The Perception Problem

Thomas Drance
August 11 2011 01:02PM

I remember the sinking feeling I had walking out of the "Bertuzzi-punch" game when I was in high-school. I turned to my friend and said the words: "I'm embarrassed to be a Canucks fan." I was seventeen at the time, and it wasn't an experience I'd ever had before. I remember it vividly - it was a tough moment, and a dark one. 

I'm getting used to that embarrassment though, sad as it is to say. Yesterday evening - news surfaced about some harassment Milan Lucic has been enduring this summer from a handful of probably young, probably drunk young men. The Courier reports that the frosty reception from some lowest-common denominator Canucks fans has caused Lucic and his family to recalibrate their Cup celebration plans this weekend. The piece, it should be pointed out, doesn't cite a single official complaint or police report - but I don't think it requires a huge leap of faith to accept that most of what the Courier piece claims, sounds pretty likely to have occurred.

It's not like being a Canucks fan has ever been particularly easy - but it's been an awful lot harder over the past couple of months. I'm still a dye-in-the-whool homer, I'll live and breathe Canucks hockey until the day I grow up and get a real life. In the postseason,  I was prepared to defend the team over just about anything - biting, diving, the Aaron Rome hit, Raffi Torres - no big deal, the mainstream media was blowing it up. I still think the team takes too much flak, but the fan-culture surrounding the team is another matter.  

It's a problem at this point. Don't tell me the rioters weren't Canucks fans, or that the Courier report about people harassing Lucic is specious (it is) and limited to a few drunk ass-hats. Even if you're right, and you are partly, there's a pattern emerging that's hard to ignore.

Lets make the requisite qualifiers before we go any further - I don't know a single person who personally participated in the riot. I'm not friends with anyone who would do anything but congratulate Milan Lucic on his cup win if they saw him at a festival ("Loved you on the Giants, man"). The Canucks fans I regularly talk to on twitter are class. When one of our regulars came out over the weekend - he recieved nothing but support from everyone in my timeline. I'm also not convinced that sore-loserdom is a unique attribute of Canucks fans - any more than I'm convinced that rioting over hockey games is something unique to Vancouver. I swear to god, I considered live-tweeting Freud's Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego after reading a handful of particularly tone-deaf and judgemental riot takes

With those qualifiers made - the first step towards fixing a cultural problem, is to admit you've got a problem - and like it or not Canucks fans, we've got one. It manifests itself in malignant ways that embarrass the entire city (the Lucic harrassment, the riot) but also in more subtle, benign ways. Think about the "REF YOU SUCK" chant that the regulars at Rogers Arena are so attached to - is there another fan-base that has a chant like that which they go to habitually? Because for Canucks fans - it doesn't even matter whether or not the ref makes a terrible call or not, "REF YOU SUCK" is just a Rogers Arena standard.

Now that chant is pretty harmless, how does that link directly into looting behavior? It doesn't. But the chant is based on a paranoid worldview (they're out to get us!) that the group (Canucks fans) have internalized and identified with. As with any other fan-base we're permissive of a certain type of delusion the reenforces our group identity (Oilers fans - it's still the eighties!) but our particular mixture is paranoid, overly-sensitive and aggressive.

When I went to game 5 in Vancouver - I was sitting with my dad in front of 4 young men. Three of them were nice guys, but one was drunk off his face, and I suspect he was the type who is probably just a jerk either way. When he started booing the American anthem, I told him to shut-up. When he "accidentally" spilled beer on me late in the second period, I was pretty pissed. I told his buddies to get him away from me or I'd get them kicked out - which, of course, led to this particular young man slurring me with homophobic crap while mocking me as a tattle-tale. Sorry dude, I flew across the continent and spent an entire paycheque on tickets - I want to enjoy the game dry. Now I was bigger than him, and the fans in our section were agreeable and supportive of me (as were his friends) - but it was still tense, and totally unnecessary. When the Canucks won, I offered the guy my hand and told him I had no ill-will for him, he gave me an enthusiastic high-five and hollered "ONE MORE GAME" or something like that. But imagine if the Canucks had lost - our tension would've amounted to a tinder box.

Again - stuff like this happens at any well attended event. You've had a tense interaction with a jerk at some point at a bar, hockey game or a live-show - it's part of the dynamics of a crowd. Also sociopaths, scumbuckets and productive members of society are all equally entitled to their fandom...

Let me share a Bruce Arthur quote with you from right before the Olympics:

When I was growing up in Vancouver my mother used to say that there was something about the unearthly, dreamscape beauty of this edge of the world that — well, it wasn’t so much that it drove people to madness so much as it unmoored certain minds from reality, a little or a lot.”

