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Andy Prest: Should we doom our children to follow our sports teams?

Fans of teams like the Vancouver Canucks may go an entire lifetime without experiencing a championship victory
Is this the type of behaviour you want your children to pick up?

It seems fairly safe to say that most caring parents are interested in passing on life skills, legacies and inheritances that will help their children lead happy and healthy lives.

There’s one area of life, however, where the actions of parents betray those goals, and they unwittingly, and yet often gleefully, set their children up for lives filled with anguish, anger and sadness.

Yes, friends. This is a column about the Vancouver Canucks. Well, not just the Canucks, but all sports teams and the flocks of fans that follow them. Fandom can be stoked in many ways, but by far the most common way to create a passionate fan is to pass that passion on from father to daughter, from mother to son, from grandpa to anyone who isn’t interested in getting a good smack if they don’t pipe down when the game is on.

The strongest allegiances are created early in life, as children absorb the atmosphere created by their parents, with many kids being powerless to resist the passion that their parents show for one team or another.

A five-year-old boy doesn’t ask why Daddy is screaming “I haven’t seen a pass that bad since my last kidney stone!” at the TV. He just enjoys the fact that he’s getting to stay up late, look at a screen, sneak sips of Pepsi, and yell with Daddy.

But is this good for the kid? Do they really need to inherit that thing where every time the referee calls a penalty on your team, Mom calls the referee a “dirty communist?” Or that thing where every time your team loses, Dad spends the rest of the day quietly seething? How young is too young to start muttering?

The greater the passion, the greater the pain, it seems. Is that something good to pass down to your kids?

One of the strongest sports team bonds in my life is with the CFL team the Saskatchewan Roughriders, despite the fact that I’ve lived in Saskatchewan for less than one total year of my life, and that was when I was in kindergarten. I lived nearly 20 years in Alberta, where they have two CFL football teams with rabid followers, and nearly 20 years now in British Columbia, where they have one football team with one fan who bangs a drum really loud.

I cheer for the Roughriders because my parents, whose families both have deep roots in Saskatchewan, cheer for the Roughriders. And why not? This is, after all, a team that has been around since 1910, and in more than 110 years of existence in a league of fewer than 10 teams, has gone to the championship game 19 times and lost it 15 times. So much pain!

I’ve fallen off watching football in recent years – I no longer see players hitting each other, just brains going a little greyer with every collision – but somehow I flicked on a game last week and the old passion came flooding back. And of course, on the very next play, the Riders had a marvelous 110-yard kick return called back on a phantom penalty, and seconds later they were watching the other team stroll into the endzone.

“If they lose, are you going to be angry?” my youngest son asked.

“No, son. I won’t,” I said, while my insides screamed “Yes, son. I will!”

The Riders actually came back to win that game – oh the joy! – but of course they lost the next one. Sadly, they will not be the best team in a nine-team league, once again.

It could be worse, though. There are teams that have never won a title. The Canucks have been in the NHL for 51 years and have never won the Stanley Cup. Some little boy who sat upon his daddy’s knee in 1970, learning to love the Canucks, could be 57 years old now. He could be retiring, or if not that, potentially playing on the third defensive pairing for the Canucks. Every single season of his life has ended in sadness.

Is it worth it? Is misery best when it is shared?

The flip side, though, is hope, and that is something sports teams are great at stoking as well. Just this week the Canucks fired some guys, hired some new guys, picked up a big win and we’re back in business.

Wake up the kids, get out your white towel. A couple more wins, and the next generation can start planning their first riot!

Andy Prest is the sports and features editor of the North Shore News. His lifestyle/humour column runs biweekly.

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