Tag Archives: sports

Sports and Family: Digging Through the Connections

I’ve been continuing my research into sports culture, and trying to learn more about the psychology behind sports and sports fandoms. One of the areas that has come up quite frequently in my research so far is the significance of family with regards to sports. In my blog post on Sports, Language, and Culture, I discussed how several people I’d spoken with described a connection between being a sports fan and their family life. Some said that discussing sports was the best way they had to communicate with family members they otherwise had trouble connecting with. Others said that sports create a family bonding experience, giving them something to share and pass on to each other. In my online interview with Alexander Pierce, he even said that no matter how many issues he might have relating to his dad, sports always gave them a common ground with which to bridge any gaps.

As an outsider to sports culture, a lot of these ideas were foreign to me. I never experienced this family connection with sports, and my dad never really got me involved in sports as a kid. My dad and I attended one baseball game together, and since I showed no interest in it, he didn’t pressure me into any further involvement. But my dad isn’t really someone I would describe as a sports fan. He never seemed to have that passion to begin with, so there was nothing to pass down.

This led to me questioning whether being a sports fan is an inherited trait. I did some research into sports and family culture, and came up with some interesting articles.

The first is “The Significance of Family Culture for Sports Participation,” by Sharon Wheeler. The article researched sports participation with a focus on health, which was an angle I hadn’t considered in depth, but which came up during my trip to the Flyers vs Blackhawks hockey game, where I was given a pamphlet about the importance of exercise for your health. Wheeler’s article described “a decline in physical activity participation” as being one of the key causes of obesity in Western cultures, and said that “sport is often viewed as a suitable vehicle for tackling the ‘health crisis’, not least because the supposed health benefits gained from participation can be experienced across all socio-demographic groups” (p. 235). But her article raised the question of what factors will influence sports participation, since those factors will therefore have an indirect influence on people’s health.

According to Wheeler, “research indicates that since the 1970s there has been a clear trend towards increased participation in sport among both young people and adults across Europe and worldwide” (p. 236). Research also shows that race, class, and gender are determining factors in whether an individual will participate in sports. For example, the article explained that males play sports more often than females, people from better economic backgrounds play more often than those from underprivileged ones, and white adults are more likely to play sports than are minorities. People are also likely to participate less the older they get, particularly after high school and college.

These differences, however, all seem to stem from an individual’s childhood. The article explains that most of the factors that determine whether someone will participate in sports are set during childhood (p. 237), which led to the theory that family culture may be a decisive variable in that determination. To test this theory, the researchers interviewed several families with children who were active in sports. They found that “it was clear that the parents in this study had a significant influence on their children’s sports
participation” (p. 240). The parents were outwardly encouraging of their children’s sports activities “because their children enjoyed it, it kept them fit and healthy, it helped them to make friends, and it promoted future participation.” Some of the parents also encouraged their children so that they would have sports experienced that the parents themselves were lacking during their own childhoods, while others who had been active in sports when they were children wanted to pass those experiences on (p. 241-242). There were also indications that the families simply considered it to be “good parenting” to get their children involved in sports (p. 242).

Most of the data Wheeler used to analyze the determinants of race, gender, and socioeconomic status on sports participation came from another article, “Explaining differences in sport participation rates among young adults: Evidence from the South Caucasus” by Diane Birchwood, et al. Birchwood, et al. argued “that all the major,  recognized differences in adult rates of sports participation  between sociodemographic groups are generated during childhood,  via cultures that are transmitted through families, and that  post-childhood experiences play a relatively minor direct part in generating these differences” (p. 283). The article used an extensive data collection of over 1200 interviews with individuals who were questioned about their histories, family backgrounds, education, and other related variables. Based on the trends they found in the survey results, Birchwood, et al. hypothesized that “that a distinct  and enduring propensity to play sport is acquired during childhood via a culture transmitted by the family” (p. 291). It seems, then, that Wheeler’s article was able to build off this research by finding possible explanations as to why that propensity to play sport is acquired during childhood, a question that Birchwood, et al.’s paper did not explore.

Of course, it’s always possible that one could raise the question of how well these results  taken from Eastern European countries apply to sports participation in Western cultures, since there could be differences from one country to another. However, Birchwood, et al. cited a similar survey, “Results from the sport and leisure module of the 2002 General Household Survey” by Kate Fox Leicha Rickards. This survey showed results that were consistent with Birchwood, et al.’s findings, including the data on differences between different socio-economic groups, different genders, and different ages. This survey, however, was comprised mostly of raw data from over 14,000 participants, giving information about overall trends without any analysis of the meaning of those trends. You can see, however, a pattern in the way these three articles draw upon one another. The Leicha and Rickards article presents a large mass of raw data, then the Birchwood, et al. article performs a more detailed analysis of a smaller group in order to determine the specific relationships between the different variables, and finally the Wheeler article performs a more detailed study of a much smaller group in order to finally answer the questions about why these data trends exist.

To bring this all back around to my original point, it seems to me that my twitter surveys and research have a substantial broad background of support. At the beginning of this blog post, I said that “sports create a family bonding experience, giving them something to share and pass on to each other.” And it seems that these experiences are common across a great many more people than just those I interviewed, with specific reasons behind why parents indoctrinate their children into this sports culture.

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Reflections on my Interview with Alexander Pierce

As I mentioned earlier, tonight I had an online interview via Twitter with a friend of mine, Alexander Pierce. He was gracious enough to spend some time talking to me about his views on sports and sports culture.

Since the interview was logged on Twitter, you can read the conversation starting here and under the hashtag #HRSI.

Alexander and I chatted online in a casual back-and-forth of tweets, which was part of the purpose of the online format. My goal was to keep things casual and try to keep us on equal grounds as much as possible. Along those lines, I avoided having any direct list of pre-planned questions, and mostly tried to ask him for more information about the specific subjects he brought up. It was interesting to see that he made some comments that were similar to my earlier twitter poll on sports culture, and to the in-person interview I conducted last week. For example, the subjects of sports as religion, as local and national identity, and as a highly emotional activity all came up during this interview.

The interview started off, not surprisingly, with some ice-breaking by talking about sports. When I first asked Alexander how he was doing, it ended up being the first thing that came up in natural conversation.

Alexander_Interview_1The conversation quickly moved into a discussion about the specifics of hockey as a staple of Canadian culture. Alexander explained a few things about how and why hockey is such a popular sport for Canadians.

Alexander_Interview_2Alexander_Interview_3Alexander_Interview_4Alexander_Interview_5We also discussed a bit about how sports can be a way for families to bond. This is a subject that has come up frequently in my research, how families use sports as a way to relate to each other and as a way to have something to talk about. It was similar to what one of my in-person interviewees, Brian, said about sports bars. He explained that sports is something you can talk to anyone about without causing anger or offense (as opposed to taboo topics like politics and religion). It seems that a similar principle is in place when people talk to their family about sports.

Alexander_Interview_6Alexander_Interview_7Alexander_Interview_8One thing that came up during this interview that hadn’t been touched on much in the others is the dark side that can come from sports fanaticism, including parental pressure and sports-related violence.

