You want to know why some Chiefs fans cheered Cassel’s injury and prompted a mega-rant by Chiefs right tackle Eric Winston on Sunday?
Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star wrote about the disconnect Chiefs fans and the organization suffer. Basically, he wrote, the relationship between the fans and the team is broken. And, just like most messy divorces, it’s both parties’ faults. “Fans need to be better than to cheer an injury. The organization they pour money and passion into needs to be better than to let this much frustration build, too.”
Ross Tucker, a former NFL player and writer about the sport he used to play, took it a step further. It’s not just the Chiefs organization that’s experiencing a disconnect, it’s the whole sport. He cites video games and fantasy football as reasons why fans no longer relate to the players they support on the field. “Like video games, fantasy football has been a huge boon for the business of the NFL and, in turn, NFL players. Like video games, however, fantasy football has contributed to the propensity of fans who think of and thus treat NFL players like commodities. If you draft and trade and drop players on your fantasy team enough you really do begin to think of them in that way. Ultimately they just become numbers whether that is the jersey they wear or the statistics they generate. The human element is gone.”
While I tend to side with the correlation doesn’t imply causation crowd, Tucker makes a good point. The human element is, unfortunately, increasingly absent in the game of football.
In high school football, you know everyone who is playing. Whether you are currently attending or if you’re just a proud alum coming to support the team, you usually have a connection to some if not all the players. In college, it’s the same way. You could be attending class with the star quarterback; you could be playing a pick-up basketball game with a future NFL wide receiver. Even after graduation, these memories drive the fandom that follows, and helps your deeply rooted loyalties remain for life.
But when those players start making money, they then are swept into the world of professional sports, where fans are usually just spectators. Besides an occasional trip to training camp, a happenstance sighting at the mall, or a scheduled autograph signing, fans have little to no interaction with the players. That’s where Tucker’s point on the human element being gone comes in. If there is no human element, then these players are little more than statistics and a means of winning or losing games.
This isn’t the players’ fault, however. This is how professional sports operate. You can’t blame an athlete if he doesn’t live in your city during the off season; he’s most likely not from your part of the country anyway. You can’t blame an athlete for not being more accessible or open to the public: imagine if your life was surrounded by people who either wanted to sing your praises or curse your presence.
Now, some players, and owners, interact with fans via Twitter. And while I believe this is a great way for fans to become closer to the players and organization, some teams put restrictions on what their players tweet, even encouraging them to delete their accounts all together. Say what you want about Jim Irsay and his propensity at tweeting, he is connecting with the fans of his team in almost a modern version of what Lamar Hunt used to do for the Chiefs fan-base. Just with more technology.
So take the disconnect I was talking about earlier, and multiply it by 10, and you will get what happened Sunday at Arrowhead. The secrecy, the perceived ego, the stories you hear from within the organization of iron fist rule and alleged wiretapping do nothing but tear down the once unbreakable bridge that linked Kansas City with their most beloved sports team. Sure, Scott Pioli opened up in the book War Room and let readers into his world, but a few chapters of insight doesn’t help heal the wound when the team is losing, and losing in ways that Adele couldn’t even describe.
While I believe winning is the only cure for the current symptoms, long-term is still in question. It might be too late for Pioli to ever garner the goodwill of the city, but it’s not too late for Clark Hunt. If he wants to avoid another national story, he needs to open his organization up to the fans. And I have one suggestion that could help.
Do a Hard Knocks-esque show. Not Hard Knocks, but one almost identical in purpose. Make it a half hour or an hour and show it online or on local television. Open the door to the organization so the fans can better see it. Mitch Holthus is great for a show and training camp episode every week, but I want to see and hear from the players. Mic them up during rookie camp, OTAs, training camp, preseason, regular season. Cut and edit it where the fans see the players, see the raw emotion, the humor, and the characters that make up their franchise. 65 TPT, the Chiefs in-house production, has to have the capacity to pull this off. Get Paul Rudd to narrate it again like he did during the Chiefs appearance on Hard Knocks a few years back. Give us more Boomer Grigsbys. Show us more hot wives. Allow fans to get to know the players they own jerseys of. Show the GM talking to the coach. Show undrafted free agents get cut or make the team, just as long as we have people to root for. Mic up everybody! I want in, because I am a fan. Restore that human element and the bridge can be built once more.
Cleaning house can only do so much.
I know it’s a simple idea, and one that the team might not go for, but you can’t deny there would be the market for it. The fans deserve something like this, and if the Chiefs or the NFL in general want to help fix the disconnect that currently is coming to the forefront of our attention, then my suggestion is something to take under advisement.
And the sooner, the better.