This line has stuck with me because I've always had a sort of naive, unscientific belief that the wildness of Vancouver's geography - rugged young mountain peaks, whitecap speckled straights - plays an intangible role in the behavior and habits of the populace. Perhaps the minority of Canucks fans - the ones who riot, who harass (on twitter or at Greek festivals) and who are such sore losers that they can't let a native son like Lucic enjoy his moment of glory - are just more "unmoored" than the run of the mill jackasses in other fanbases. Who knows.

It's not a question, or an issue we can solve in this space. What we can do, is be aware of our particular perception problem and instead of getting offended or sensitive when Greg Wyshynski recaps a Courier piece that predominantly features the worst behaviors of the Canucks fanbase - is share his disgust. There are always going to be jerk Canucks fans, that isn't going to go away, what I'd like to see is for the rational, silent majority to start differentiating themselves more starkly from their mouth-breathing cousins. When you look at how responsive the fan-base is to, say, spontaneous charitable events or how many fine people occupy the Canucks blogosphere - there's really no reason for "Canucks fans" to be regarded so poorly by the majority of other fan-bases.

Changing perception isn't easy, or even possible. I'm down with the #embracethehate campaign for this upcoming season - but to go with it, I'd like to see us grow thicker skins and be less defensive when a news item like today's Lucic controversy surfaces. Whoever harassed Lucic at the Greek Festival is a stupid jack-ass, the people pointing that out aren't necessarily generalizing, or painting us all with the same brush...

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Lana
August 11 2011, 01:37PM
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Your story of the guy behind you at game 5? I'm pretty sure he was next to us at Game 2. I asked him to stop booing the American anthem - my Canuck fan, Vancouverite husband, is from the States. Not to mention there were two Bruins fans from Saskatchewan were on the other side of him. After he got kicked out, my husband and I apologized for his behaviour. They were gracious and said he was not representative of most Canuck fans they'd met. They even shook hands with us 11 seconds later when Burrows scored the OT winner. But I absolutely agree with your call out of the silent majority. We need to make our 'good winner' and 'good loser' side known. We need to take responsibility for the perception issue. Oh, and your reference to Freud's Group Psychology? SO GLAD someone else thought of this. Great post.

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#2 Kent Wilson
August 11 2011, 01:39PM
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Good Stuff Thom.

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#3 Ash
August 11 2011, 02:00PM
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clearly i dont condone people harassing NHL playesr on the street..but my friend did run into Milan last week (on the street in DT vancouver) and asked him for a picture and he was a jerk and told them "no he didnt take pictures on the street with people b/c of facebook and twitter"....seriously, Milan??? granted, i am not sure if this was late at night, outside a nightclub(roxy perhaps?) but still...your fans ask you for a picture and you rudely decline?...cmon bro!

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#4 Cam Davie
August 11 2011, 02:04PM
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I love this immensely.

I think what frustrates most honest Canucks fans is that there are jerks and a-holes in every team's fan base. However, the sound and vision around the jerk Canucks fans seems to be heavily amplified lately. There is now an attitude here amongst loyal fans of "Go pick on someone else for a while."

But this is the problem with an elite team in a hockey mad market, which also happens to be an internationally renowned city. Jerk fans and their behaviour is a WAY more interesting story when it happens in Vancouver than elsewhere.

When the Canucks are sh!tty again, this will stop being a issue.

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#5 edmontoncritic - BRoadwAY
August 11 2011, 02:11PM
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Prior to twitter, im not lying when I say that I had never met a Canucks fan at a game in Edmonton that was a good sport. My "Can't miss" games are Van and Cgy but the dynamic between those two rivals is very different. With Cgy fans, there is always some quality chirping but at the end of the game, I could shake the guys hand and go for a beer (altho where our arena is now id rather not subject them to what my city has to offer in the area)

With the "perceived" Canucks fans, they are straight up D.elta B.ravos. You shoot some chirps at em and they immediately get defensive. Not in a fun way, in a loser, crybaby sort of way. I get now that this is not all Canucks fans and I do know that there are loser Oiler fans, its just how the majority that you meet are.

At any sports game that I attend, no matter what, I give it to the other fans. I especially love going to Cgy (on a 14 gm losing streak last year) and showing your support even though your team sucks so bad and you continue to give it to them even when we lost I think 6-2. That's what's awesome about sports is the fan interaction.

If my team wins (not very often but it happens!) I make a point to shake the hands of the other teams fans around me who I've had it out with all game and thank them for sticking around and proving they are real fans.

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#6 edmontoncritic - BRoadwAY
August 11 2011, 02:24PM
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Im also going to admit that I was a little butthurt when Cam Ward brought the cup here just because it opened the wound so closely after the scab was just starting to form. That being said, there's no way I wasn't still happy for the guy and not a chance that Id make his experience a bad one for bringing the cup home to celebrate with us.