Alexander_Interview_9Looking over everything we discussed, I see some interesting connections between these various points. The conversation moved from discussions of national identity, to family bonding, to aggression and competition. Which makes me question just how strong those connections are. Are aggression and competition such an integral part of our family and national identity? When considering everything from sibling rivalry to economic competition to long years of war against other countries, it certainly seems that the answer is “Yes.”

This also makes an interesting parallel to what I’ve learned about the relationship between sports culture and Native American culture. If sports culture is so deeply tied together with aggression, violence, and competition, it doesn’t seem surprising that it would lead to conflict with other cultures. A conflict that seems similar to the long history of conflict and aggression that has been directed at Native Americans for centuries.

These comparisons between different types of violence certainly opened my eyes to some ideas about the causes of these conflicts. A culture that is used to such violence (and even cheers it on) seems unlikely to be willing to engage in peaceful negotiations with someone they perceive as threatening their identity. And since sports fans associate their team name with their identity, they may therefore show aggressive behavior towards someone who threatens that identity by demanding the name be changed. Furthermore, the same competitive ideals may lead sports fans to a “win or lose” mindset that detracts from the possibility of compromise or collaboration on a mutually beneficial solution.

As for the interview itself, I definitely found Twitter to be an effective medium. It allowed for a casual conversation that was easy to transcribe. It left me with some questions about how this aggression may be affecting the people it’s directed against, beyond the emotional damage it can cause, as discussed in my interview with Reverend John Norwood.

Hopefully from here I’ll be able to tie some of these concepts in with the academic research I’m doing on the subject. For example, I’ve read several journal articles discussing the specific causes of sports fan aggression and the volatile behavior it can cause. I should be able to make some good connections between that research and the concepts that came up in this interview.

 

Pre-Online-Interview Prep, Sports Culture

I’ll be continuing with the posts about my Ethnographic Hockey field research soon, but in the mean time I’m also making preparations for some interviews in order to learn firsthand from some people on various sides of the ongoing debate about racist sports mascots. I’ll be conducting a total of four interviews over the course of the next month, with the hope of learning a lot about various views. You can already read about the in-person interview I conducted with an avid sports fan, and the telephone interview I conducted with a representative of the Nanticoke tribe in the Deleware Valley.

The next interview will be conducted online. The purpose of this post is to lay out some of the specifics of the upcoming interview. I’ll be discussing the purpose of the interview and the background behind it. Then, after the interview is complete, I’ll be writing a follow-up post talking about how it went compared to these expectations.

This online interview will be conducted via Twitter. I chose Twitter because it’s the online medium I am most active in, and I’ve had some success in the past getting good feedback from people on there. I also find it to be a very effective back-and-forth medium. Despite what people say about the 140 character limit, I find Twitter extremely useful for holding extended conversations. My goal with this interview is to hold a chat (perhaps an hour long) and let the conversation flow where it will. The book PostModern Interviewing suggests that such an active back-and-forth style of interviewing will help construct the communicative reality that myself and the interviewee are operating under, and the interviewee will be “a productive source of knowledge” (p. 74). What this basically means is that the interview itself will be “producing knowledge.”

My goal, therefore, essentially translates into not just a “question and answer” session where I’ll be trying to gain information from the interviewee. Instead, my hope is that our ongoing conversation will open new ideas in both of our minds, prompting us to consider topics we previously hadn’t thought of. I may also raise some of the points others mentioned in my previous interviews in order to ask the new interviewee’s perspective on them.

I’ll also be keeping the interview dialogue open to allow the interviewee to speak from various different points of view. Another important point in PostModern Interviewing is that the standpoint of the interviewee can shift, between, say, them speaking from their point of view as a sports fan, to speaking from their point of view as a male, to speaking from their point of view as an American, and so on. I want to keep the interview as open as possible to allow for the possibility that various different standpoints will come up, and I’ll make note of those when considering the responses.

As for the more concrete details: The first interview I’m conducting will be with Alexander Pierce. I’ve known Alexander on Twitter for some time, and he was eager to share his views when I first started discussing my research into sports. He is a self-professed sports fan who frequently tweets about his team affiliation and other related topics. When I went to Twitter asking for volunteers to discuss sports culture, he heartily volunteered.

The interview will be conducted over Twitter, and if you’d like to follow it, I plan to tweet under the hashtag #HRSI for “Hockey Research Sports Interview” so that the tweets will be easily searchable for later compilation. Also, using a hashtag is a good way to make sure the Twitter 140 character limit won’t be a real issue; any time we go over and need to continue on another tweet, it’ll simply show as a series of tweets on the hashtag. This should also make it easy to follow the interview by searching the hashtag and reading from the bottom up, making for a natural transcription process that will aid later review. I also plan to take screenshots of the tweets, since I will likely be directly quoting some of them later on (possibly using Storify as a medium).

In addition to “sports culture” as a general topic, I hope to discuss things like the controversy over Native American themed mascots, fan/team self-identification, and how sports is related to national and cultural identity (for example, Alexander’s team is the “Toronto Maple Leafs” and the maple leaf is also the symbol on the Canadian flag, so there is a possible connection there).

The interview will be conducted later tonight, April 1st, at around 9:00 PM (assuming Alexander doesn’t tell me it was just an April Fool’s joke!), and will take place entirely on Twitter. Follow me @CantrellJason or check the hashtag #HRSI to see it.

Interview with Reverend John Norwood

As part of my ongoing research into Native American culture and the debate over the Washington Redskins name change, I felt it was important to reach out to members of the Native American community in order to hear their perspectives. As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, I’m extremely aware that from my standpoint as a white American, I’m incapable to fully grasping the struggles and perspectives of another race. Speaking to members of that community to hear their voices is the best way to learn about their perspectives.

To this end, I reached out to the Nanticoke Indian Tribe in the hopes of finding someone I could speak to about these issues. My request for contact was forwarded to the Chief and Council of the tribe, and I was then contacted by Reverend John Norwood, who said he was asked to respond to my request and serve as the spokesperson on behalf of the tribe. He was gracious enough to speak with me in a telephone interview on Tuesday, March 26th.

After greeting Reverend Norwood and telling him about my research into the name change, I asked him for his thoughts on the debate.

“The position I take on the mascot,” he said, “is that people don’t understand how devastating it can be, even when you are trying to honor the tribe.”

He explained that matters like the use of Native American images in mascots have to be handled sensitively, and that they should be handled on the local level. When Native American images are used at the national level, such as with major sports teams, he said that can make it difficult to teach people about the needed sensitivity. In some cases, the use of Native American imagery is handled properly and respectfully.

“Our southernmost community has a relationship with their school district,” he said, explaining how that tribe has granted permission for their local school district to make use of their tribal images. “That is between that tribe and that school district. But the school does not own the images, and the school is teaching about sensitivity.” The fact that the individual school is addressing the issue with respect and sensitivity, he explained, is an important variable.

“Most of the time it’s not the case,” he added, explaining that many other uses of Native American images aren’t handled properly. “What you have are mascots that do harm to the history and psychological well-being of tribes.”

When I asked him more about how some institutions improperly use the images, he said, “Native Americans don’t have the opportunity to control how the mascot is displayed. That is actually the stealing of heritage. The way it was taken is the same way our lands were taken. Most of the institutions don’t have any link to tribal heritage, and the images used are stereotypical about 90% of the time.”

