Mike Sielski: Chris Heck and the Sixers found out a hard lesson about Philly and its sports fans
PHILADELPHIA– So Chris Heck, the 76ers’ group president, cannonballed into a pot of boiling water on Thursday. He gave an interview to Uni Watch, a news site devoted to sports uniforms, and in attempting to explain why the franchise designed its new jerseys as it did– black, with the word PHILADELPHIA splayed under a rendition of Boathouse Row– Heck said the following:
” We actually don’t utilize the term ‘Philly’ since we believe it’s lazy and undersells the city. In some cases, I think ‘blue collar’ does the very same thing. We describe it as ‘New Philadelphia.’ ‘Blue collar’ is necessary for the city, however it’s not the only element. ‘New Philadelphia’ is about the arts. It has to do with culture. It has to do with education. It’s about variety. We like that story more than the blue-collar hockey thing.”
Once the interview records was injected into the social-media blood stream, there was an instant, and primarily negative, reaction, one that required Heck to apologize later Thursday. He seemed to be suggesting that the Sixers were attempting to change how the group specified itself and its fans specified themselves, and naturally, numerous of those fans recoiled from such arrogance.
The ridiculing complaints differed and, typically, were justified. Referring to the city as “New Philadelphia” implied that there was something incorrect with the old Philadelphia, and expressing that sentiment is the fastest method to get a Yards Pale Ale soaked your head. The Flyers objected on Twitter to Heck’s objection to “the blue-collar hockey thing,” as did those Philadelphians who discovered Heck’s scoffing at that element of the area’s cultural scene to reek of privilege and elitism. And the idea that “Philly” is lazy and diminishes the city was laughable on its face. “Philly” is an affectionate bit of shorthand that citizens utilize all the time, and can you think of Nick Foles trotting to the sideline in Super Bowl LII and asking Doug Pederson, “You desire Philadelphia-Philadelphia?” The Eagles would’ve been hit with a delay-of-game charge by the time Foles ended up spitting all those marbles out of his mouth.
( Personally, I was more angered that the Sixers apparently had ripped off the design for their brand-new unis from the 1985-86 Denver Nuggets and had not even bothered to pay Fat Lever a royalty charge. But as I stated, I see the benefits of the other objections, too.).
From a greater vantage point, though, what Heck’s comments and the backlash they inspired shown was the unstable and difficult nature of tribalism in our society. When there’s excessive of it in the body politic, you get polarization and boarded-up shops and a default posture of antagonism and defensiveness that wears away the extremely social bonds that allow us to live among one another in peace. But in sports, tribalism is a much healthier force. Our incomes and our values and the direction of the country do not depend on the results of ballgames, and a strong geographic/cultural identity and an us-vs.- them mindset actually enliven the whole enterprise.
There’s a reason that, generally speaking, football fans around here have related to the Dallas Cowboys as the Eagles’ primary competitor, and it’s not simply that the 2 teams have actually been in the same department for the last 53 years. It’s that the Cowboys were “America’s Team,” that their house city was specified by oil barons and gleaming glass high-rise buildings and the smug supremacy that includes wealth, overindulgence, and a football team that has won five Super Bowls. If you can’t see how that image contrasts with the Eagles, their history, their fans, and Philadelphia’s collective perception of itself, you have not spent nearly enough time here.
Now, naturally, that sense of commitment and identity, when it becomes excessive, can cause the sort of anger and bitterness that forces a football group to set up a courtroom and jail in its stadium. However in a smaller sized percentage or dose, that dynamic– the blinkered enthusiasm for the regional teams, the fan base’s long institutional memory, the self-identification as underdogs– is a huge part of what makes Philadelphia sports so much fun. That truth isn’t altering anytime soon, and a sports franchise here, if it’s being clever, can’t simply neglect it.
For instance, it’s something for the Flyers to recognize and acknowledge that professional hockey has actually evolved gradually, that stacking a roster with muckers and mills and fist-throwers isn’t most likely to result in success in the 21st-century NHL, which they must build their group appropriately. It’s another thing for the franchise, as it has carried out in current years, to create an in-game experience at the Wells Fargo Center that treats its fans as if they have never ever seen a hockey video game before. They have, and they value the team’s past, and they do not desire anybody condescending to them.
Guess what? Sixers fans aren’t all that different, as Chris Heck undoubtedly has found out by now. Too bad for him it was so hard a lesson.