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#7 Kent Wilson
August 11 2011, 02:33PM
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I think the negative perception of the fanbase arose organically from a negative association with the team. After all, the Canucks have employed some of the most notorious scumbags the leagues has seen in the last 5-10 years: Todd Bertuzzi, Matt Cooke, Jarko Ruutu. It's also hard to like Ryan Kesler, Maxim Lapierre and Alex Burrows unless they are on your team as well.

So you have an eminently hate-able roster and a segment of an avid fanbase that is going to rush to adamantly defend "their team" however despicable they might be. Input feedback loop. Now the fans and the club are hated.

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#8 Mantastic
August 11 2011, 03:13PM
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@Kent Wilson

that's how i see it as well. it also seems that canucks fans are louder than ever, especially with nothing ever accomplished.

here is a post on my FB wall about a question if Rinne will outplay Luo in the round 2 series: (i live in Vancouver)

Me: if a non-vezina nominee can outplay Luongo, what do you think a vezina nominee can do against Luongo?

"Friend1": Oh too bad khabibulan wasnt nominated eh. Oh wait there golfing right now nevermind.

Me: good one?

"Friend1": Thank You.

Me: too bad khabby still has more cup rings then luongo and that luongo isn't going to win the vezina this year.

"Friend1": Spoken like a true oilers fan, always living in the past.

Me: what have the canucks done in the past 5 years that even matters? celebrate a 1 round win like you guys won a cup, lol.

Me: if the canucks ever had a past, they might celebrate it too. lol

"Friend2": The Canucks underachieved in the playoffs in the past so far and it's disappointing, but they were Northwest division champs 4/5 times, 4 second round appearances, and 2 Art Ross winners. That's a lot better then most teams. We'll see how far they go this year. Oilers missed the playoffs the last 5 years =P

Me: oilers made it to the stanley cup final game 7 in the last 5 years. nice try "friend2"

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#9 Vintage Flame
August 11 2011, 03:17PM
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@edmontoncritic - BRoadwAY

I have to agree. I was at the New Years Day game in Edmonton, between the Flames and Oilers. I sat behind these two [rather large] guys in Oilers jerseys, and I of course donned my Flames Jersey. There were glares and jabs being shot both ways, BUT by the 2nd period we were laughing together and enjoying the game and the rivalry. So I can see what you say about being able to shake hands and have a beer with a fan from another team.

However when I was at the last reg season game between the Flames and Canucks, at the Dome, it was a different story. My wife and I were walking across the parking lot, up to the front steps. As we passed two Canucks fans they were talking about what a bunch of A-holes Calgarians were and how they [pointing at me now] walk around in their ugly Ronald McDonald Jerseys [Heritage Classic] and relish in their 1 and ONLY Stanley Cup!

I had heard enough and turned and replied, "But it's still 1 more than Vancouver has.." To which he lashed back, "Was I F'n talking to you??" I merely shook my head and walked away.

Thomas, this was a great article, and a great read. As a Canadian, I hate the stigma attached to Canucks fans. Hopefully with more writings like this from people and fans like you, that someday, your image as a team's fanbase can be cleared up. Keep it up and Good Luck!

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#10 Sam
August 11 2011, 04:22PM
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First, I think it was pretty widely publicized that Canucks fans in Boston were not welcomed with opened arms. Most reports incidate that they were much more open with their distain for Canucks fans watching in their barn than we showed here in Vancouver. People are people. There are jerks everywhere. I don't get why we in Vancouver are getting a terrible rep all of a sudden.

Second, why does it make me a bad fan to not want to see Lucic parade in Vancouver with the cup? Just because he is from Vancouver? That is not how pro sports work. Sure I appreciate talent on other teams and I could find some favorites on other teams, but for the most part, if you are a hard nosed player, who plays physical and maybe chirps a bit, I will (sports) hate you automatically during the playoffs. If Lucic brought the cup to Vancouver, it would be rubbing it in my face, although I know this is not his intention. Different story if we didn't lose to them in the finals. I would have probably cheered for him. But the way it turned out? Too soon. It is not that I would spit on him if I saw him on the street. But celebrate it with your friends and family. To me, a Canucks fan would would not want to see you with the cup above your head celebrating a win that was acheived by beating my team. And no, I am no condeming fans who don't share my view. But don't call me a bad fan for not agreeing with you either.

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#12 TheCalgaryJames
August 12 2011, 10:31AM
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Great article, Thom...

As someone who moved last August to this beautiful city and who has fallen quite in love with it I have to say I too was embarrassed to see the riot spoil what had been a really great atmosphere in the city. Let me be clear, i wasnt cheering for the Canucks but how could you not get swept up in the excitement all around town? I felt so upset about it the next day that I woke up early and joined the clean up crew. That morning I saw the city I thought I had come to know; a city which seemed lost behind the smoke of burning upturned vehicles.