He then explained some of the issues about the specific ways in which the mascots are displayed. He referenced some of the violent conflicts from the past where many Native Americans were killed. “Indians were being decapitated,” he said. “Whole villages would be decapitated. When people see a floating Indian head, that’s what they remember. If it brings up painful memories and painful history, then that’s offensive.”

This point is one that I haven’t seen raised in the other articles I’ve read regarding the mascot debate. Most of the articles I’ve read tend to speak about how the name “Redskins” is racist and offensive, but the image of the mascot itself is often ignored. Yet it turns out that the image itself can be associated with a violent and traumatizing past.

Reverend Norwood also spoke of the ways in which Native images are often portrayed as caricatures and stereotypes. He told me about how his son played in an intramural basketball league, and when his team played against a school with an Indian mascot, the images painted on the walls were of “a racist looking caricature of an Indian.”

“If an African American had walked in and seen a caricature of an African,” he said, “or if it were a Jewish or Asian image, something would be done about it. When it’s Indian people and we say we’re offended, they say, ‘We’re just honoring you.’ We are dismissed.”

His words reminded me of a number of articles I’ve read in the last few weeks that referenced that same point. People who defend the use of Native American mascots often argue that they do so to “honor” the Native American people. But Reverend Norwood explained that the use of these images in improper, misrepresentative ways does not honor them.

“Only certain people were allowed to do certain things and earned that honor,” he said. “When we say we are offended and these people who say they are honoring us, they dismiss us.

“It is possible to gain the support of a local tribe to bless the use of an image. To truly honor by engaging and understanding that is a privilege. Not a right. Typically, there is an arrogance. The misappropriation of badges of honor.”

What Reverend Norwood was referring to is called “cultural appropriation.” It is defined as “the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group,” but it can also be referred to as “the act of stealing and corrupting.” Along with the debates and protests over the use of Native American images in sports mascots, there are protests over individuals using traditional Native American clothing and adornments as fashion statements. One example that has gained recent notoriety is the band Pink Pony, which sparked protests when they posted photos of one of their band members wearing a Native headdress “that is traditionally reserved for Native Tribal Chiefs and not for members of unsigned Electronica bands.” This is another example of what Reverend Norwood referred to when he said, “Only certain people were allowed to do certain things and earned that honor.”

“It wouldn’t be tolerated with any other race,” he said. “The history of American Indians is unique in this country because we’re the only indigenous people.”

He then explained how his people are often excluded even in the language used by many others in the country. As an example, he spoke about how many politicians will use the phrase, “We are a country of immigrants,” a phrase that was even used by President Obama on Citizenship Day 2013. Yet as Reverend Norwood explained, such phrasing excludes Native Americans who have lived here since long before our current country was founded.

“My people were here,” he said. But he explained that his people have a sense of exclusion, and that they are viewed as a conquered or vanquished people who are often ignored by politicians and the government. “They don’t want to deal with the plight of the tribes today. It’s a huge insult.”

I then asked him about the Washington Redskins as a specific case. “The term is a term we don’t call ourselves,” he said, echoing the words of the “Proud to Be” video released by the National Congress of American Indians. “It’s an insult. The arrogance of the owners is a travesty. If it was any other race, they would understand. We are dictated to, more so than any other individual group. The mascot issue is symbolic of the continuing struggle of American Indians.”

He then continued, “An institution will get an individual group to say it’s okay. That doesn’t matter.” Instead, he explained, a team would need the support of the tribal nations. An example of what Reverend Norwood was referring to can be seen in the recent news about Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his efforts to reach out to Native American communities. As reported by The Nation, Dan Snyder recently released a letter in which he described how he spoke “face-to-face with Native American leaders and community members,” but as The Nation’s article points out, he didn’t speak with the oldest Native American civil rights organization, the National Congress of American Indians. In essence, what this means is that while Mr. Snyder may have gained the support of some individual communities, that support cannot be said to represent the beliefs and views of the tribal nations as a whole.

When I asked Reverend Norwood to explain when a mascot would or wouldn’t be okay or under what circumstances permission would be granted, he said, “When it crosses the line into disrespect, then it’s a problem. It’s a direct insult to your very identity. And when you say that, you’re cast as being unreasonable.

“Opinions vary. Some extreme people will say, ‘It’s all wrong.’ Some say ‘Oh, it’s not a problem.’ Something in the middle is where the real problem is.”

We then discussed the way certain individual schools and institutions could gain permission. “Let’s say you have an area with a tribe that is still active in the area,” he said. “The tribe continues to educate and advise so that the school doesn’t think that they own it.” In this way, he said, the use of a Native American mascot can be monitored by the tribe to make sure they don’t devolve into an insulting image. Without this continued relationship with a tribe, he said, “Mascots will deteriorate into a caricature and an insult.”

As an example, he told me that his local township uses an Indian symbol. “But the township has a formal relationship with the tribe,” he said. “Their engagement and understanding is valuable. That was blessed. That’s okay. This is how we can respect and honor the culture. But I have never personally spoken to a tribal Indian who thought it was okay to have an offensive mascot.” It is important, he explained, for there to be continued engagement between the institution and the tribe, and that the tribe should retain the rights to withdraw their permission in the future, should they feel the need to do so.

“There must be a continuing relationship of respect,” he said. “And if you’re not going to do that, stay away from it.”

But this type of continuing relationship, he explained, can only occur on a case-by-case basis with individual tribes and their local schools and institutions. On the national level, he said, “There’s no tribe to get consent from. They need to change. If you’re using those images, you need to engage them. If you do anything less, you’re doing violence to them.

“I’ve had to wipe the tears off the cheeks of my own children and the tribal children dealing with that. When racism happens, we are all victimized by that racism. All are affected. Our mindset is affected. It has a negative influence on our society and our cultures. We are all victims. We are all victimized by it, in some way, shape, or form.

“Even the head of the Redskins is bound by that,” he said in conclusion. “It kills a bit of his soul. It affects all of us.”

Reverend Norwood also forwarded me a publication by the National Congress of American Indians, titled, “Ending the Legacy Of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful “Indian” Sports Mascots.” It is a compelling document that I strongly recommend reading.

Ethnographic Hockey, Part 4: The Dietz & Watson and Horizon Services Zambonis

This is Part 4 of my series of posts detailing my ethnographic study of the March 18th, 2014 Flyers vs Blackhawks game in Philadelphia, PA. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

When I entered the seating area to find my seat, I stopped for a moment to look down at the rink. It was about 30 minutes to game time. The JumboTron was flashing the names and pictures of various players, while upbeat music played that reminded me of a dance club or rave. After each player’s picture, the JumboTron showed the player’s stats and other bits of trivia knowledge, most of which I couldn’t interpret.

When I looked down at the rink, I saw the teams were on the ice, but not playing. They were gathered on opposite sides of the rink, each team sticking to their own side. Dozens of pucks were laid out across the ice, and the players were shooting them over and over while skating around in circles. They looked like practice shots.

I found a stadium attendant with a black jacket that read “EVENT STAFF” across the back. Her nametag read, “Vida.” I asked her, “Are they warming up?” It was the only explanation I could come up with.

“Yes,” she said. “Then they’ll bring out toe Zambonis to refresh the ice, then they’ll come out to play.”

