Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jet Division

Much has been made of how the current political climate in this country has strained personal relationships and ended some friendships.  Friends have de-friended friends on Facebook, a woman in Arizona ran over her husband with the family car for voting for the “other guy”, and John McCain won’t take calls from Joe Lieberman anymore.  I think it is fair to say that overheated man-made rhetoric is the cause of this political climate change and left unchecked, the warm atmosphere will destroy the planet.  OK, maybe just Washington, DC.

Unfortunately, the vitriolic environment has spread beyond Washington and the effects of this dangerous hot air are infecting the world of professional sports.  New York Jets’ fans can’t even get along anymore.

In the first of many unintended consequences from the heated political climate, the climate at Jets’ game is now too hot for its most ardent fan. 

Superfan Fireman Ed, the man who led the home crowd with his famous "J-E-T-S!" cheer, has left the building.  After 37 years cheering in vain for the Jets to return to their Super Bowl III glory, Ed Anzalone has hung up his fireman’s helmet and Mark Sanchez jersey, and he will now attend home games in the traditional fan uniform of khaki colored plain front Dockers and winter parka.  Things have gotten too hot for Ed at the stadium.

Anzalone wrote in a guest column for Metro New York that the Tebow-Sanchez quarterback debate in NY, much like the political debate over the resolution of the fiscal cliff issue in DC, has caused the rhetoric to grow too hot.  Climate change is spreading north. 

Fireman Ed explained that, "The stadium has become divided because of the quarterback controversy. The fact that I chose to wear a Mark Sanchez jersey this year, and that fans think I am on the payroll -- which is an outright lie -- have made these confrontations more frequent. Whether it's in the stands, the bathroom or the parking lot, these confrontations are happening on a consistent basis."

He added that "confrontations with other Jets fans have become more common, even though most Jets fans are fantastic."

MetLife Stadium, or Giants Stadium before it, or Shea before it, were always inhospitable places for visiting fans and for those male fans who took too long at the urinal during the halftime break.  The verbal abuse that would rein down upon these individuals would be colorful and specific.  But for the most part, Jet fans were pleasant enough to each other, having shared in the pain of watching Richard Todd try to scramble and Al Groh try to coach.  Fireman Ed should have been a protected species in this ecosystem.  Instead, he became endangered.

As a nation, we have always loved a good argument, from the Continental Congress fights over independence to the Coke vs. Pepsi debates of the 20th century.  Arguing is part of what makes us exceptional (at least in New Jersey).  It does seem that we have crossed a line when the Number One Jets’ fan in America can no longer tolerate the taunts and insults from the Sanchez haters and the Tebow lovers around him.  It is a shame when Fireman Ed must publicly de-friend Jets Nation.

Economics writer Bruce Bartlett, who worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, and held very visible posts at the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, has also felt the need to stop publicly cheering for the team of his youth.  Just as Fireman Ed wore Sanchez on his back as a sign of support, Bartlett expressed his support for ideas not fully embraced by the rest of the conservative fan base and has suffered as a result. 

In The American Conservative, Bartlett writes of his conservative exile:

I’ve paid a heavy price, both personal and financial, for my evolution from comfortably within the Republican Party and conservative movement to a less than comfortable position somewhere on the center-left. Honest to God, I am not a liberal or a Democrat. But these days, they are the only people who will listen to me. When Republicans and conservatives once again start asking my opinion, I will know they are on the road to recovery.

For Fireman Ed’s sake, I hope Mark Sanchez turns it around and people start asking for Ed’s cheers again.  When that day comes, I will know that Jets’ fans are on the road to recovery.  For Bruce Bartlett’s sake, I hope conservatives realize that it is their positions on the issues that need to be revisited, not just their marketing strategies for those positions.

The social climate will remain hot and friendships will be tested by political affiliations and sports team loyalties.  Yankee fans and Red Sox fans will always hate one another, just as liberals and conservatives would be happy without one another.  I have to ask the question however – can’t we all just get along?

Fireman Ed retains his optimism, a prerequisite for becoming a Jets’ fan:

"I have enjoyed my time in chanting the greatest chant in all of sports. I have enjoyed meeting all the wonderful Jets fans around the world and look forward to the day we all can raise the Lombardi Trophy as one and celebrate a world championship down the Canyon of Heroes."

May we all be so optimistic…and friendly.

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