I saw regular people stand up in solidarity to attempt to reclaim the story of the previous night. Unfortunately, I think that part of the story got left out. The inspiring one of average citizens standing up for the place they live. Average people who like hockey and cheer for their Canucks but are aware that at the end of the day there are more important things in this world than a hockey game.

I'm a flames fan through and through. But I love this city and I believe in it and its people. I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a few d'bags flipping cars and looting shops do not speak to the heart of this place.

As you say, that majority of honest, good, and tempered citizens is a silent one. It doesn't have to be. I hope it won't be anymore.

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#13 Cory
August 12 2011, 01:02PM
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I dunno, I'd actually come out and cheer the guy - he's done what every boy from Vancouver always dreamed of doing, and should be able to celebrate it any way he chooses.

It's unfortunate that it had to come at the expense of our Canucks - if it were Boston beating San Jose there would be a freaking parade for the guy.

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#14 RRRRKKKKK
August 12 2011, 07:52PM
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I understand Canuck fans feelings towards the bruins but Lucic won the Memorial Cup with the Giants and speaking as a Canuck fan i am disgusted at fans who have forgotten this and made Lucic feel unwelcome at home wake up fans and grow up you are no better than the rioters

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#15 skirby09
August 14 2011, 09:21AM
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@Kent Wilson

Well said Kent.

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#16 harv
August 16 2011, 12:10PM
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@RRRRKKKKK

Seriously... No better then the rioters?

Two very different situations, Lucic had the choice to do what he wanted and thats how it went, Media + Boston spinned it that Canucks fans made him not want to celebrate.

At some point we got to stop evaluating ourselves and realize there are dbags and bad seeds everywhere. Riots happend because we had a 100k underpoliced outdoor viewing party.

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#17 FireflyFaery
August 16 2011, 12:38PM
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Glad someone has some prespective....that said, I would caution you from feeling "ashamed" or "embarrassed" to be a Canucks fan when jackassary takes hold of these people... but I do understand the sick and disheartening feeling. I've had fans of other teams say I should be ashamed or embarrassed to be a Canucks fan, but I refuse to let the idiots win.To me that's like saying every African American should be ashamed or embarrassed when there is a gang related incident. It's a form of generalization that leads to all the nasty "isms" out there.

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#18 Phil
August 17 2011, 04:00PM
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I LOVE A GOOD rivalry, the ribbing and the debates I have with my friends are all in good fun and are good natured. I think that's the problem with Canuck fans, they take it so personally like we are insulting their family legacy and insulting Vancouver. umm we're just talking about hockey.

A big problem could be that there is an oversensitive culture built up and a sense of entitlement. Being competitive the last 5 years does not mean you deserve a championship. If that was the case than St. Louis should feel way more entitled with 25 playoff appearances in a row! In addition it just seems that Nuck fans are Canuck fans first and hockey fans second... I'm a die hard Oiler fan and I still tune in to check out Nuck games and any other game, ESPECIALLY during the playoffs! I just love to watch hockey. On a side note Team Finland owes me Olympic tickets for not putting up a fight against the USA...

The perception problem is not an external myopic view from the rest of the world, rather it is a view that Canucks fans have of themselves and project it to the Nth degree. I read this on a forum board the other day "They (Vancouver Fans) don't love hockey so much as they love the idea of having the best hockey team. It's a very different thing that most of them will never understand".

There are some true hockey fans out there and I've met a number of them, but I have yet to have a respectable debate on the Canucks from a stranger at a bar or at one of the games, yet I've been able to talk to Mont fans, TB fans and even...shiver... Leaf fans.

What I can offer is good luck next year, time is running out and this was your first good kick at the can! From what I can see you have about 2 solid years left at being the #1 pick to win it all.

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#19 P. Morris
August 17 2011, 10:04PM
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Years ago, I saw a t-shirt (from The Onion) with a blunt criticism that could apply to any sports fan: "The sports team from my area is superior to the sports team from your area." http://store.theonion.com/product/the-sports-team-from-my-area-is-superior-to,39/

This made me ponder the ridiculous behaviour of certain fans. I view that behaviour as a lack of respect for fellow humans. We should support all athletes/organizations and let the better prepared team, on that day, win. Once the game is over, both teams, and their fans, should be moving on to the next competition. Sure it is fun to analyze every aspect of the game, and sometimes a healthy criticism from both sides is a useful part of that experience. But it should end at some reasonable point in time, and it should not transform into hate.

The interesting point here is that where a person is from is basically a random event in which you had no choice--your parents make that choice. Neil Peart calls this the "accidental background" of your life.

Why do we place more value on someone's location, rather than their character? Why would anyone from Vancouver act that way? Lack of sportsmanship (aka sore losers) or a lack of understanding of playing the game at a professional level. In future, hopefully people will recall the words of MLK Jr. Let's judge others by the content of their character and not by the colour of their jersey ("skin").

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