She stepped away to ask another fan if they knew where they were sitting, then examined their ticket and directed them where they needed to go. Meanwhile, PECO and Dietz & Watson ads played on the JumboTron, while an announcer informed the attendees of the rules. We were told that there was “No smoking,” which seemed reasonable. Then he said that there would be “No abusive language.” That also seemed reasonable but it surprised me that it had to be announced explicitly. After listing a few other rules about rowdiness, the announcer said, “Violators will be escorted from the building.” This made me wonder just how rowdy they expected the crowd to get.

At 7:15, the Zambonis arrived. They were painted all over like NASCAR cars, one with the Dietz & Watson logo and another with the Horizon Services logo. By this point, somewhere between a third and half of the seats in the stadium were already filled. People were talking and laughing, and sitting down to eat hot dogs, pizza, and french fries. Meanwhile, the Dietz & Watson and Horizon Services Zambonis performed their dance on the ice, gliding about in slow coordination, one following a short distance behind the other and a bit to the side so their paths just barely overlapped.

Watching the Zambonis drew my attention to the ice itself. The Flyers logo was clearly visible in the center. It was surrounded by a circle of text that read “Wells Fargo Center.” Beyond that, ads were stamped directly into the ice: Dietz & Watson, Dorado Systems, McDonald’s, and Toyota. The remaining 15 minutes before the game started was an endless saturation of ads, for while the Zambonis did their dance, another ad played on the JumboTron, with Magic Johnson encouraging us all to sign up for Healthcare.gov. This was followed by an ad for “Muppets Most Wanted” before 1-800-Lundy-Law once again welcomed us to the game, and Mr. Lundy closed by saying, “Go Flyers.”

I wondered about the effectiveness of all this advertisement saturation, but I knew that there was a principle of association and persuasion at work here. In his book, “Influence, Science and Practice,” Robert B. Cialdini discusses the power of conditioning and association. This is a way in which positive associations between otherwise unrelated things can affect the way we feel about those things. This can start off with something as simple as a good meal. Cialdini described a study in which “subjects become fonder of the people and things they experienced while eating” (p. 164). The reason for this is because if you are eating good food, you experience positive emotions. Those positive emotions then become subconsciously associated with the event you’re attending, rather than just with the food itself. It was no wonder, then, that the stadium was filled with food stands from one end to the other. Not only was it more convenient (allowing guests to eat here instead of having to eat before the arrived), but the act of eating during a game can actually have a psychological effect of your enjoyment of the game.

This association effect can also apply to other products and people. Cialdini said, “Radio programmers are instructed to insert the station’s call-letters jingle immediately before a big hit song is played,” (p 165) because it creates an association of positive emotion between the station and the song. Just like there would be an association between 1-800-Lundy-Law and the positive emotions fans experienced during the game.

This is an especially strong influence when it comes to sports, and it soon became apparent to me that the association principle taking place wasn’t limited to just the advertisements. Overhead, an American and a Canadian flag hung above the arena, across from banners listing Bruce Springsteen (#53) and Billy Joel (#48) as “Philadelphia Sellouts” in honor of concerts they held at the Wells Fargo Center that sold out all the seats.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

As the countdown to the game grew closer, a group of kids near me began shouting and chanting, “Let’s go, Flyers,” followed by slapping their noisemakers against their hands in a rhythm: 1, 2, . . . 3, 4, 5. They continued chanting over and over, each time with the same pattern to the clapping and noisemaking afterwards. Then, at 7:30, the announcer came on to introduce “Your Philadelphia Flyers,” and all the fans cheered.

“Your” Philadelphia Flyers, not “the” Philadelphia Flyers. This is another example of the influence of association at work. Cialdini also discusses this idea of fan association, stating that people will shout, “‘We’re number one! We’re number one!’ . . . not ‘They’re number one’ or even ‘Our team is number one'” (p. 168). The association felt by fans is so strong that they often use the pronoun “we” to show their identity with their team. Though, it seems this only applied when a team is winning, and that “No television viewer will ever hear the chant, ‘We’re in last place! We’re in last place!” (p. 168) since people will distance themselves from their team after a defeat.

It seems, then, that there are a number of influences at work, all at once, within a single arena. The fans associate their positive feelings–from the good food, to the cheering, to the music–with the team itself, and they associate themselves as being part of the team. If advertisers, such as the announcer from 1-800-Lundy-Law, become associated with those same positive feelings, it seems likely that a similar connection will be forged. A team who has a great time with great food and great friends at a game will carry their positive feelings over to everyone who is “part of the team,” and that includes Mr. Lundy, who shouted, “Go Flyers!” right along with the rest of the crowd.

After musing over the significance of so many associations in one place, I took my seat, and waited for the game to begin.

This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 5: American Heroes and the Star Spangled Banner.

Sports Culture Interview, Results, and Reflection

As I recently mentioned, on Monday, March 24th I conducted an interview on the topic of sports culture. I wanted to get the perspective of an avid sports fan in order to learn what his views are on the significance of sports in modern life, and on the debate over the name of the Washington Redskins. This is just one of multiple interviews I’m conducting on this subject, and during the course of the next couple of weeks I’ll be trying to learn from the perspectives of multiple individuals from different backgrounds.

The individual I interviewed was a man named George, who works as a bartender at a local Chili’s. I was introduced to him through a friend, who told me that George was extremely knowledgeable on the topic of sports. I soon found out that this was an understatement, and George ended up sharing a lot of fascinating information with me.

I arrived at the Chili’s early, and I was shown to the bar. While I was waiting for George to arrive, I took some time to look around at the environment. The bar area was quiet, since it was a Monday afternoon and many people were likely still at their day jobs. Two TVs hung over the bar at either end of the room, both playing sports channels. One was playing “Intentional Talk,” a sports talk show on the MLB Network. The sound was muted so the on-screen discussion couldn’t be heard, but the show moved back and forth between the discussion and clips of recent baseball games, along with statistics displayed on screen updating the audience about various games. At the bottom of the screen, a scorebar showed live updates of the scores of various spring training games taking place that day.

The second television was playing ESPN’s “NFL Insiders.” On that muted screen, three men and a woman discussed football stats, while the screen alternated between the discussion and lists of various player statistics.

George soon arrived, full of pep and energy. Since I was interviewing him during his work shift, he spent the first few minutes checking the stock levels of the bar’s supplies and getting his cash register setup. Yet even before I started asking him questions, he already started talking about sports with the other bartender.

“I can’t even hate the cowboys anymore,” he said when the other bartender brought up football. “They’re just not good.”

“Hate on principle,” the other bartender said. The directness of her comment made me smirk; even though I’m not a sports fan, I’ve been conditioned to hate the Dallas Cowboys from a young age, as are most others who live in the Philadelphia area. Rivalries, it seemed, could become a part of the entire region.

“I’m getting too old to hate,” George said.

Once we settled into a serious discussion of sports culture, one of the first things George brought up was this idea of fan identity. He explained to me that Philadelphia fans are well-known, even notorious, for their passion about their teams. “Philly fans are the best fans,” he said. “A sports franchise is supposed to take on the identity of the city.”

