A few words about dissent, disagreement and who's a real fan

Litter Box Cats posted a controversial opinion piece last week that drew a lot of ire from the community. The piece itself was highly critical of Dale Tallon's moves in free agency and included a statement in the opening paragraph that many took as a dig at all of the fans who approved of them. The response got a bit ugly with both detractors and defenders of the piece getting nasty with each other. Apart from the public comments, there was some behind-the-scenes discussion as well. I would like to address criticisms from both sides on the piece itself, the fan reaction to it and to my own objections to its tone. I will not further address the scene in the comments except to say that there are community guidelines and commenting guidelines linked on the left sidebar of the main page and everyone is expected to follow them.

The remainder of this post is my own opinion, with which everyone is of course free to disagree in the comments as long as it remains respectful.

I will start by saying that this is an inclusive community and everyone is entitled to express their opinion, whether it be the staff or the remainder of the community. If you don't agree with the point of view expressed in a piece, please hop into the comments and let us know and let us know why you don't agree. If your comment is over 100 words or so, consider writing it up as a Fanpost. This extends to the opinions in the post in question. The author of the post is entitled to his opinion and there is nothing wrong with his making a post stating that opinion.

That said, I don't agree with the piece in question. But, I also don't have a problem with it except for the tone. The tone is what I think pushed people over the edge into expressing anger in the comments. In a discussion, another SB Nation writer thought that this characterisation was wrong and since it was an opinion piece it didn't matter anyway. And perhaps an objective observer would agree.

However, if you're paying attention to the community, you will know that in general people in it react badly to this sort of thing. The Panthers fanbase is constantly ridiculed by Canadian fans, the Canadian media, and both fans and media in the Northeastern US. We read it on the internet in articles and again in the comments. We see it when fans from other teams troll our boards and blogs. We watch it on Hockey Central on Versus and we see it on the various regional sports networks (ok, mostly NESN). We're told that hockey doesn't belong in the "south" or the "sunbelt" or "Florida" or "Miami," take your pick. We're lambasted for following the team when they've been terrible for ten years, we're lambasted for not showing up to the games when the team has been terrible for ten years, even though we all knew it took a lot less time for people to stop showing up to see the Penguins and Sabres when they were terrible.

I was at HSBC Center during the lean years and it wasn't any better a sight than than Panthers home games the last couple of seasons. It was pretty empty for a marquee game against the Red Wings, with fewer than the announced attendance, with a large portion of the fans in the building being Wings fans from Windsor. Pittsburgh was at the bottom of the league in attendance before they drafted Sidney Crosby and Chicago was down there for a while as well. And yet we're the ones who are continually slagged for poor attendance because we're "too far south" for hockey.

People here are tired of it and they don't want to see what they consider a negative or attack article on a Panthers site, in their space, as it were. Looked at objectively, the statement "to put it bluntly the 2011 off-season can best be described as, the same (expletive), different pile--and we're applauding," may not be taken to be inflammatory and the writer, a few commenters and said SBNation writer didn't think it was. However, a large segment of our community takes that as a personal attack and the same garbage they regularly see from the northern media. It's what they come to our site to escape.

What that means is not that we can't, don't or won't print articles that criticize management. I've certainly done that on many occasions. But what it does mean is that some care should be taken when those kinds of articles are posted to make the point in a way that doesn't immediately set people off. And if you're going to start out with a sentence like the above in your introduction, it doesn't matter what points you make in the article, you've already made it personal.

I realize that ultimately this is a difference of opinion, but the site is about the community and catering to their needs. Note that I didn't say pander. But sensitive topics need to be dealt with in a sensitive manner. People are on edge because they feel constantly attacked, both for living in Florida in the first place and for being Panthers fans. I know there's a feeling in the SBN community that hockey fans in Florida are a bit thin-skinned but we live in a place where housing is unaffordable, food is expensive, everything is a far drive away and is overrun with tourists 9 months of the year (12 in Orlando). And then a bunch of people in Canada and other parts of the US want to begrudge us our NHL hockey. That doesn't sit well and leads to some serious tribalism.

I was asked if I believe in feeding this culture, and I don't. But I do believe in wording things carefully to elicit an intellectual rather than an emotional response if I feel the topic at hand is one that might upset people. I think that a playoff or two will help most of us stop caring what other people say, but right now the group as a whole is a bit sensitive and I think it's good to avoid any trolling, as unintentional as some of it may be.

As for the victim culture itself to which I alluded, I don't particularly care for it or the tribalism. As far as I'm concerned we're all fans of the greatest sport on the planet and we should be able to at least get along, but I'm constantly disappointed by fans of all teams.

I'll say one more thing and then leave it be. I'm not the kind of person that thinks that people who don't go to the games or live where the team is to be any less of a fan. Hell, I was a Flyers fan who grew up in New York. I was born in Rangers territory and grew up in Sabres territory, but was a Flyers fan. We all have our reasons for following a team, and it's not always geography. However, if you haven't sat in the BankAtlantic Center for one of the heartbreaking New Year's Eve "home" games against the Canadiens, then you can not truly understand where Panthers fans are coming from and why, as a group, we're defensive and thin-skinned. However, this does not mean that someone who doesn't hold season tickets or live in South Florida or who disagrees with you about the team's direction is any less of a fan.

A few comments were made in the thread that "only in Florida" would a negative article be posted about the home team on a site about them. I can say from experience that the poster has probably not spent much time around Flyers fans. I've been watching Flyers fans rip management a new one on the internet since about 2001. I was in the building when the Panthers shellacked the Flyers 5-0 in Philly right before Christmas last year. All I heard around me the whole game was a bunch of guys going on about how the team must have had their Christmas party a day early.

I also know a lot of Panthers fans who criticized the entire Jacques Martin administration and even Alan Cohen's entire ownership of the team. I am, in fact, one of those people. But for all the people who agreed with me that it was a huge mistake not to trade Jay Bouwmeester, there were some who thought they were right not to. And similarly, there are Panthers fans who are less than enamored with Tallon's moves this summer. I say, that's why they play the games. We'll find out when the season starts. It's a game, it's supposed to be fun. Right now a lot of people in South Florida are really excited about the Panthers for the first time in a long time. There are also a lot of people who want the team to fail. The challenge is for us to not confuse those people with ones who want the team to succeed but don't think management is making the right choices.

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