The other day the New York Daily New ran with some allegations from some Twitter users that Cards fans at Busch Stadium could be heard directing racial slurs at Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward on the audio feed of the game. In response, ESPN and other media outlets said they were reviewing the audio. Upon that review, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and us here at HardballTalk, among other media outlets, reported that the allegations existed and that the review was taking place. Soon after, it was revealed that the allegations were false. No racial slurs were heard.
The entire episode was a combustible mix of many different factors which have been invoked in sports coverage and, specifically, coverage of the Cardinals and their fans in recent years. Racial allegations ALWAYS play, of course, and will almost always be picked up if allegations are made, even thin ones. The real fuel to the fire here, however, was the particular place Cardinals fans occupy in the current baseball landscape.
For a lot of reasons — including the fact that they constantly sell out their stadium and support an excellent baseball team — Cards have fans developed a reputation over the years as being a savvier and more devoted bunch than fans in other cities. Given the tribalism of all sports fandom this created a backlash and then a backlash to a backlash and the comically over-the-top parodies and then a certain understandable defensiveness of Cards fans to it all. The net result of it is that anything having to do with Cards fandom is something of a hot button issue now. Phillies fans from 2007-2011 or so will recall a similar dynamic. It’s all just . . . complicated.
Into that stew of complications came these allegations, which have now been shown as false. But where did they come from and how did it spread? For that, you can go read this excellent post about it all from the Double Birds blog, which tracks the whole story to its genesis and showed how it unfolded.
In the past two days I’ve spoken with Chase from Double Birds on Twitter about it, and with a lot of other Cardinals fans. I still believe there are some fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of the coverage and what motivated it on the part of some Cardinals fans. Other than the debunked tweets and the Daily News story, I didn’t see any media outlet actually claim that the tweets were credible or use them as a basis to dredge up old stories about Cardinals fans and their alleged nature. At the same time, I personally received all sorts of reflexive blowback from Cards fans on Twitter claiming that that was exactly what happened and that the media was “seizing” on this, twirling their mustaches and laughing with evil glee because they, once again, had a chance to stick it to those horrible Cards fans and blame them all for the actions of a few. That’s nonsense and I believe its evidence of defensive, bunker mentality on the part of some people in Cards Nation that has skewed the way THEY view the way they’re viewed by others.
Still, there are a lot of truths here too. Truths about how Cardinals fans have been stereotyped by others. Truths about how the acts of some are easily generalized as the acts of all. Assumptions about how the media may cover a story and what people may be inclined to believe via their own predispositions. Truths, also, about how fandom can be virulently subjective.
All worth chewing on.