That identity is strongest in Philly, he explained, partially because Philadelphia is one of only three cities where all their teams for the major sports (football, baseball, hockey, and basketball) are within the city limits. This immediately reminded me of my recent trip to a Flyers hockey game, where I noticed that the stadiums for all of Philly’s teams are built within sight of each other in a closely-packed sports district. It turns out that only Philadelphia, Chicago, and Denver had such a self-contained set of sports franchises all within their city limits, and only a total of twelve cities even have stadiums for all four major sports within their greater metropolitan area.

George then started explaining the importance of this identity connection between the fans and the city. “The number one thing is not about winning,” he said. “It’s about how you reflect the fan base. Even if you have bad moves for winning, you bring fans into the ballpark.” He then proceeded to explain how some fans might complain about their team making a certain trade or a certain draft pick that they disapproved of, because the decisions don’t always seem like the types that will lead to more wins and more championships. But, he said, the teams made moves that “developed their identity with their fan base.”

I asked him to describe the “Philadelphia identity,” and he began making comparisons to other widely-known Philadelphia cultural icons. “We have Rocky,” he said, referring to the Sylvester Stallone film, which was set in Philadelphia. “People think Rocky. They think the Liberty Bell. They think the art museum. They think the Flyers.” As George explained this, I thought back to my experiences at the Flyers game. I told him about how they had played images of the Liberty Bell on the JumboTron before the game started, along with other images of American icons. Playing those images in association with the sporting even is part of how this “Philadelphia identity” is forged and reinforced.

When I asked him for more details about the identity of the Flyers in particular, he pointed out that their nickname, the “Broad Street Bullies,” says it all. “Flyers are not finesse,” he said. “Flyers have lots of hits, lots of checking.” Other teams, he explained, might have players who make careful, finesseful shots. The Flyers, on the other hand, are more likely to rush the goalie and score in a more forceful manner.

I then asked George how this “Philadelphia identity” and the “Flyers identity” connected with the fans themselves. “Philadelphia fans have sports, but that’s it,” he explained. “That’s our focal point in Philadelphia. It’s sports.” We discussed how, in Philadelphia, there isn’t much else in the local area, like New York’s nightlife or Florida’s beaches and resorts. As an example, he spoke about the Florida Marlins, known now as the Miami Marlins. He said that they are a good team (and have won two World Series championships), but they don’t draw in the fans. In fact, I found that Miami’s attendance was ranked 28 out of 30 in 2013 (with Philadelphia coming in at #8), 18 out of 30 in 2012 (with Philadelphia at #1), 29 out of 30 in 2011 (with Philadelphia at #1), and 28 out of 20 in 2010 (with Philadelphia at #2). The attendance boost in 2012 is mostly attributed to the fact that the team built a brand new stadium that opened that year.

The low attendance doesn’t seem to be entirely due to poor performance, since while the Marlins ranked #29 in performance in 2013, they were #25 in 2012, and #22 in 2011, and #17 in 2010. So why would the team’s attendance be so consistently low (ranking 28th, 28th, and 29th  for the three years excluding when the new stadium was built), when their performance only matched that low ranking in one of those years? George told me that it was because Florida has a culture that is more focused on resorts, families on vacations, and senior citizens who have retired in the area. They simply don’t have the same focus on sports that the Philadelphia area has.

After having learned about Philadelphia’s sports culture and the way culture can vary from one city to another, I asked George what he thought about the Washington Redskins name change debate. He explained, “Fans don’t see the Redskins name as a problem. A very small group of people are offended by the name. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know if it was meant to be an insult when they came up with the names. Look at what was acceptable language in different eras.”

When we started discussing language and the evolution it’s taken over the years, George pointed out the differences between sports team names during the late 1800s and early 1900s compared to those today. He pointed out that newly formed sports teams, like those found in major league soccer, tend to use more “modern” names, like the Houston Dynamo, the Philadelphia Union, and the LA Galaxy. Since major league soccer wasn’t founded until 1993 (compared to major league baseball which was founded in 1869 and the NFL which was founded in 1920), the naming traditions some from a very different cultural viewpoint. Many forms of language that were accepted in the years when other sports leagues were founded are no longer accepted today. Teams like the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians, therefore, gained their names during an era of language that is no longer appropriate today.

After giving this topic some thought, George said, “Does it make it right, necessarily? No, I don’t think it makes it right. Is it a form of genocide? We as humans take things from the past, and there’s this sense that we’re making fun of something that’s extinct.”

“It’s tough, though,” he added, “because there’s so many arguments. It’s not right, though. Everybody has a tolerance for pain. If you find words painful, you can’t help that sometimes. Is that a form of cultural extinction? Is that what we’re doing to people?”

Since we had begun discussing baseball more than any other sport, I decided to ask George how he felt about the efforts to change the offensive names and mascots like the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo. A recent Twitter movement has sprung up under the hashtag “#DeChief,” encouraging people to remove the Indians’ logo from their hats, jerseys, and other sports gear. Some fans are now starting to attend games wearing their “dechiefed” gear, while others protest that anyone who doesn’t like the mascot should root for another team.

“They’re trying to go with the ‘C’ more than the chief logo,” George said. “There’s this identity with that. It’s tough. It’s definitely a tough gray area. You feel differently about it every day. There’s tradition, and there’s offending people.”

One of the TVs above the bar had started playing a baseball game, the Cleveland Indians vs the Cincinnati Reds. We discussed the game for a time. Then, just before I left, George said, “Here’s my best advice: Don’t get involved in sports. Too many wasted emotions. It’s fun, though. You have to compete with somebody. Some people take solace in being able to compete with themselves. ‘Can I do this, can I do that.’ But baseball is head to head. There’s somebody else that is going to lose.”

After the interview was over, I had some time to reflect on it and to consider what I learned. I definitely felt that George and I had a good discussion, and he revealed a lot about the nature of sports and identity. I was also pleasantly surprised about how smooth the discussion went, even when we touched on sensitive topics. This was good, since as I discussed in my pre-interview post, I was hoping for an open flow of communication that would help both George and myself to discuss and learn as we went along. George’s introspective questions about the morality of the situation and about cultural extinction led me to believe he was considering ideas he hadn’t considered before, and I certainly know that I was.

Of course, one limitation of this interview was that George is a Philadelphia fan, rather than a fan of the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians. If possible, I may try to seek out a fan of one of those teams in order to learn what they have to say about these debates. Though George did tell me that if the name and mascot of one of his Philly teams were to be changed, he would probably find that upsetting. When I consider everything George said about a sports team being a part of a city’s identity, and how the team works to connect with the culture of the people who live in their area, it makes sense that people would take it personally. The challenge, then, is to address the need for change while still keeping in mind the emotional impact it will have on fans who see their sports team as a part of their identity. From what I’ve seen in many of the online debates I’ve witnessed, many sports fans react harshly, which makes it difficult to have a discussion about the need for change. In fact, a study that I read (Fandom and Psychological Enhancement: Effects of Sport Team Identification and Imagined Interaction on Self-Esteem and Management of Social Behaviors, Keaton, et al, 2014) stated that “When identity or ego becomes threatened (such as after a loss) much research finds that aggressive behaviors occur because highly favorable views of the self are disputed by others” (p. 4). If fans strongly identify with their sports team, and that sports team’s identity is disputed by others, it makes sense that fans would end up taking it personally.

