OU goalie most certainly does not suck, and was a big part of OU going 2-1 on the three-game road trip against higher-ranked opponents in Arizona.
But whether the goalie sucks or not isn’t really the point. It’s about finding a way to cheer on your team while maintaining the slightest modicum of class.
There was a particular U of A fan, a woman wearing a Wildcats jersey who was accompanying several children. During the game, she encouraged them to go over to the glass behind the OU bench and taunt the OU players.
Kids. She encouraged kids to do this.
And whenever OU gave up a goal, she led those children in the “you suck” chant.
Such a role model. She was my nominee for the Wildcats’ Mother of the Year. I’m sure her kids have a great future and perhaps one of them will knock over a liquor store someday.
Truth be told, these chants don’t really affect the players, especially at this level. These players aren’t mites anymore. Most of them are 22 to 24 years old. They’re young men with a wide variety of creative facial hair. (It is, by the way, “Movember,” when mustaches are a show of support for men’s health causes, and the hockey guys have taken it to heart, with wildly mixed results.)
Anyway. They can take it.
I once asked my son about the outrageous taunts of the fans his team faces when they play the University of Central Oklahoma.
OU vs. UCO is the hockey equivalent of OU-Texas in football because, frankly, Texas’ hockey team plays in a lower division and they su… I mean, they are at a lower level of success. So there’s no OU-Texas rivalry in hockey.
When I asked Luc about the obnoxious fans who pack the UCO rink for those big rivalry matchups, he laughed and said, “It’s great, isn’t it? We totally feed off that stuff.”
OK then. So the players don’t mind. And for the most part they aren’t paying attention to whatever the fans say or do anyway.
Still not the point.
What kind of parent teaches their kid to chant “it’s all your fault, because you suck” at a visiting player?
I don’t want to paint with too broad of a brush, either. There were some nice folks on the Arizona side. I talked to a few. When I lamented that chant to one of the guys, whose son played on the Wildcats, he replied, “Yeah, that’s what happens when you drag $5 through a trailer park.”
On the day of OU’s second game in Tucson, there was a bigger crowd. I was still shaking my head over the Mother of the Year when OU gave up a goal.
Cue the chant.
Only this time, there were more voices chanting than there were in the Friday afternoon game, including a couple who were sitting two rows behind me. The guy was quiet but the woman, who I assume was his wife — at least under common law — was going full-throat with the “hey goalie, you suck” chant.
I know, I know. I should have bit my tongue because there’s no talking to some people. But against my better judgment I turned around and said, “You know, that’s about the most disrespectful and classless chant I’ve ever heard in a hockey rink.”
“You don’t know me,” she said. “How can you say if I have class or not?”
“It’s not disrespectful or personal. It’s just something we do here,” she said. “It’s all in good fun. I’ve been coming to these games since I was a kid and we’ve always done it.”
“Ah, so they indoctrinate you guys early?”
I turned around and resumed watching my son and the Sooners. It was a hard-fought game that went down to the wire, and OU prevailed, 3-2, despite having several players out with injury. It was a gutty win for then-18th-ranked OU versus No. 7-ranked U of A.
So, when the Sooners held on for the win, I hollered, “Boomer!” That’s part one, and the other Sooner fans, in a long-standing OU tradition dating back over a hundred years, are supposed to reply, “Sooner!”
Immediately I heard the snark from the woman behind me, who apparently has never heard of false equivalency:
“That’s disrespectful,” she sniped, as her husband, who looked like he wanted to be anywhere else at that moment, started ushering her away.
I guess I should thank her for making it all so clear now:
I’m the A-hole.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter: @TimWhyte.