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Soccer

The Super League Protests Showed American Fans What’s Worth Getting Mad About

Photo by Rob Pinney/Getty Images

Whether or not armies of angry supporters across Europe actually undid or merely helped spark the process that ruined the European Super Bailout, the clear message has been sent to American sports fans: Why, when you could help change the structure of your relationship to your team, are you drinking an entire moose’s head worth of Rumple Minze mimosas and throwing yourself through that picnic table instead?

The great surprise that led the six English clubs to get cold wallets and withdraw from the latest continental Ponzi scheme was the fact that, unlike their brethren and sistren across the ocean, angry fans stopped the home team’s bus before a match (Chelsea), marched outside a training ground and needed to be calmed by the team’s manager and coaching staff (Manchester United) and demanded that fan banners be removed from the team’s stadium (Liverpool) and demanded that owners sell their teams so as not to blight the building any longer (several others). They walked a walk that American fans rarely even talk, because they have assumed an ownership in their teams that Americans have ceded to the team owners.

And this isn’t about being dissatisfied about your team’s losing record. Losing is part of the deal—even losing like some our comrades’ favorite teams do—and storming your team’s practice field because of a loss to the Jaguars is not appropriate. Storming your team’s ground because it loses to the Jaguars and then declares victory because of the divine right of older franchises or some other nonsense is actually necessary.

Now we won’t make you take another walk through the ash heap of the Super League; Comrade Haisley has already marked his territory there in the traditional lifted leg position. But the template is there for the way we can improve the fan experience in America—by marching to the club’s offices and frightening the compost out of the suits. I mean, if you’re a Patriots fan (insert demeaning joke here) and you’ve just found out that your ticket price is being jacked up again, you now know that if you march on their offices with all your relatives in rage, there’s at least an infinitesimal chance that Bill Belichick will come out and talk you off the ledge the way Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did at Man U.

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And what value would you, a cranially dented supporter of Team Voldemort put on getting old Concrete Smiley to take a break from his practice to tell you to calm down and do your job? Especially if you could then retort, “If I had a job, don’t you think I’d be doing it instead of bothering you, you burlap bag of dry ice?”

There are moments when fans should rise up and exceed their traditional roles of ponying up and shutting up, and we just saw one—mutilating the sport for the pleasure of a few. Baseball fans have plenty of provocation just with the dozens of ways the home office has decided to coat the rulebook in bastardy. The NBA has unclogged its nostrils on the playoff format by giving every team a 67 percent chance of making the playoffs instead of the traditional and more aesthetically sensible 53 percent. The NFL went to 17 games with the usual rise in season ticket prices without asking for fan consultation. Not to mention all the effort teams put into immiserating the communities around them in order to get their stadiums publicly financed. These are all things that fans should find objectionable, and by rights should take to the suites to protest.

What is more, the Glazer Boys (Manchester United), John Henry (Liverpool) and Stan Kroenke (Arsenal) just went through the motions of apologizing to their individual constituencies for getting caught being the rapacious invertebrates they are. They may avoid fans as though they were gigantic Komodo dragons, but they have just been chastened by the hoi and the polloi in unison and can go back and tell their fellow greedmops that the worms have turned ugly. The ambulatory wallets they have come to rely upon as a food source have become sentient creatures and need to be acknowledged and feared rather than just milked. If Mark Davis worried about fan backlash, he might have taken a more active role in preventing the “I Can Breathe” tweet that reinforced everything people have said about his haircut as the window to his soul.

This new view of fan empowerment will take awhile to install itself, because American sports fans are a largely comfortable and complacent lot who mostly restrict their voices to fighting for their right to party in parking lots three hours before kickoff. The number of ways they’ve been worked by the people who run the teams they support still think it sufficient protest to hire a plane to fly over a stadium with a streamer that reads “Woody Johnson Is A Wanker,” or in Detroit, “Fire Matt Patricia,” even though he was already fired and the Lions play in a dome. American fans mug in front of a camera in hopes of reaching YouTube, or burn a jersey they paid for and will replace with a new one just because their momentarily favorite player decided to stop playing for the crap team team they follow.

But there are victories out there to be seized, and the ESL disaster was in fact a triumph. It wasn’t a triumph without some cringing, because UEFA and FIFA only represent a different slice of plumber’s pie made of corruption and spit. But Florentino Perez and his fellow debtors who needed the ESL money to save their exoskeletons were actually worse actors in this case, so the fans didn’t need to have long debates about who to back, and who needed a piece of their minds. The fans just went out and did what needed to be done because they believe that teams are theirs more than for the owners, and while they’re probably wrong, they act with a level of conviction their American compatriots do not yet match. They beat down the ESL with pure angry brass, and there’s a lesson in that for all of us.

Specifically, that there’s more to protest than a disappointing draft choice, and more to protesting than a middle finger.