I plan to keep these ideas in mind in my future interviews. I have several others planned this week, and I’m hoping that they will also go smoothly. My conversation with George went well largely due to the rapport we built up early on and how comfortable we became with the discussion. I think it also helped that I was able to share my own experiences with him, such as when I discussed my recent trip to the Flyers game. It helped us to establish a connection and it helped fuel the conversation that followed. With any luck I’ll be able to establish similar connections with the others I interview.

Interview Schedule

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m working on a series of interviews to learn more about the topics of sports culture and Native American culture. Some of these interviews will be conducted in person, and some will be online. I’ve also scheduled a guided tour with an expert in anthropology, and I have leads out for a second such guide (who I am waiting for a response from).

This post is a schedule of the interviews (most of which are already set dates, except for the one last one I’m awaiting a response from, and one that was delayed and needs to be rescheduled). There should be blog posts coming with each of these interviews, most likely either the same day or the day after the interview takes place.

In-Person Interviews:

1. My first in-person interview was conducted today, since the person I was interviewing was available right away. I was able to get the chance to speak with him before I had even heard back from several of my other leads. The person I interviewed was a man named George, who is a bartender at Chili’s in Cherry Hill, NJ, and also an avid sports fan. I’ve already posted my pre-interview thoughts, and the interview results should be posted by tomorrow. We met in-person at Chili’s during the afternoon and engaged in a fascinating and insightful discussion about the role sports play in people’s lives.

2. My second in-person interview is scheduled for this Thursday, March 27th, at 2:00 pm. I’ll be speaking with a man named Brian, who I was introduced to through a friend of mine. Brian is a major sports fan with a great deal of knowledge about sports history, statistics, and so on. We’ll be meeting in a Starbucks in Cherry Hill, NJ, a location chosen simply because it should be a quiet environment that will be conducive to a good conversation. Posts related to that interview should go up on Thursday.

Online Interviews

1. My first online interview will be with Alexander Pierce, a friend from Twitter. He volunteered to help due to his strong interest in sports. Due to both of our busy schedules this past weekend, we haven’t yet set a time for the interview, but a post will go live on the blog as soon as the date is set. The interview will be conducted on Twitter, so it will be viewable live to anyone interested in following along (or participating!).

2. My second online interview will be with Jacqueline Keeler, an online activist who has been working to spread awareness of several issues related to Native American struggles. She has her own blog on which she posts a variety of articles discussing recent news and explaining movements like the #NotYourMascot Twitter hashtag. She can also be seen regularly tweeting on the #NotYourTigerLily hashtag, which is in protest of the upcoming Peter Pan movie remake that cast Non-Native actress Rooney Mara in the role of the character Tiger Lily. This has drawn recent debate based both on the exclusion of Native American actors and actresses from the production and on the stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans seen in many films, such as the original Disney version of Peter Pan. I’ll be discussing these issues with Ms. Keeler  in order to learn about her unique voice and perspective (date and time still being decided upon).

Guides

1. This Wednesday, March 26th, I have an appointment with Maria Rosado, Professor of Anthropology at Rowan University. I contacted her regarding the Rowan University Museum of Anthropology, which I took interest in following my previous experiences at the Penn Museum’s Native American Voices exhibit. My experiences at the museum were interesting, but I was lacking in an expert guide to explain what I was seeing in more detail. Professor Rosado has agreed to give me a tour of Rowan’s museum and explain the significance of the artifacts they have on display. My hope is that learning to see these cultural artifacts “through an expert’s eyes” will give me a better perspective on the issues I’m researching. A blog post regarding my experiences should go up Wednesday night.

2. I also have contacts out with other experts in the field of cultural anthropology, and will be scheduling another guided experience as soon as I hear back with final confirmation from them.

Telephone

Finally, I have a telephone interview scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, March 25th, with Reverend John Norwood of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribe, headquartered in Bridgeton, NJ. In my discussions with him, I hope to gain some insight into the tribe’s perspectives and learn how these issues have impacted them. A blog post regarding the telephone interview should go up on Tuesday.

That should cover it. I may post an update later if I get responses from some of the others I contacted regarding interviews, though I’m uncertain at this time if there will be any more than those listed here.

Sports Culture Interview, Pre-Interview Prep

As part of my ongoing research into sports culture and Native American culture, I’m conducting a series of interviews. Some will be in person, others online. The first in-person interview I’m conducting will be taking place later today.

The individual I’ll be interviewing is a man named George, who is a friend of a friend. He was recommended to me by a friend who is a manager at Chili’s. As manager of a grill & bar restaurant, my friend meets lots of people who come to Chili’s to eat, drink, and socialize. Like many other grill & bar establishments, Chili’s usually has TVs hanging throughout the bar area, making it a welcoming place for sports fans. As a result, the environment is a prime one for finding sports fans gathered together as part of a fan-based community. People there watch various sporting events on TV, discuss the games, and share their opinions and experiences. Thus my friend meets a lot of sports fans, and he was able to help me find some that would be interested in speaking with me.

The book PostModern Interviewing suggests that interviews should be conducted on equal grounds to keep an open flow of communication. Rather than seeing the interview as a way for the interviewer to probe the interviewee for information, we will instead be constructing the information together. While I’ll be guiding the interview to a degree, my goal is to let George discuss whatever topics he finds most interesting. In this way the interviewee will be “a productive source of knowledge” (p. 74). What this basically means is that the interview itself will be “producing knowledge.” We may end up discovering new ideas and concepts that neither of us had considered before. For example, earlier in my research I discovered that many people consider sports to be an integral part of their family dynamics. If this sort of subject comes up during the discussion today, then it’s possible both George and myself will learn something, through introspection and exploration, that we didn’t previously know about the relationship between family and sports.

The interview will take place at Chili’s, since it provides a natural environment for discussing sports culture. My hope is that if there are any games on during the interview, I may even be able to ask George’s opinions about them. Alternatively I could also learn about things like what the added appeal is to watching a sports game at a restaurant instead of in the privacy of one’s home. I suspect that there are social variables that might draw someone to become part of a group by joining in a public activity like this.

I don’t expect what I learn from George to be all-inclusive, since there is no absolute truth or perspective that will apply to all individuals. Postmodern Interviewing states that “we cannot assume that we get to the truth of the phenomenon talked about in interviews,” but that we “can make more or less valid . . . claims and interpretations about the interview text” (p. 238). What I take this to mean is that when I later analyze the interview experience, I should be able to come up with interpretations about the nature of sports culture and use the quotes from the interview to back up my claims.

I’ll be writing a followup post later, after the interview, in which I’ll share the specific subjects that we discussed and try to interpret what George’s answers mean about the nature of sports culture. I’ll also be welcoming comments in order to find out if others agree or disagree with the views expressed in the interview. That will add an additional dimension to the interview by bringing in more voices to the discussion.

Ethnographic Hockey, Part 3: Top Ten Body Slams, Noisemakers, and Cross-Cultural Fan Bases

This is Part 3 of my series of posts detailing my ethnographic study of the March 18th, 2014 Flyers vs Blackhawks game in Philadelphia, PA. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

I rode up the escalator to the second level. My seats were another floor up, but I lingered for awhile on this level in order to get my first look at the arena itself.

