Pulse: Sports: Hitting The Fan

During the Eagles’ national television debut this season, Monday Night Football’s Tony Kornheiser grilled Charles Barkley about how tough it was to play sports in Philadelphia. Days later, ESPN’s Stuart Scott introduced Phillies highlights with a crack about tossing snowballs at Santa Claus. Then the Washington Post mentioned Santa and booing the Easter Bunny in an Eagles blurb. With the Birds hosting the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football this month, a message to the national media bears repeating: Give us a break, already.

As is sometimes the case in broadcast journalism these days, a good story doesn’t trouble itself with facts. No one booed the Easter Bunny; it’s a Bob Uecker joke that’s taken on a life of its own. Santa Claus? Sure, we pelted him. But what you never hear is that the Saint Nick in question was a scrawny fill-in who quite possibly was drunk. And it happened 39 years ago. While we’ve authored some admittedly embarrassing chapters — cheering as Michael Irvin lay motionless at the Vet comes to mind — it’s passion, not geography, that leads to line-crossing behavior. Jets fans cheered this season when their struggling quarterback hobbled off the field, and Cleveland Browns fans threw bottles during a tough loss. And who can forget the Chicago Cubs faithful who threatened to kill grabby fan Steve Bartman? “The perception of Philadelphia fans couldn’t be more wrong,” says NFL Films sage Ray Didinger. “Mitch Williams, who threw the pitch of the apocalypse, is now a beloved Phillies analyst. That speaks volumes. Bill Buckner isn’t doing talk radio in Boston.”

So why has Santa become the new Rocky? Kornheiser says perhaps we’re asking for it. “The question is whether or not Philadelphia fans embrace it and want it to be true because it separates them from everybody else,” he says. “Boston embraces angst. Chicago embraces despair. Philadelphians embrace the notion that they’re tough critics.” Maybe. It’s still no excuse for the media to recycle the same clichés, regardless of their context or veracity. Here’s hoping that when John Madden and crew visit the Linc on November 4th, they’ll check their facts — and stick to story lines between the lines.