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10:15 am
Fri October 12, 2012

A Fan's Notes: Misplaced Cheers?

When the bad news is about the fans instead of the game, you know things just aren’t right.

Commentator Victor Wishna has more with this month’s installment of “A Fan’s Notes.”

With four losses in five games, there’s no denying the Kansas City Chiefs are, once again, pretty awful. But it is their fans, apparently, who are destroying the fabric of society.

“What is happening in this country?” cried ESPN’s Ron Jaworski, the former NFL quarterback who once played for the Chiefs. “Where’s our compassion? Where’s the civility?”

If you haven’t heard what happened at Arrowhead Sunday or seen any of the dozens of news reports and blog posts that followed, here are the facts of the case: Midway through the fourth quarter, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel dropped back to throw and was flattened under half a ton of Baltimore Ravens pass rushers. He stayed down for several minutes, semi-conscious with a concussion. At the same time, many fans did what it is they do whenever they’re not booing. They cheered.

But what were they cheering for?

It’s no secret that Chiefs fans who want to see Cassel out of the lineup is a growing demographic. Several even pooled their money to fly a banner around the stadium demanding that the NFL’s worst starting quarterback, statistically, be benched.

The pundits pounced, and not just on ESPN. “Shocking” said ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Yeah, seriously—George Stephanopoulos. K.C. fans even suffered the indignity of being lectured to by sports columnists from New York, Boston, and Philadelphia—cities where it is customary to greet opposing players with batteries and potentially lethal ice chunks.

The blanket verdict was based on the damning testimony of one seemingly expert witness. In an articulate post-game rebuke, Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Winston called out the “70,000 people cheering that he got knocked out.”

“This is not the Roman Coliseum,” he said. “It’s sickening.”

I wasn’t at the game on Sunday, but I was watching, with the volume turned up. I’ve even gone back and reviewed the DVR footage, like the security-camera feed from some alleged crime scene.

Cassel’s last play was actually a good one—he got the pass off to tailback Jamaal Charles, who squirmed his way to a first down. That’s where the first cheers seem directed. Almost immediately, backup Brady Quinn rushed out and fans, who had been chanting his name all game, roared again. The loudest cheers and applause came when Cassel was finally able to stand up, and woozily waddle off the field.

Neither the first draft of history—nor the indignant denials that followed—got it right. There was no bloodthirsty crowd that day—Arrowhead is not the Roman Coliseum or even, heaven forbid, the Oakland Coliseum. But something shameful did happen there. The media chatter brought out more witnesses and confessions: fans who admitted that they were cheering for Cassel’s downfall—or would have if they’d been there. Others promised to cheer loudly the day Winston goes down with an injury. It is sickening.

This week, Winston stood by his remarks, while clarifying them, drawing down his estimate of 70,000 to 7,000 or maybe only 700.

Knowing that it’s a few jerks screaming from the relative anonymity of the crowd or the internet doesn’t make it better. Neither do the scores of social psychology studies that show how people act much worse in groups.

Those who may have booed on impulse were so wrong to do so; those in the media, also acting on impulse, were wrong to slander an entire fan base. But in these two wrongs, there is a conversation worth having, and, let’s hope, an opportunity to make things right.

If fans really are a community, than we must take responsibility for the idiots among us and call them out even as we circle the wagons. Even when our team is not much to be proud of, we fans cannot surrender our pride. And what we must do now is send our wishes that Matt Cassel enjoys a full recovery, even if we hope he enjoys it on the bench.

Victor Wishna is a writer, editor, author, and sports fan.  He lives in Leawood.  You can hear “A Fan’s Notes” monthly on Up to Date.

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