First run at thenation.com
by DAVE ZIRIN & DANIEL DENVIR
Philadelphia - You cannot make this up. Sarah Palin, the best-known hockey mom in the United States, gets booed Saturday at the Philadelphia Flyers hockey game. And the game is played, of all places, at the Wachovia Center. It's all over YouTube: failing candidate, failed bank as corporate sponsor, the kind of anger that cannot be scripted.
The Philly welcome was what New York Times hockey blogger Lynn Zinser described as "resounding (almost deafening) boos from the Flyers crowd." Don't believe the reports that describe "a mix of cheers and boos." There was a mix all right: a mix of boos and piped-in rock music that was like (we have to say it) lipstick on a pig.
You might excuse Governor Palin for thinking this appearance would be a public relations "gimme." It was opening night and the fans would be in well-lubricated good spirits. The announcer's voice on the jumbotron, that twenty-first century altar of truth, intoned, "Flyers fans, show Philadelphia's class and welcome America's number-one hockey mom, Sarah Palin!" And we all know Miss "Pallin' Around with Terrorists" is nothing but classy.
As added insurance, the GOP vice-presidential candidate walked out on the ice with seven-year-old daughter, Piper, who wore a Flyers jersey. Palin acknowledged this strategy beforehand, saying, "I've been warned that Flyers fans, they get so enthused, that they boo everybody at the drop of the puck. But what I thought I'd do is I'd put Piper in a Flyers jersey, bring her out with me. How dare they boo Piper!" Well, they dared, and Sarah Palin once again makes her case for mother of the year.
Maybe Philadelphia fans remembered that several weeks earlier, Palin almost got sent to the political etiquette penalty box for even thinking about jogging on the streets of the City of Brotherly Love dressed in a New York Rangers jersey. Maybe they were repulsed by the hard bigotry that Palin wears on the campaign trail as effortlessly as she wears her sparkly rhinestone flag pin.
Responsibility for this failed political charade starts and ends with Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider, a big-time Republican donor who invited Palin on the mistaken assumption that she would burnish the brands of the sport and his team. This is yet another example why hockey is the worst-marketed game on the planet. It's like inviting PETA to a barbecue. Palin's negatives are almost Bushian. Outside her narrow base of nationalist bigots, the country is recoiling. Yet Snider and the NHL reasoned her presence would be a big publicity coup. All the while, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly insisted this was not about politics: "Governor Palin is a supporter of the sport, which she has proclaimed publicly. As a public figure who has a very public connection with hockey, her recent associations with the Flyers and other NHL franchises is not surprising and, in our view, not inappropriate."
Flyers fans in Philly were not nearly so giving, but you can understand why Palin chose this venue. As Philadelphia Weekly Executive Editor Liz Spikol said, "Of all the sporting events that could appeal to conservative voters in Philly, hockey would be the Republicans' best bet. But the electorate is changing and not even hockey fans are easy pickings."
For thirty-five years, Gus Koseevos has run a diner in Fishtown, a white, working-class area of Philadelphia currently being gentrified. The diner is filled with Flyers paraphernalia, including two different wall clocks. Koseevos said he didn't like mixing politics with sports and wasn't impressed with Palin's visit; he wouldn't reveal who he planned to vote for. But long-time waitress Mary Kulb didn't object to Palin's puck-dropping stunt; she was just happy to see a woman on the ice. Kulb said she is leaning towards McCain, even though most of her neighbors are voting for Obama. A Hillary Clinton backer in the primaries, Kulb said she doesn't really trust either candidate.
Mark Bradley is a member of Glaziers Local 252 and a dedicated Flyers fan. He said he considers all of Palin's public appearances designed to "make up for the Couric interview." He also said that he wouldn't think it right for any candidate to drop the puck--but added that Joe Biden would have "been more accepted in a working-class town like Philly. The NHL has thirty cities. She should have gone somewhere else. But then again, she might have gotten the same response anywhere."
Bradley said that the whole hockey-mom thing is clearly aimed at white, working-class voters. But with the economy tanking, he said he didn't think the strategy would work. A Google search reveals that Palin may have nearly coined the term "hockey mom," the symbolic value of which contrasts with two other types of mom in the American socio-political imagination: urban black mothers, whose children rarely play hockey, and the latté-drinking, suburban, Democratic-voting soccer moms. But there are hockey moms--and dads--in Philadelphia, far from the American heartland, and on Saturday night, they weren't having any of it.
Commenting on the debacle, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell observed, "This is why I say that sports and politics don't mix." But it's not sports and politics that don't mix. Athletes routinely get torn apart like carrion when they express political views--and that isn't always fair. The problem is the hijacking of sports by wealthy owners and their political puppeteers. Maybe when this campaign is finally over, we can point to a moment when a group of hockey fans in the land of Wachovia said "enough."
[Dave Zirin is the author of A People's History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). Contact him or receive his column every week at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
[Daniel Denvir is a journalist based in Philadelphia and Quito, Ecuador. He is Editor of Caterwaul Quarterly and a 2008 recipient of the North American Congress on Latin America's Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism grant.]