Congratulations, Bengals fans--you've been heard.
In a spectacle that can only be summed up as true Cincinnati sports fandom, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was once again the focus of fan ire this past weekend. This time, the guy wasn't even wearing a Bengals uniform--he was participating in a celebrity softball game as part of MLB All-Star festivities which the Queen City is hosting. Oh, and the embattled Dalton hit two home runs during the game, by the way, as both tidbits of news were reported by local media personalities.
Now, there are a few things to clarify here. First, as was pointed out to me by Cincy Jungle's own Josh Kirkendall, it's important to remember that not all "boo birds" in the crowd were Bengals fans per se. Secondly, the group of "fans" who I'm speaking to is really just a small segment of the overall fan base. Third, some recent reports have the boo birds as just a small batch of the overall crowd in attendance and, lastly, there were a smattering of Dalton cheerleaders as well, so it wasn't all boos.
The fact remains this type of behavior toward Bengals players is slowly becoming a trend--especially with the quarterbacks in this city. First, fans went to war with Carson "Pick-Six" or "Crybaby" Palmer, with some reportedly throwing trash on his lawn after the conclusion of the 2010 season. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back by some perspectives, causing Palmer to quit on the team and usher in the Dalton era.
Remember when the Bengals were projected to finish with the worst record in the NFL in 2011 with Dalton leading the team? He was a rookie second round pick thrown into a bad situation, made even worse by a league lockout. What transpired from there were four straight postseason berths, including one division title, 40 regular season wins and the breaking of two major single-season franchise passing records, previously set by Palmer.
Now, let's be real here: the current Bengals quarterback has shown his warts in his first four seasons. He's streaky, in both the positive and negative, he hasn't played well in primetime or playoff games and many still wonder if he's ever going to be the guy to get the Bengals a deep postseason run. This post isn't about those pieces of information though.
As a paying customer, one has the right to express displeasure with a play, the opposing team, or, if warranted, the home team's performance. Given the penchant of Bengals fans to expect the worst, even in this 40-win, four-year span, fans have exercised that right to boo after buying a ticket to Paul Brown Stadium. Fine--again, not what this post is about.
It's not that item I have so much of an issue with, as the venue of the most recent sign of Dalton disrespect. The issue truly began a year ago at Training Camp, when some folks channeled their inner Palmer-trash-dropping and decided to greet Dalton and grab publicity with a rude sign hung in plain sight. Now, less than a year later, this celebrity softball game was used to further shoot down the Bengals quarterback.
I'm also glossing over the social media aspect of Dalton's life in which he seems to receive at least one Instagram comment per picture akin to "you suck", even if the picture is one of his beautiful family and has nothing to do with football. Classy. In reality, it's a lot more than one mean comment per post.
Regardless of your thoughts about Dalton the football player, every sign we've been given about Dalton the guy is that he is quite likable. Cincinnati rewards its starting quarterback who has dove into multiple community endeavors, including work with the local Children's hospital, by mocking him as a football player.
Inevitably, this is where fans throw the "it comes with the territory" argument out. While it's true to an extent, people forget these celebrities are human with very human emotions. While they have long been taught to grow thicker skin than most of us who hold traditional nine-to-fives, these over-dramatic criticisms could very well easily irk these pro athletes, like some believe happened with Palmer in this same city. While some are probably just paycheck guys and could care less, others still read the articles, watch networks and listen to the talking heads. To that end, boo birds, Twitter tough guys and sign-makers, congratulations. Mission accomplished, right?
Look, fans (short for "fanatic", by the way) have the right to boo or dislike a player's performance on the field--especially when paying for things like DirecTV's Sunday Ticket or a ticket to a game. Trolling a decent guy who is doing his best for his team and the community at an event geared to helping the city after so many other instances of doing the same, crosses the line.
If you're wondering how high the view is from my soapbox, it isn't high at all. I, as a fan for 26 years and coverage guy for the team for five years, have had my share of in-game cynicism and hyper-criticism. Just ask Kirkendall about our Sunday exchanges when posting in-game updates for this site. However, the thought of going after a player with insults over social media or showing up with over-the-top public criticism in a venue outside of his actual profession that embarrasses said player has never crossed my mind, even if it's my right to do so.
Think about this, Bengals fans: for years, "Murphy's Law" has ruled over our beloved Who-Deys since their inception. Could that cynicism that oozes out of a fan base waiting for the other shoe to drop, leak out onto the field with the team's play? We hear so much about "The 12th Man" in Seattle and the players gushing about how it pumps them up to play high-quality football. Could the same be true for the exasperated sighs and boos that emanate down to the PBS turf and effect the players? Maybe, maybe not. They are human, after all.
Am I overreacting to a somewhat-isolated incident? Maybe. And, if so inclined, move on to our next high-quality post--I won't be offended. Still, maybe a different kind of support other than the dollars that so many fans boast about "lining Mike Brown's pockets" could assist the team. Fans often refer to their team as "we" even though they never suit up for said team. Maybe embrace the "we" as the city of Seattle has and get behind "your" team and the players in the way one should.
It couldn't hurt, right?