I walked through a short corridor to get to the interior. The outside was a wide hall lined with shops and food stands that reminded me of a shopping mall, but the inside was something else entirely. The first thing I became aware of was the lights The entire stadium was lined with flashing lights and advertisements. I couldn’t look anywhere without seeing electronic screens that were all synced up to display cycling ads and light displays. At the center of it all was the JumboTron, a massive multi-screen stalactite that hung down from the ceiling in the center, right over the rink. It simultaneously showed live videos, advertisements, and listings of sports statistics. The image displayed on the biggest screen shifted continuously throughout the night, but when I first saw it, it was playing a “Top Ten” replay of hockey players body slamming into each other.

“He’s number one,” a stadium attendant said to me. She had dark, wavy hair and wore a black jacket with the words “EVENT STAFF” written across the back.

I looked up at the screen, expecting to see the “number one” scorer or defender displayed on the screen. Instead I saw Flyers #36, Zac Rinaldo, who as of this writing is the Flyer with the most Penalty Minutes on the team for the 2013-2014 season (His 124 minutes spent in the penalty box is more than the combined minutes of all 10 of the “least time in the box” players combined). He is “known by his teammates as the heat seeking missile for his violent hockey hits” and is known as “Rhino Rinaldo.” The “number one body-slammer” has a two-year, $1.5 million contract.

The stadium attendant was busy watching Rinaldo slamming into another player in a video clip from a previous game. I looked around, and noticed something unexpected: a large net was strung from either end of the rink, above and behind the goals. It stretching easily fifty feet high. I asked the attendant if it was there to block pucks and whether they could actually go that high.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “They only put it up in the last ten years. Before that, people were getting slammed.”

Hockey puck injuries can be quite severe, even fatal. A study reported by ABC News said that on average, three or four people are struck by pucks in every NHL hockey game, and of those, one will need stitches or some other kind of major medical help. The pucks can fly at over 100 miles per hour, and there has been one reported fatality. Brittanie Cecil, a thirteen year old girl from West Alexandria, Ohio, was killed by a stray puck during a game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Calgary Flames on March 16, 2002. Brittanie’s death led to the NHL implementing regulations requiring the nets I saw at either end of the rink in the Wells Fargo Center.

The stadium attendant turned away to greet an elderly man who seemed to be a regular spectator. “Welcome back,” she said. They chatted for a moment, and the man asked the attendant about the foldable poster board he had received when he entered the stadium.

“Oh, you can do this,” she told him. She held up the poster and shook it in front of her, though I had no idea why I had been given a poster I could shake at people. “Or you can do this,” she added. Then she folded it up and slapped it repeatedly against her palm.

To use the device, you hold it in one hand, then slap it rhythmically against the opposite palm.
To use the device, you hold it in one hand, then slap it rhythmically against the opposite palm.

The foldable poster, it turned out, was a noisemaker. When I heard the sound, I became aware of it coming from other parts of the stadium. People throughout the stands were slapping the noisemakers against their palms in a clapping rhythm.

I made a mental note of the object’s proper function, then turned back to my examination of the arena while the stadium attendant ask some more spectators if they needed help finding their seats. I looked up, and found another set of decorations lining the ceiling. There were several rows of banners, some in the orange, white, and black of the Flyers, others in the red, white, and blue of the 76ers. They marked various championships and the names and numbers of several different retired players: #16 Bobby Clarke, #7 Bill Barber, #2 Mark Howe, #1 Bernie Parent, and #4 Barry Ashbee. Each of these players, I discovered, had their numbers “retired” (meaning no future Flyer will wear the same number), and were awarded multiple honors such as “Most Valuable Player” or induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. There were more than fifty banners in all, marking quite a few accomplishments for the Philadelphia teams, from important players to championship wins.

I exited back out into the hall that circled around the stadium. There was still some time left before the game started. I watched a few more of the fans passing by. I still mostly saw people wearing orange and black, with only the occasional Blackhawks jersey in sight. Then I spotted a man who seemed to represent a “cross-cultural” fan base. He was wearing a red Philadelphia Phillies jacket, but had on a Blackhawks hat. This was the first sign I’d seen that not all of the fans in attendance would be dedicated to a certain city.

Most of the fans I saw were stopping to buy food and drinks before the game started. I headed to one of the food stands as well, and bought a $4.25 bottle of Aquafina water. Instead of simply handing me the bottle, the cashier opened it, poured it into a clear plastic cup, put a lid on it, then handed me the cup and threw out the bottle.

I watched the rest of the fans passing by while I drank my bottle of water from a cup. I spotted a few more cross-cultural fan interactions. One man in a Blackhawks jersey mingled with two men wearing Flyers jerseys. They seemed to be friends, and I saw no sign of cross-team animosity. Then, after passing by another raffle, this one for an autographed “#40 Lecavalier” Flyers jersey, I came across another individual wearing a mixture of gear. She had a pink Philadelphia Phillies baseball cap with a Blackhawks jersey. Since she was the second person I saw wearing the trappings of two different affiliations, I decided to approach her and learn more.

“You like the Phillies and the Blackhawks?” I asked.

She smiled and nodded. “Yes,” she said.

I told her, “I always root for the home team.”

She pointed to her Blackhawks jersey and said, “This is my husband’s home team.”

I nodded. “So, you have a mix of fan bases,” I said.

She laughed and nodded. “I’m also a Green Bay Packers fan,” she said. “So figure that one out.”

I left with a definite curiosity about what would strive someone to have such a wide spread of teams that they supported. I had observed earlier, as noted in my first post in this series, that there seemed to be a lot of connections between the local Philadelphia team and several historical, national, and patriotic symbols. That connection seemed like it might relate to the extreme display of team support demonstrated by the man with the autographed jersey that I described in the second post. But the idea of one individual being a fan of teams from three different regions seemed to clash with that. While it seemed that cross-cultural fans were a rarity among the spectators I observed, it still seemed clear that there had to be more at work here than the sense of national identity that connected fans to their teams. I kept this in mind as I continued my observations.

It was 30 minutes to game time, and I didn’t want to be late getting to my seat. I headed for Section 222 to prepare for the next stage of my research.

This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 4: The Dietz & Watson and Horizon Services Zambonis.

Ethnographic Hockey, Part 2: Autographed Jerseys and Buy One Get One Hats

This is Part 2 of my series of posts detailing my ethnographic study of the March 18th, 2014 Flyers vs Blackhawks game in Philadelphia, PA. You can find Part 1 here.

I entered the stadium, feeling a bit lost. I looked around for some indication of where I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do. There were stadium employees everywhere, and it took me a moment before I located one who was standing at a turnstile, waiting to scan my ticket. I handed it to him, and he scanned it with a handheld scanner, then told me, “Enjoy the game.”

“Thank you,” I said, somewhat distracted as I looked up at the towering ceilings that stretched four stories above me. I pushed my way through the turnstile and stood there for a moment, wondering where I should go first. I had arrived an hour and a half early in order to have plenty of time to study the lay of the land, but I didn’t know where to begin.

While I was trying to decide, an employee stepped up to me and handed me a strange piece of paraphernalia. It was a foldable poster board with a PECO logo and pictures of the Flyers team members on it. I accepted it and said, “Thank you,” while wondering what I was supposed to do with it.

