Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Players should at least look like they care

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Navigating the waters of public sentiment after a 52-point loss is almost as precarious as being in a results-oriented business and on the wrong side of a half-century score.

If you've been going to Labour Day Classic games for as long as I have, as both a player and an assistant to "the voice" on CJOB, you know it isn't what it used to be. Back between 2001 and 2004, when we won the classic three out of four years, and sacked Rocky Butler eight times during our only loss in 2002, Bomber fans came out in droves. There was always a flash mob at the McDonald's in Brandon on the way out, our jerseys were worn on every corner in downtown Regina, and chaos reigned so supreme, we actually had to stay in Moose Jaw for a number of years simply so we could catch a couple winks of sleep before the game.

Riding in the elevator at the hotel I was staying at Monday, injured Bomber Brady Browne and I got to chatting with a family of four from Winnipeg who had been making a weekend of the LDC for the last nine years.

"We don't mind losing the game," extolled the proud father of two little girls, "but when it gets embarrassing like that, it makes it a hard sell for us to come back again next year."

As Brady remarked when we left them in the lobby, "They almost looked more deflated and dejected than the team did," a comment true to the nature of how hard the supporters of this team suffer losses of this nature.

Over 15 seasons, and having been on the wrong side of a blowout or two myself, I feel I should opine on how to manage the public relations fallout, from a player perspective, from losing a grudge match to this extent.

While it seems athletes can flush a loss much faster than fans can, probably due to our experience working in denial and guarding the frailties of our confidence, it often takes the community that supports you much longer to forgive and forget. Thereby, there is almost a protocol you should adhere to as a player in the days that immediately follow a humiliating blowout.

Let's start with what should be the most obvious following a loss -- restricting your volume of tweets on Twitter. It is no coincidence that the day I joined Twitter was the first day after I had retired from professional football. Twitter is an effective social media tool, but there is no buffer for athletes when fans are incensed after a game and want to lash out. No matter how upbeat or optimistic a person you are, responding or even tweeting within 24 to 48 hours of a loss like that is going to put you in an untenable situation. There is no balm or perspective you can put on a 52-point margin of defeat, so don't even bother to enter the fray. These are your customers that pay your bills and you must turn the other cheek.

A final piece of awareness that seems to be less obvious to a lot of players, especially ones that don't understand how tightly the fabric of the local football team is woven into the community, has to do with optics.

While it's only one game that went horribly wrong, it is almost six per cent of what you are asked to do on an annual basis, in an 18-game schedule. And when fans, who pay your salary, who own your football team, who travel all over the country sporting your colours, see you have a bad day, they also want to see you care to the same degree that they do. No matter what you may be talking about on the sideline during a 52-point loss, it cannot be so funny to change your demeanour from one of defeat and despair.

There should be an absence of laughter or loose chatter in the locker-room afterwards, and going to a bar, or going out to socialize and drink with your teammates in public the day after a game just looks bad and does nothing to foster support, sympathy or understanding from a public that really just needs to know that you are as embarrassed as they are.

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2012 D3

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