In defense of fans throwing trash on the ice in protest

Besides offering stellar playoff intensity, Saturday night's Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks games shared another commonality: the hometown fans hurling garbage on the ice in protest of perceived injustice.

In Vancouver, the fans littered the ice on at least three occasions late in the Game 5 loss, after referees whistled Kevin Bieksa(notes) and Ryan Kesler(notes) for critical penalties. Ian McIntyre of the Vancouver Sun took them to task:

Clearly, no fans in the neighborhood of "greatest" throw garbage on a game to demonstrate their frustration/anger/stupidity while staining the ice/team/city as Canucks fans did Saturday.

In Washington, fans hurled garbage on the ice after the Penguins won the game in overtime, feeling as through the referees had missed a couple of closer calls before Evgeni Malkin's(notes) OT winner.

Look, what the Canucks fans did was wrong, because they delayed the game with their nonsense. The only valid reasons why something on the ice should cause an impediment is if it's an octopus, a plastic rat, a bunch of hats or a sex toy in Sweden. And what some of the Capitals fans did was wrong, because you do not under any circumstances throw anything at a player on the ice. Ever.

But while the practice is easily condemned, isn't there something infinitesimally valorous about fans exhibiting that level of passion?

Here's a short clip of the aftermath in DC, as the Penguins celebrated their Game 5 win:

From Ted Leonsis's blog:

I was very disappointed in some of our fans that threw bottles, pom-poms and coins onto the ice at the end of the game. We will enforce all measures against you if we find out who is responsible. Please behave. Our fans and our city and our players deserve it.

(Of course, this allowed Seth Rorabaugh of Empty Netters to nudge Uncle Ted about letting more Penguins fans in the building because "they would be too busy celebrating in order to throw stuff on the ice.")

Again, throwing items at players is classless at best and felonious at worst. And it seems to be something that happens more often than not when the opposing team leaves Verizon Center with a playoff victory: Ask Jeff Carter(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers how fast a beer bottle can travel.

But excusing those numbskulls that felt the need to shower the Penguins with pom-poms, most of the garbage was at the other, unoccupied end of the ice after Game 5: The litter-filled, soda-stained sheet acting as a symbolic protest and trash-art tribute to frustration.

Again, these actions come with risks. The Vancouver radio team mentioned that there's a team policy to revoke season tickets if someone is caught tossing any garbage on the ice. Leonsis mentioned repercussions in his post. So this form of protest isn't encouraged.

But it's understandable.

You're in the moment, the passion you've invested in your team and its plight is sky-high. There's a time and a manner where this practice is more acceptable than in others. Throwing garbage at an empty sheet of ice at the end of a contentious game is easily labeled as classless, but it's also a function of being an emotionally invested fan.

Again, it's not easy to condone; but it's easy to understand. Slamming a fan base for that type of spontaneous action is ignoring their motivations.

Can a distinction be drawn between trashing empty ice at the end of the game and targeting players/delaying the game after tough calls? Or is it all garbage?

(In other words, does anyone want to come out and admit they've thrown something on the ice in anger, and defend those actions in the comments?)

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