I'm not sure what #ClutchTime means and I have no idea who those players are.
I’m not sure what #ClutchTime means and I have no idea who those players are.
CuidadodeSalud.gov for the Spanish-speaking Hockey fans in attendance.
CuidadodeSalud.gov for the Spanish-speaking Hockey fans in attendance.

Before I could take two steps, I was handed something else: a Healthcare.gov information packet. I didn’t really understand why I was being handed healthcare information at a hockey game, but the words “Exercise is great for your health” greeted me from the front of the packet. I figured that someone had decided it made sense to advertise exercise health at a sporting event, which made sense to me.

I moved out of the way of the other spectators entering the stadium and found someplace where I could just stand and watch for a time. There were posters and balloons hanging all around, most of them in orange, white, and black in honor of the Flyers. There were also advertisements all around. Toyota ads were most predominant on the ground floor, and there was a red car on display, much like one might see down at the mall parked in one of the interior courtyards. In addition to the ads, I saw a variety of art themed around sports. Hanging above my head was a sort of chandelier from which hung several different pictures. Each one showed a silhouette of a sports player, their body made out of a different substance: a hockey player made out of flames, a figure skater made out of trees, and a ballet dancer made out of a cloudy sky.

Around me were employees dressed in orange and black. The colors of their uniforms blended in with the colors of the fans’ jerseys until I almost couldn’t tell the difference between the people who worked here and the people who were here for fun. They seemed like a unified group, all here for the same purpose.

Though the employees made their presence known through various gestures. Across from me, an elderly man stood in a booth and shouted, “PROGRAMS! Programs here! Gift books and programs!” I briefly considered buying a program, but I contented myself with my as-yet-unidentified piece of foldable poster board.

Another man, wearing a yellow and blue polo shirt with “Sundance Vacations” printed on the left side of his chest, approached me and handed me a small pad of paper. He explained that if I filled it out, I could have the chance to win four free tickets to a future game. I filled in my name, phone number, and email address, while noticing that most of the fans passing by ignored the man’s advances and declined to fill out the form.

“Good luck,” he told me after I handed him back my entrant form. I expected I would soon be receiving email advertisements from Sundance Vacations, and that I would not be the winner of the four free tickets.

Chances to be a winner, however, would continue to present themselves before me. Before I’d gone much further into the stadium, I encountered another employee selling 50/50 charity raffle tickets. I’d seen such raffles before at various craft fairs and other events; the money from the ticket sales is pooled together, and when a ticket is drawn, the winner gets half of the money raised, with the other half going to charity. It turns out that Comcast and the Flyers run a number of different charity events, and the 50/50 raffle is an event at every game. Thus, people attending sports games on a regular basis can become more than just fans; they can be good Samaritans contributing to worthy causes that benefit their communities.

The 50/50 raffle was at over $7000 when I passed by, but I decided not to buy a ticket.

I passed by a couple of men talking with two young girls dressed in tank tops and short shorts, who I took to be cheerleaders. The girls greeted a number of people as they passed, and posed for pictures. They were positioned near the escalators that led to the upper levels, so most of the fans heading that way passed the girls and were greeted. In between, the girls chatted and made small talk, though they were ready to pose for another picture again the next time someone approached them.

Past the cheerleaders, I saw a stand selling Flyers clothes and hats. I decided to buy a hat and show off my team affiliation, along with the rest of the fans. While I’m not a sports person and I’d never been to a hockey game before, I’m a Philly fan by virtue of conditioning. The area I live in is in South Jersey, but is considered to be in the suburbs of Philly. When I tell people from other parts of the country that I root for the Philly teams, they ask me why I don’t root for the Jersey teams. They don’t seem to realize that the New Jersey Devils hockey team is based on Newark, which is an hour and a half from where I live, and much closer to New York. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is about ten minutes from where I live, and a lot of people in my part of New Jersey drive over the Walt Whitman Bridge into Philadelphia five days a week during their daily commutes.

There were at least twenty different styles of hat on display. I eventually settled on an orange cap with the Flyers logo on the front. When I told the cashier what I wanted, he told me that hats were “Buy one get one for $1” today.

I was pleasantly surprised, and while I had no real need for a second hat when I was at the game alone, the deal was too good to pass up. So I picked out a second hat, with a plaid design. I wore the orange one for the rest of the game, and I was given a plastic bag with the Aramark logo on it to carry the other. I added my foldable PECO poster board and my Healthcare.gov information packet to the Aramark bag, and continued on my way.

I bought this hat for $25.
I bought this hat for $25.
And I got this one for $1.
And I got this one for $1.

Adorned with my new hat, I continued on my explorations. I saw more pieces of art, including a bronze statue of a man dunking a basketball. He seemed to be wreathed in flames as he made his shot. There were also a large number of fans getting food before the game. The inside of the stadium was lined with a large number of food stands, much like the food court at the mall. Hot dogs, pizza, french fries, and soft pretzels seemed to be the most common selections, along with Philly Cheesesteaks. You can’t have an event in Philly without cheesesteaks, and that’s all there is to it. And don’t start with me about the steak sandwiches they sell in other states that they try to pass off as “cheesesteaks.” Trust me when I say that if you live west of Ohio, you wouldn’t know a good cheesesteak if it bit you on the nose.

I stopped studying the environment and started looking at the people. Most were traveling in small groups of 2-4 people, many of them parents with young children. Usually the people walking together were wearing the same team colors, and usually those colors were orange and black. I only saw about one Blackhawks jersey for every twenty or thirty Flyers jerseys, and it was rare to see any cross-fandom groups. I passed by a group of people all in Flyers jerseys, then another group all in Blackhawks jerseys. When I finally spotted a pair of men walking together, one a Flyers fan and the other a Blackhawks fan, it was noticeable just because of how rare it seemed to be.

Most of the fans I saw were otherwise dressed normally, wearing jeans, sweatshirts, or light jackets in addition to their team gear. One man, however, immediately stood out to me. He was a large man wearing a bright orange jersey, and in addition his face was painted orange with black stripes across the cheeks. His hair was heavily hairsprayed into a spikey mohawk and dyed orange, white, and black. On either side of his head, the Flyers logo was drawn into the hair dye. His jersey was also autographed; at least ten different signatures lined the chest, back, and shoulders.

The mohawked man was in the company of a short, skinny, older woman who I guessed was his mother. After they stopped at one of the food stands and bought some hot dogs, I approached the man, eager to learn more about him.

“Are those autographs from the team on your shirt?” I asked him. Since it was a Flyers jersey, I assumed the signatures would be from Flyers players.

“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “It’s from various years.” At a second glance I noticed that some of the signatures were older and faded. The man had likely been wearing the jersey to many games over the years.

“Oh,” I replied, “so you keep having people add to it?”

“Yup,” he said.

“That’s awesome,” I told him. I was impressed. The addition of multiple autographs over various years told me that this man had been to a lot of games.

“Thank you,” he said. Then he turned back to the ketchup and relish station, and I continued on my way, wondering at the meaning of this man’s autographed jersey and its role in his culture.

This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 3: Top Ten Body Slams, Noisemakers, and Cross-Cultural Fan Bases.