Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Comparing the Monday Night Ride with Soccer Hooliganism

There's been a bit of a brouhaha brewing over at Consider Biking regarding the Monday Night Ride, a regular Critical Mass-type ride that takes place late nights on Mondays. It's a social ride, but there are complaints about some of the riders and ride leaders being drunk, stoned, and not following traffic laws.

Fellow Columbus bike blogger Doug Morgan addressed this problem with some comments. And they were great comments, especially about the comparison of soccer hooligans to the MNR.

As many of you know, before I was a bike advocate, I was a soccer fan. And soccer fans and bike advocates have a lot in common, as he's pointed out.

Back around the time that the US national team was qualifying for the World Cup (2000, 2001) there was a group of US fans who was outraged at the foul treatment that the US national team received when playing in Mexico and Central America, particularly during qualifying matches. The gamut ran from batteries and bags of urine being thrown at the team to harassment on the team bus to loud music being played all night outside the team hotel. Many players feared for their safety at times.

This group of "fans," who called themselves "Project Mayhem" after the anarchist group in the movie Fight Club, took it upon themselves to try to give the opposing players who came to the US a bit of the same treatment. Now they didn't stoop to pee-bags or anything like that, but the most infamous incident happened when the Costa Rican team was arriving in Columbus in 2000 and this group of "fans" met them at Port Columbus with jeers, shouting, and racial epithets. I wrote an article about this event when I used to write for the Crew's official website, and found a copy of the article at archive.org if you're interested.

There were two effects here - and neither was upon the Costa Rican team, who shrugged it off and got their bags and moved on. One, anyone else in the airport who didn't know about the game or the history of poor treatment that US players got in Costa Rica and elsewhere was turned off by soccer, which already suffered (suffers?) from a hooligan image. Second, a rather large schism grew in the US fan base between those who were appalled at the group's actions and the small but vocal minority who loved it.

Both effects damaged soccer in this city, at least, for a long time, and in this country for a bit longer. There are still individuals in the US team fan base who think this sort of thing is necessary to give the US an advantage when playing at home, which is sad.

Compare this to the impressions left by Monday Night Riders who do engage in such behavior. Is it creating a schism in the Columbus cycling community to support such actions, particularly when so many people (like CB) are trying very hard to create support for cycling against the odds? And is the MNR damaging the work that CB has done to fight negative stereotypes of cyclists on the road?

The second is definitely happening. The first... well, I certainly hope it's not. And right now the discussion over at the CB forums is pretty tame and civil. But I've seen this sort of thing get out of control before... I'd hate to see it happen again and with a more important topic.

I mean, soccer's just a game. Bicycling as transportation has the potential to help transform our society.

People, not speed.

4 comments:

  1. Here is some of the 'two cents worth' I left on Doug Morgans' blog.
    What point are you trying to prove by hogging the road and thinking you have your own special set of rules just because you're riding a bike. I commute by bike everyday also. I see other cyclist out there running lights/stop signs, thinking that those things don't apply to them. And when I can I let them know it. Hell, I even see it on TOSRV when they're going thru Columbus on their way out of town. So, what kind of message are you MNR's trying to convey to everyone by flaunting the law like that. Maybe it's "Monkey see,Monkey do". And I won't get started on how some of this eliticism is fueled by alcohol.
    ScottNorthSide

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  2. Great read J! Unfortunately this is one of the reasons my wife and I have refrained from a MNR. We are fringe newbies and frankly, its quite intimidating. I guess we'll stay on the porch, not quite ready for the big dogs.

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  3. I'm not from Columbus and don't really know the issues there. I do know that drunkenness, running lights, reacting with road rage, and making statements with abusive behavior is not going to help bicyclists become a strong form of transportation.

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  4. One of the opinions I hear regularly about how to handle motorists on the road who hate cyclists (and there are definitely more than we'd like) is from David Bernstein, the creator of the FredCast, one of my favorite bicycling podcasts. And his attitude is that we, as cyclists, need to take the high road and kill 'em with kindness.

    This is hard for me, I'll admit it. I tend to be more confrontational about this stuff - I've slapped the hoods of cars that have tried to pass me as we sat in line at stop signs on a couple of occasions to let people know that's not safe or acceptable, things like that. But he's right - to improve things, we have to do all the right things.

    And we need NOT to do all the wrong things and count on our moral superiority (which, as regards the issue of transportation, I truly believe we have, for environmental, health, and social reasons) to sway people to our side. We're going to have to do what my friends and I had to do as soccer fans when confronted with hooliganism: smile, take the high road, and be great ambassadors of our chosen cause. Because not doing so only enrages those who think cars have all the rights of road ownership because "that's the way it's always been."

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