Fan culture suffers from the ambivalence of cowards

Reading through Noah Davis’s piece on the American Outlaws was as disheartening as it was enlightening. The group exhibits the same behavior as most others of its kind, coupling it with the same dismissals of its worst elements.

Take for instance the response by President Korey Donahoo about combatting racism. He points to the AO’s code of conduct which reads:

“Racism, discrimination, sexism, and disrespect towards fellow fans or fans of other teams have no place in AO. How you conduct yourself in and outside the stadium, at your chapter bars, and online, in your words and actions reflect on all of us.”

Note that last clause states that the actions and words of the members reflect on the entirety of the group. This is important, because the code goes on to spew this contradictory bile: “the actions of a select few (even as they do not represent the entire group) make us all look bad.”

How can, on one hand, actions reflect the whole if, on the other hand, actions of a select few do not represent the group? More so, why are actions only reprehensible when they make the group look bad rather than for the simple fact that things like racism and sexism are just deplorable? You can’t have your cake and eat it too, sorry.

These aren’t growing pains, as the author points out. That’s too lenient. The Outlaws and their excuses are just a symptom of soccer culture. The handholding is entirely too much.

There’s no difference between this and the excuses made recently by Chelsea and its fans. As a small recap: there was a recent video of a group of Chelsea fans on a subway in Paris refusing to allow a black man on, singing that they were not only racist but that’s the way they liked it. Chelsea fans have also been investigated for a string of racist abuse after that.

The reaction from other fans and Chelsea’s powers that be? That the delinquents were just a minority group who couldn’t be considered real fans; ironic because traveling fans are usually held up as the lifeblood of the game. When members attend and cheer loudly, they’re “true fans,” but when their actions start to reflect poorly on the group? They’re cast as outsiders.

When groups of fans are discovered being bad, the clubs usually take this route. The majority of their fans do the same. But it’s cowardice. It’s fear. The problem is there in the open, but since no one wants to get their hands dirty and admit that it’s part of the fabric of the game, it’s pigeonholed as some unnatural occurrence done by a mythical group of people who moonlight as fans.

Hiding your head in the sand and blaming a minority of your group is less of an indictment on them as much as it is a damnation of your majority. These small groups, these little incidents, these “fake” fans only exist because the majorities and those in power allow them to. There is racism, sexism, discrimination in soccer because those who can stop it decline to.

Partizan fans display an anti-semitic banner during the club's  UEFA Europa League match against Tottenham Hotspur. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Partizan fans display an anti-semitic banner during the club’s UEFA Europa League match against Tottenham Hotspur. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

By admission, these select few causing the problem are tremendously outnumbered, so why are they always the loudest? Why aren’t they stopped, reported and banished? Because that larger majority is usually composed of self-righteous, posturing cowards. As Roman stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger once mused, “He who does not prevent a crime when he can, encourages it.”

The reasoning goes that since one does not commit the crime, there’s no responsibility. You aren’t racist, you know this, so what someone else does is not an indictment of you. So you watch as innocent people withstand inhumane taunts. You watch women get groped by some idiot whose excuse is alcohol. You watch children break down in tears as they’re demeaned because of their nationality, all while reasoning you would never do such a thing. Then you go home and speak out against it in the quiet of your own powerlessness. It’s easy to boast when one doesn’t have to act.

Even those small minorities, when disassociated with the group, probably consider themselves good people. And they may be. People are generally idiotic in groups but more manageable as individuals. In groups they can disappear. Identities can diffuse into the larger whole. Fear of consequence can be removed.

“In my cowardice I became at once a man, and did what all we grown men do when face to face with suffering and injustice; I preferred not to see them.”

- Marcel Proust, Swann's Way

What’s amusing is the characteristics used to support these feelings of superiority become nonsensical when looked at objectively. The ability to divest whenever its convenient but appropriate whenever its profitable are feelings only the majority can act on or feel. They’re entitlements only those in power think they have – power that has historically been inherited by those who are white and male.

So within the Outlaws, Chelsea fans and the like, you have white males who harass, belittle and demean women and other races shamelessly. The people who can stop them divest. As detailed in the article, it’s the bro culture, which is hardly different from the Ultras culture of European football – Ultras who many leagues have worked to rid themselves of or diminish, mainly due to their problematic behavior. And it’s no different than the American fraternities who are always reliable for racism and sexism – sickening behavior under the umbrella of exclusivity.

Landon Donovan leads the American Outlaws fan section in the "I Believe" chant after his final match.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Landon Donovan leads the American Outlaws fan section in the “I Believe” chant after his final match. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

But the whiteness and maleness that enable this worldview require no work. The only entitlement that comes with them is the entitlement to be human. Everything else comes from social constructs derived from innate insecurities. There’s nothing noble about being superior to your fellow humans, especially if the basis for the superiority is out of the abused or abuser’s control. It’s all chance. It’s as silly as claiming some divine right because of height or being born in a particular nation.

The fact that these are the foundations on which these hatreds are based is pathetic. Using what’s built around that as tools of oppression is embarrassingly insecure.

But that’s what we have now: a bunch of insecure and vile people who live comfortably among the larger, apathetic group. Sure Korey Donahoo can come out and cry that his group sends out emails to warn against hateful behavior, but that’s weak when their members turn a blind eye when the behavior occurs. And José Mourinho can claim that those aren’t real Chelsea fans, but they are, and there were other fans on that train who turned to their phones to hide their shame.

That shame exists for a reason. When you witness abuse of that kind at the games, in pubs or on the internet and you get the overwhelming desire to turn away, that’s cowardice. And shame always follows a coward.