Player Heckling

I tend to write about fans a lot. I have taken on armchair fans, drunk fans, cyber fans, and uniformed fans. The irony is that some of these groups really are not “fans” at all but for the sake of clarity I am giving them much more credit than they deserve. Tonight, I want to talk about a different type of “fan”….the heckler.

Let me start by saying that I don’t have a 100% stance either for or against heckling. Rather, I have strong opinions on different situations and with the people involved in the heckling.  So while I am a little wishy-washy when it comes to my overall attitude to the art, I am completely onboard when it comes to the appropriateness of it in the many different forums of athletics. Let me explain.
I think heckling is fair game for high school and college students at the athletic competitions in which they are cheering on their classmates.  School spirit for a student centers on cheering for your own team while also making your presence known to the opposing team. Intimidating, baiting, and getting in the heads of opposing players is a part of the game when it comes to the high school/college experience.  It is also a way to unite a student body. It takes effort, coordination, and willingness for students who go to athletic events to band together and engage in effective heckling to have an impact. Many of the premiere college basketball teams have student bodies that rehearse before games just to make sure everyone is on the same page. Chants are planned out, cues are known by all. As long as heckling/chants/cheers are cleaver and in decent enough taste, I have no problem with students heckling other students.
I also feel heckling is legit at the major league level of sports (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL, etc) by any fan who is a diehard, loyal supporter of a certain team. Some of these pro sports fans are absolutely insane. They eat, sleep, and breathe everything about their favorite team and many of them would sacrifice their families for championships. These types of fans have earned the right to insult and yell at the opposing multi-million dollar athletes their team happens to be playing that day. Along with the major league level, I feel everyone has the right to heckle any athlete who happens to behave on or off the court in a shameful , inexcusable, or entitled way. If an athlete assaulted his wife, heckle him. If an athlete choked his coach, heckle him. If an athlete put down an entire city or group of people, heckle him. If an athlete made a mockery of your city by making a “Decision” on national television, heckle him.
Unfortunately, many people heckle who have no business heckling. By the time you graduate from college, much of the immaturity you displayed over the past several years should be washed away by your diploma and the next stage of your life. When It comes to heckling, you are no longer a student yelling at another student…you are a grown adult throwing insults at someone much younger than you.
This past weekend marked the opening homestand for our local minor league baseball team, the Missoula Osprey. As usual, I looked around and noticed many dudes around my age (25) and much older screaming and hollering at the opposing team. Not only do so many of these guys yell elementary, cliché remarks, they also seem to have no idea who they  are yelling at. Many of the players who make up the short season single A Pioneer League roster are seventeen and eighteen year old kids who are making a salary that many of us could never live on. Where is the honor in belittling these players?
But besides the audacity at heckling young athletes who are just trying to chase their dream, I find something even more troubling about these people I see hooping and hollering. Many are guys who only attend a couple games a year. They have no real investment/connection to the Osprey and they sure as hell don’t have any established vendetta or beef against the opposing team. Why would they care so much to stand up and look stupid as they mockingly yell out an opposing player’s batting average? Here is the answer: They are heckling just for the sake of heckling and that is my problem.  
This problem of course does not manifest itself on just minor league baseball. It goes across all levels and sports. The same morons I see getting drunk at Osprey games and making comments about the town that someone grew up in also exhibit the exact same behavior at college games, major league level games, and, sadly, high school contests. They feel that a ticket entitles them to act like jerks. Sure they want to impress their girlfriend, make their buddies laugh, sound like they know what they are talking about, draw attention to themselves, and get the most out of their buzz but it still means little because there is no passion or genuineness in their comments.  They don’t care about the outcome of the game but yet they continue to run their mouths.
Of course I understand that there are also the people who do have a fire burning in their hearts for their favorite college or pro team who sometimes like to yell at the opposing team a little more than they should. Remember my rules for major league sports? If you are a legitimate diehard or if a player has done something to offend others, go ahead and heckle. However, if there is really no good reason to insult an opposing professional athlete just don’t do it. Why waste negative energy? But please lay off screaming at opposing amateur athletes.  Let the student section do their job. What business does a forty-five year old have calling out a college freshman?
There is a time and place for heckling. Unfortunately, many of us will never be in that time or place again. Let’s accept this and conduct ourselves with class at sporting events. Realize that by keeping our mouths in check we are saving ourselves embarrassment.  Don’t Blink.

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