Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Sound of Philadelphia

Things could have gone worse. The advance team that's out looking for work this morning could have arranged for Sarah Palin to appear at the coin flip of an Eagles game. Flyers fans come in a well-beaten second (as do the followers of all other U.S. professional teams) to the Iggle faithful in the anarchic rabble sweepstakes.

But the Flyers are a Philly team, and Philly will be Philly. When the Republican vice-presidential nominee came on the ice for a ceremonial puck drop last night, the crowd booed as only a Philly crowd can. For bonus points, they booed Palin's 7-year old daughter. Good luck explaining that incident to your analyst of the future, kid.

Here's the weird part. Given the demographics of sports crowds in general and hockey crowds in particular (whiter, richer, and more male than the norm), I'll bet good money the McCain-Palin ticket draws a higher percentage of votes from those in the crowd last night than it draws from the Philadelphia area in general on November 4. I'll bet some of the loudest booers go Republican. Booing is a bipartisan activity. It may be the last one left in America.

Two factors conspired to create Palin's razzing. One was as local an issue as Tip O'Neill ever wished. Philadelphians had a reputation to uphold. They are, well, a lot of them are, PROUD of their sports history of abuse. They LOVE the Santa Claus story. They came ready, willing, and able to boo Palin off the ice without regard for her political positions. A celebrity sticking his or her nose into the important matter of generating blood lust against the New York Rangers was an interloper to be shown that Philly doesn't tolerate diluting its pure and decent sports hatreds. The crowd would have booed Joe Biden just as loudly, or, for that matter, the Dalai Lama.

The second is a generic truth about pols and sports crowds I have observed at dozens of events in dozens of different places. Fans will occasionally tolerate an elected official at a pregame ceremony. But said pol will usually draw some boos. And a candidate for office will ALWAYS get booed. I have seen Republicans and Democrats booed, and I suppose if we had more parties, that would be a longer list.

They should always get booed. This just in: People follow sports to escape troublesome bullshit like financial crises and election campaigns to focus on the finer things in life -- like seeing some Ranger get his head driven through the glass. The pols are interlopers, and are resented as such.

Actually, I think fans see the electioneering as something worse than an interruption. It's poaching. Pols like crowds, but when a pol shows up at a sports event, he or she is hitting on the crowd under false pretenses. It is notable that as divided as our society is, heckling a pol at their own campaign event is still considered unacceptable bad manners by almost everyone. The pol earned that crowd fair and square. Waving from the mound, center court, ice, etc. is viewed as cheating, and treated accordingly.

Pols always get booed, and always pretend not to notice. Ha! Pols are more sensitive than opera divas or Big 12 football coaches. They hear, and they hate it, and against all sanity, they keep right on showing up at sports events to get booed some more. It really makes one fear for the future of the Republic.

Sports is for everyone, or should be. The smartest thing Michael Jordan ever said was "Republicans buy shoes, too," when explaining why he wouldn't run for office as a Democrat. Arnold Palmer, a Republican, was begged to run for Governor of Pennsylvania many times by the party, and always declined on similar grounds. Palmer was too smart to subject his status as the universally beloved Arnie to the automatic dislike of 40 percent of the public every politician gets just by being of one party or the other.

When pols campaign at sports events, they are breaking that truce. That's stupid, and frankly, stupid pols should get booed just as loudly as cleanup hitters who pop up with the bases loaded in a playoff game. In Philadelphia, they are, and I honor the city of my childhood for its actions.

No electioneering inside the lines.


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