Steve Ott, Boos Brother

Ryan Fulford
April 15, 2013

For those who follow the NHL, Steve Ott falls into one of two categories. He’s either a beloved player or a hated rival.

Checking in at 6’0″, 193 lbs., Ott isn’t the most physically imposing player in the league, but he’s a “shift disturber” extraordinaire, the epitome of a “pest”, and until recently a player I deemed “tough”.

Don’t get me wrong; Ott is a tough customer on the ice. However, for all the virtues he extols while playing the game, including a thick skin considering the amount of chirping he delivers and receives on a game-to-game basis, he’s curiously sensitive when it comes to getting booed.

Apparently Sabres fans booing the team doesn’t sit well with Ott, because it’s “completely ridiculous, to be honest with you”.

Oh, sorry to hear that booing is ridiculous in your opinion Steve, but I missed the memo that stated fans shouldn’t voice their support or disdain for how their beloved team is playing. I think it’s asinine that a professional player complains about getting booed. I suppose it’s okay as a fan to cheer when things are going well, but being a fan must also implicitly entail piping down when things go awry somehow. God forbid a fan open their mouth and criticize when a team looks stagnant and gets outplayed by a mile. Wait I think there’s a term for people like that, oh yeah, “bandwagon hoppers”.

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Ott goes on to state that fans should be cheering the Sabres on in order to motivate them when they aren’t playing well. There certainly is some merit to that, as a well-timed chant can create energy in the building of the home team, which the team can then feed off of.

But on the other hand, getting booed is embarrassing, and so it should serve as all the motivation a player needs to raise their level of play. Getting booed shouldn’t sap a player of their energy; especially a professional hockey player who knows full well it is par for the course when playing in a city as passionate as Buffalo. Players are scrutinized and criticized long before they get to the media circus known as the NHL, so don’t blame the fans for taking the jump out of the team’s step.

Ott’s comments resonate with me because they attack the very notion of what it means to be a fan. As a spectator rather than a player directly involved in the game, there is little I can do to change the outcome besides cheer or boo. And given the pretty penny of tickets to some sporting events, voicing displeasure via booing is akin to talking to a manager about poor customer service. It’s one thing to criticize when fans cross the line by hurling racial vitriol, or when there may be a threat to the safety of family members as Josh Hamilton’s wife and kids recently endured, but not when all they do is boo.

Fans have every right to boo when the team they cheer for puts forth a sub-par effort or a team doesn’t live up to expectations. There are diehard fans that follow a team’s every move, who have endured the ups and downs of the team’s fortunes throughout the years, who have seen players come and go, and they deserve to be heard. There are Sabres fans who have been fans long before Steve Ott rode into town on his high horse, and they’ll be fans long after Ott is gone, so to criticize the fans, the very lifeblood of any and every organization in professional sports is shortsighted, wrong and just plain dumb.

Without fans, sports teams wouldn’t exist. The legion of fans that support the Buffalo Sabres collectively comprise something much bigger than the opinion of Steve Ott, “shift disturber extraordinaire”, “superpest”, and now, whiner.

From an economic standpoint, the very fans that boo simultaneously create the opportunity for Ott to pull on his Sabres jersey before each game. They work to earn a living. In turn they spend their hard-earned dollars on Sabres tickets, merchandise, at concession stands and watch games on television brining in revenue via broadcasting contracts.

They are the hand that feeds Steve Ott, so how dare he bite it. The day the fans don’t care enough to boo is the day fans don’t fill the seats at First Niagara Center. As wealthy as Sabres owner Terry Pegula is, make no mistake, the Sabres would no longer exist if revenue weren’t being generated. That goes for any team in any sport.

The aforementioned scenario isn’t meant to be hyperbole, it’s an example utilized to display what we all know would become a fact if fans ceased to show up to Sabres games. But they won’t stop showing up, because they love their team, unconditionally in many cases. This isn’t a case of unruly fans crossing the line by hurling items on to the ice surface or attacking opposing team’s fans outside the arena. It’s a case of passionate fans yearning for more from the team they love. The team many eat, sleep, breath and live and die with.

If Ott has a problem with that, so be it, but he needs to learn to suck it up. Complaining about it does nothing but make it seem like the on-ice problems are the result of the fans, and not a direct result of the players who comprise the on-ice product. It makes it seem as though accountability for the team’s play can shift from the team to the fans. And worst of all it makes it seem like Ott doesn’t appreciate the fans.

Of course, if Ott was asked about not appreciating the fans he’d tell you he loves the passion they have. Now he just needs to learn to love how they manifest that passion, or you know, keep quiet. Just like he expects the fans to do.

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The Author:

Ryan Fulford