Lessons in Fandom from Jeffrey Simpson
Some thoughts about Simpson's Globe and Mail article now that the dust has settled.
Last Friday was a day like any other, until the Globe and Mail dropped this bombshell of Jeffrey Simpson's online. If you haven't read it, read it now. It only takes a couple minutes. While you're at it, read these criticisms from Welcome To Your Karlsson Years and The 6th Sens. When that article dropped, Ottawa Senators Twitter exploded. Lots of people praised it, and many others lambasted it. I started out in agreement with Simpson, and by the end of his article was completely opposed. It gained a lot of notoriety, even being mentioned by Sean McIndoe (Down Goes Brown) as "a good summary of the current state of affairs in Ottawa".
Now I'm not here to re-hash the work of Varada or Nichols. They both did great jobs of looking at Simpson's article, and I don't think I could add to their work. I wanted to look at some of the backlash now that the dust has settled because I think there's stuff to be learned.
Many have pointed out that Simpson is a political writer. He may be a good writer in general, but he's far from knowledgeable as a hockey fan. At the same time, he's no less qualified than I am to write about the Sens. I don't have a journalism degree, I've never played more than pick-up hockey, and I've been to 13 Sens games in my life; if anything, I'm less qualified. If I'm going to launch ad hominems at Simpson, I'd better be prepared to take some back.
The biggest problem for me with his article is that whole thing reads like the letter your wrote after your ex broke up with you. That one you tore up. Except instead of tearing his up, he used his position to publish it in one of the most widely-circulated newspapers in the country. What's amazing is that this isn't the first time he's used his position to get his opinion across. He sent Sens President Cyril Leeder a fax in 2011, saying that he wouldn't renew his seasons tickets if Bryan Murray stayed on as GM. Simpson then released this fax to multiple news outlets. He's a passionate fan, and he wants everyone to know it. We all know what came of that passionate fax - absolutely nothing. Murray stayed on as GM, and Simpson remained a passionate Sens fan. Even though he's more high-profile than the average Sens fan, he doesn't have the leverage as one season ticket holder to make Eugene Melnyk overhaul management.
There is a real temptation to go overboard with fandom. If I want to write an article, I can set it to publish at 7 AM and it'll be up before anyone else on staff gets to read it. (Case in point: this article.) People don't always agree with what I write, and that's fine. Some people think I'm flat-out wrong, and that's great! But Simpson should be an example to me of why I shouldn't let my emotions get the better of me when I write.
There are some very real points in this article. Melnyk brags about how this team isn't laden with bad contracts by not spending to the cap, but he doesn't continue to point out that only teams that spend to the cap win the Cup. (Shameless plug for myself.) Spending money doesn't guarantee winning, but not spending money guarantees being at best a playoff bubble team. Simpson mentions this. But for all the good points, there are ridiculous ones too. It's easy to hate on the Marian Hossa for Dany Heatley trade now, but at the time it worked out well. Ottawa needed to ditch a goalie in the lockout-shortened season, I hoped it would be Ben Bishop, and I was pretty happy about Cory Conacher as a return. It's all fine and dandy to hate on the David Legwand deal now, but at the time I was pretty happy with the signing. I'm on record just three months ago saying it was a good signing. Revisionist history is fun. As fans, we do it all the time. We've had polls on this site before asking what trade you wish you could be redone. The problem is, revisionist history hardly counts as analysis. There's no such thing as a sure gamble. As frustrating as it is to see how guys like Heatley, Conacher, Legwand, or even Alex Chiasson have ended up, there's no way you could have known that from the beginning. Sure, some people decried those moves, but some people also called the Kyle Turris trade a mistake, and Erik Karlsson a garbage pick. Nobody's right all the time.
Sometimes being a Sens fan sucks. It seems like for every positive, I can find three or four negatives these days. Often, the most cathartic thing is to rant. Sometimes those rants aren't coherent. They're not well-structured, they're not intelligent, they're based on little more than feelings. And that's fine. Fans are entitled to their opinions, they're welcome to share them, and they're welcome to change them. There's no such thing as a "true fan's opinion". The thing is, these opinions are best saved for conversations with friends. A national newspaper is hardly the medium for venting. The article seemed to be a desperate plea for attention in the hopes that something might change in the organization. He's not a sportswriter, he's a sports fan with the chance to publish to a national audience. Like most of us, he's desperate to see signs of progress in this organization. Unlike most of us, he had the ability to address most Sens fans at the same time. If we're being honest, if most of us wrote out an exhaustive list of all of our issues with the Sens organization, it would be just as skewed and rant-y as Simpson's. I can't fault him for being a really big fan.
That being said, if I ever write an article that reads like his, please call me out in the comments.