Steve Ott caused a bit of an uproar this morning when he described the Sabres' fans booing of his team on Sunday night as "completely ridiculous." I immediately had a bit of a flashback to the 1995 season, I think.
The Sabres had just completed a relatively dreary loss at home, the latest in a series of so-so efforts. I was talking to Wayne Presley, a veteran who had been around the block and for the most part was a very logical, insightful interview. I'm not sure how the subject came up, but someone asked about the fan reaction - which was not overly polite.
The response surprised me. It was something along the lines of "Nobody believes in us, only the guys in the locker room are behind us, we'll just have to get this done for ourselves."
I realized that this could be personally harmful to his popularity, and that it was uncharacteristic of him, so I did something I haven't really done before or since. I gave him a chance to bail out. I said something like, "Wayne, in fairness, the team hasn't played well lately, and the fans have filled the building and been generally supportive. Don't you think it was just a case of the booing briefly reflecting on the frustration of a bad night?"
Presley didn't take the life preserver. No, he said, everyone's given up on us, so the heck with everyone, we'll do it for ourselves. I included the second quote in my story.
Booing does happen at sports events, mostly at the pro level. When people pay a lot of money to see a game that doesn't have a happy ending, a few - and that's important to remember - are quick to voice their disapproval. Personally, there's usually only one thing that gets me to even think of booing if I'm in the stands, and that's a lack of effort. You don't try, you deserve the worst. Otherwise, I prefer giving the silent treatment.
What Ott needs to remember, even in moments of frustration, is that professional athletes are making a grand bargain. They earn a lot of money at their craft, to the point where it only takes a few years to have a big head start on everyone else when it comes to having no financial worries for the rest of their lives. They are generally treated like royalty, and admired by people in the community. When they do something well, the cheering rings in their ears. And when they don't, it only takes a good play to help to erase those bad feelings.
But there is a downside. The odd boo or remark from the stands is part of that. None of us would like it if, when we made a mistake on the job, we had people surrounding us, yelling a chorus of boos. There can be a lack of privacy and an excess of rumors about your personal life. There even may be criticism in the media based on incorrect information or just plain poor assumptions (hard to believe, I know).
If you don't want to accept that deal, fine. There's a line of people out the door who are willing to take it.
Athletes are never going to win this type of argument with fans. It's better to keep quiet and try to do better next time. Or, maybe say something like, "I felt like booing me too." Those athleties might remember that it's better to have them in the building and caring about the team than sitting at home watching a reality show on television. In that sense, apathy is the biggest boo of all.
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