Jerry Seinfeld used to say "We're just cheering for laundry". Sometimes I think that's a little tragic because it dehumanizes athletes making them characters instead of real human beings. This works well because most of the time the players are at the very least somewhat likable so cheering for the person who happens to be wearing burgundy and blue is easy. But what if you don't like the person, or even parts of the hockey player undernieth the uni? This is the question I find myself trying to answer ever since the the Darcy Tucker - Ken Schultz dirty hit drama. Players like Darcy Tucker challenge this nice perception of "Our guys are the good guys, and their guys are the bad guys" mentality that permeates sports. It's an easy role to play. No one really wants to be associated with the bad guys, except those attention-craving whores who grow who grew up in Colorado, have no connection to Michigan but still worship at the alter of the Winged Wheel.
But by and large everyone wants to think of their team as the white-hatted noble lawman and the other guys as the black hatted evil doers. Sometimes the villain is easy to respect, like Moriarty or Lidstrom, and sometimes the villain is a no-good thug who is easy for everyone to despise like the Juggernaut or Dion Phaneuf. Look at every sports movie ever made. The good team is noble and full of young upstarts, and the rival team is full of dirty players, win-at-all costs coaches and thugs.
But the "cheering for laundry" comfort zone is routinely challenged. Stars fans are being challenged by Shawn Avery (although they are having an easier time with it, all the practice with Steve Ott) Flames fans with Bertuzzi (again they have practive with Phaneuf), and now we, Avs fans, are being challenged with this paradigm by Darcy Tucker.
So how do Avs fans cheer for him? In the excitement of the moment I find myself joyed when he does something good, but when that initial rush dies down I find myself wishing someone else on the Avs had done it. Abd let's not beat around the bush here: His hit on Schultz did deserve a suspension, especially since the reason the rule is in place is because he once took our Michael Peca's knees with the exact same hit. But Tucker undoubtedly has been helpful to the Avalanche team. Recently he's been scoring very important goals, and he's also drawing a lot of penalties. Calling for him to be benched because of dirty play is likely to hurt the entire Avs team.
While it's not easy to do, a good fan needs to recognize that the players are indeed complicated human beings, and not necessarily heroes or villains (again except Phaneuf.. that guy's just a dick in all aspects). A player can be helpful and dishonorable at the same time. A good fan should be able to distinguish between these two and will be able to praise and respect the good part, but still condemn and dislike the bad part. It's up to the fan to find the right time to criticize and the right time to cheer. It's ok to cheer for the good while being embarrassed and critical of the bad. The trap that a fan shouldn't fall into is blindly supporting the unsupportable, and blindly defending the indefensible. You can blindly cheer for the laundry, but remember that the player it rests on takes it off every night and that person doesn't always deserve blind support.