June 25, 2013 § 1 Comment
The Boston Bruins lost the Stanley Cup last night in glorious fashion. Up 2-1 with 89 seconds to go in Game 6, they were that close to a Game 7 back in Chicago tomorrow night. Then disaster (or, from my perspective, glory) struck, and the Black Hawks scored twice in 17.7 seconds to win the game 3-2 and capture the Cup in 6 games. All throughout the playoffs, the Bruins and their fans have rallied behind the slogan “Boston Strong!” Before every home game, the Bruins brought out victims of the 15 April Boston Marathon Bombings as a sign of solidarity with the city, with the city’s recovery and, of course, to rally the Garden faithful.
On the whole, Boston has rallied behind the “Boston Strong” cry. Every time I step out the front door, I see it on t-shirts, ball caps, bumper stickers. It’s in the windows of businesses. And the Boston sports teams, most notably the Bruins, but also the Celtics and Red Sox (the Patriots aren’t playing now, of course, and no one cares about the Revolution) have harnessed this as well. The Celtics, during their brief playoff appearance, were selling t-shirts that declared “Boston Stands As One.” A woman behind the counter at the pro shop in the Garden swore the Celtics were donating to the One Boston Fund with proceeds from the shirts. The Bruins did the same thing. And all throughout the Bruins’ run to the Cup final, “Boston Strong!” meant cheering for the Bruins as much as a declaration of strength in the face of terrorism. This, of course, made it kind of difficult for me, as anyone who knows me knows that the only thing on God’s Green Earth I hate is the fucking Boston Bruins (sorry, Auntie (my great Aunt got mad at me for using foul language in an earlier blog post)).
And then in the NHL playoffs, all holy hell broke lose. Some guy in Toronto, during the first round series, held up a sign that said “Toronto Stronger.” People in Boston were furious, and within minutes #TorontoStronger was the top trend on Twitter here. People not in Boston were furious, people in Toronto were furious.
It got worse in the Finals, a t-shirt company in Chicago began selling “Chicago Stronger” shirts. The response was predictable and it makes you wonder just what the guys at Cubby Tees (the company behind the t-shirts) were thinking? The t-shirts were quickly pulled from sale in response to the firestorm of protest, much of it, to be fair, from Boston. Then the guys at Cubby Tees responded, offering some kind of apology that wasn’t really an apology, just a self-serving attempt to make themselves as the victims of the entire affair. But they kind of had a point, they argued that this is sports, and in sports, there are rivalries. And when there are rivalries, there is a competition of wit, idiocy (ok, I said that, they didn’t) and so on.
And yet, the kind of furor that erupted after the sign in Toronto and the t-shirt in Chicago was predictable. The guy in Toronto should’ve seen it coming, so, too, should have Cubby Tees. Both were in incredibly bad taste. The Boston Globe published an editorial comment a week ago decrying the co-opting of the “Boston Strong” slogan by sports fans (amongst others), claiming that it diminished from the slogan’s original point, which was “the victims of the bombing, now rebuilding their lives; the law enforcement efforts during the manhunt; the decision, by athletes and organizers, to run the Marathon in 2014.”
It’s hard to argue with that logic, but it’s also bad logic. The Boston Strong rallying cry has obviously spread to sports, and it’ll spread to music and festivals all summer long. And when the Dropkick Murphys play, whether in Boston or anywhere else, there’ll be people in the crowd chanting the slogan or they’ll have it on posters. Why? Because the Bruins and the Dropkicks are ambassadors of Boston. Both the punk band and the hockey team market a brand that makes Boston a tough, intimidating place (in reality, it’s nothing of the sort), and that’s an image that Bostonians like, and are proud to project around North America and beyond. The Bruins represent the city and the fans of the Bruins put their hopes, their energy, their money into supporting the team in cheering them on to victory. When the Bruins lost last night, Claude Julien, the coach, told reporters that he was disappointed in part because it would’ve been nice to bring the Cup back to Boston to help in the healing from the bombings.
It was always going to be the case that “Boston Strong” would become a rallying cry for Bruins’ fans. They’re Bostonians, and the Bruins are their team, their representatives. The Globe missed the point of professional sports; sports are meant as a distraction, as a means of turning our attention from reality. It’s worth noting that back in September 2001, the NFL season was meant to start the weekend after 9/11. Paul Tagliabue, the commissioner of the NFL at the time, immediately cancelled the games that weekend out of respect. It was the obviously correct choice to make. But then-president George W. Bush inveighed upon Tagliabue to reinstate the games, Americans needed the distraction.
Sports are more about identity as much as anything else for spectators and fans. And thus, it should be no surprise to anyone, lest of all the Globe that “Boston Strong” became a rallying cry for the Bruins, just as it was for the Celtics, as it is for the Red Sox, and will be for the Patriots when their season starts up in the fall.