In short, the fans are usually holding the short end of the hockey stick, and I'm usually on their side. But not this time.
Unless you live under one of the few remaining glaciers on the planet, you know that before game three of the Penguins' playoff series versus the Ottawa Senators, a cadre of fans -- a minority, but one large enough to be clearly heard even on the non-high-def Fox TV broadcast -- booed the singing of "Oh Canada," by Jeff Jimmerson.
Were they dissatisfied with Jimmerson? Do they harbor inexplicable animus for our friends to the north? Or was it simply a feebleminded attempt to offend the visiting Ottawa hockey club? If so, it worked: It was offensive to every person in ear-shot with half a brain.
By nature, I'm not a booer. I don't boo at any time other than at the introduction of any opposing team. Still, I usually shrug off booing because, like it or not, it's in the grand tradition of sports to boo the enemy. It's part of the gamesmanship.
Just a few days before the preposterous jeering at Mellon Arena, in fact, there was some throaty booing in progress across the river at PNC Park. From the moment Barry Lamar Bonds stuck his gargantuan noggin out of the visitors' dug out, the booing was long, hard and lusty. And why not? Put aside the questions about steroids, or the fact that Bonds is a former Pirate. Last time I checked, Bonds played for the San Francisco Giants. Should we cheer him simply because he's a great player? This isn't the All-Star game. Those who argue that we should cheer Bonds' greatness have forgotten the first rule of sports: You play to win the game.
Anyway, such behavior isn't the sole province of Pittsburgh fans. Red Sox fans regularly boo Johnny Damon when he returns to Fenway after padding his already-burgeoning bank account with a bigger paycheck in New York. New York fans, meanwhile, don't wait for players to leave. They booed Derek Jeter -- Derek Jeter! -- when he got off to a slow start a few years back. They even boo A-Rod on a regular basis, despite his home runs and MVP awards.
Booing isn't even confined to the sports arena. It has long been a tradition among the most effete of the elite: opera-goers. And while people might feel we are becoming a coarser society in the 21st century, a little digging suggests this is not necessarily true. Booing has been around for about as long as we've known how to make the "oo" sound.
According to most classics scholars, it dates back as far as ancient Greece, when playwrights competed to determine whose tragedy was best, and the audience applauded or shouted and whistled accordingly. (Just like American Idol, only more sophisticated.) In ancient Rome, audience reaction determined whether a gladiator lived or died. Perhaps these are the historic antecedents for today's heckler mentality: "I paid good money; I can do what I want."
So why, when sports fans boo all the time, did I care what happened in game three?
Because booing a team is one thing; booing an entire country -- a country whose soldiers are fighting and dying alongside ours in Afghanistan even now -- is something else. (A half-dozen Canadian troops were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan April 8, just one week before the Pens/Senators game.) Not to mention the obvious point that 60 percent of the Pens line-up is Canadian-born ... although those booing fans can't have been expected to perform math equations while expressing their Inner Cartmans.
If you gotta boo, boo smart. And while we're at it, it'd be nice to aim a little higher on the etiquette scale than Yankees fans.