EDITORIAL: What it means to be a part of the Fire Family
EDITORIAL: What it means to be a part of the Fire Family
I have a confession to make. I’m a new Chicago Fire fan, having been hired to oversee communications for the club just six months ago. But according to some folks, I was also a “s***** hire.” The only professional experience (“zero soccer experience”) I have is “promoting a video game” and I do “not belong leading the Communications department.”
Additionally, I also “need to shave.” To be fair, that one is true, but my wife thinks I look weird totally clean shaven. To be fairer, all of the other statements might also be true, but I would like the opportunity to prove how s*****I am first. To be fairest of all, maybe I already have proven it six months into the job.
But I’m more interested in learning what made me a s***** hire on day one? What brought about the warm reception from a vocal few as I was introduced as a new member of the “Fire family?” My best guess is that because I work for an owner who is supposedly “cheap,” “doesn’t care,” and only sees the team as a “toy.” Or maybe it’s because I’m joining a front office staff that just “doesn’t get it” or only makes “bad decisions.”
Fortunately, those are the only things that I’ve read about online, or have had forwarded my way, or that I have seen on the supporter message boards (I would hate to read the non-supporter boards). That was until the experience at the U.S. Open Cup semifinal when the Fire laid a giant egg against D.C. United. I don’t pretend to know all the history, but from what I’ve heard, the stories told to me, watching the videos, hearing from staff and our owner, I knew how important this game was. I knew why the Club decided to promote the heck out of it (Facebook ads, on broadcast, social media, letter from ownership, ads at the Messi & Friends game, ads at the U.S. Soccer Viewing Party, free parking, make-up games, discounted food, etc.), and while the crowd and atmosphere led by a robust showing of Section 8 were great, unfortunately the result was gut wrenchingly disappointing.
Yes, ownership and family were at the game. And yes, fans have a right to boo and show how disappointed they are, especially when the Club they love doesn’t perform up to expectations. Look, I’m an unabashed Detroit Lions fan, I know the mentality of a fan going an entire season without winning or watching a team go longer than a decade without a playoff appearance. It’s the thrill of victory and agony of defeat that makes sports great. And from what I’ve seen and heard from Fire supporters, I know it runs even deeper in soccer than anywhere else in sports.
But are personal attacks, threats, accusations, etc., that happened at that Open Cup game OK? Are shouting obscenities to staff, our owner and his family, or other supporters attending games with their families the norm? There’s a fine line between love and hate and being critical vs. being destructive. Certain incidents in particular related to that game have given me and others at the Club pause.
It has been shared with me that the Club’s charter (co-written by our owner and Section 8 leadership) makes it clear that all who enter Toyota Park are to be “respectful of all other supporters, participants, match officials, entertainers, athletes, stadium personnel, staff members and stadium property.” Are to “behave in a responsible manner and not interfere in other supporters’ enjoyment of the match.” And are “to refrain from using foul, sexist, racial, or offensive language including any type of obscene gesture.”
In the aftermath of that game, we/I have heard from many longstanding supporters who were afraid, fearful, disgusted with certain attendees behavior. Our role as a club is to draw a line and protect the sanctity and honor of the organization and all its supporters.
While I may be new to the team, I know the Club isn’t delusional. Owner Andrew Hauptman has set high standards that he hasn’t shied away from. And while these standards might not always be met, you can tell that he has instilled into this group a focus on performance, community, collaboration and connectivity. In many ways, the club is more successful than ever by these standards, including the footprint of its foundation, social reach, growth in corporate partnerships, expansion of the season ticket base, deep investments and exponential scale in youth and recreational soccer, broadcasting and so on.
But beyond that, there’s the other side that you don’t always get to see. Chances are that if you’ve met our owner or even just had a conversation with him, you know he tells it like it is, for good or for bad. There’s also a real sense of caring at the Fire, be it regarding the business of the club, or on a more personal level. One “Fire family” isn’t a cliché. The inclusive and authentic nature of our culture starts from the top down. Hopefully you see pieces of it in action by just attending a game and being welcomed at Toyota Park, or from our partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository (including upcoming Food Drive at our September 1 game), our annual Practice in the Community event coming up this Saturday, our commitment to inclusiveness by participating at the Pride Parade or the upcoming Pride Initiative on September 28, staff members lobbying City Council on behalf of LGBT athletes, honoring important community leaders on Hispanic Heritage night, partnering with Chicago Public Schools, and so on.
Even going back to the field, earlier in the season, ownership was the first to tell you that the team on the field was frankly just not good enough (even though the jury is out on this year). And in sports, because of that, there will always be those who want ownership to sell. Want to make calls for front office firings? Find me someone who doesn’t think they could be doing their job better. Telling me I suck at my job? That all comes with the territory I guess. But don’t also be surprised that if someone personally goes after anyone in the Club or its supporters in a way that defies the inclusive culture being built at the Fire, that the Club will respond sincerely and want to know why they would still want to be a part of it?
Our integrity within this Club actually matters to us. For me personally and others on the staff, this is our livelihood. Failure isn’t an option. Why would we choose to work together on building this Club with anyone who takes a stand that prevents progress, espouses negativity and is just downright not truthful, inhibiting us from doing our jobs to the best of our ability? Or worse, make attending a game for a supporter a fearful experience?
I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about soccer, the Fire or MLS. But what attracted me to the job is working in sports, connecting with passionate fans, being part of an organization that stands up for values like integrity, hard work, and humility and a 24/7 desire to bleed for this incredible Club. I heard every one of those elements in my conversations with our owner, AK, and others I met before making the decision to join. I knew that I was becoming part of a bigger movement, tasked with growing the game and the Club, leaving a positive impact on the community and Chicago as a whole. And with all its inherent challenges, that’s what we are going to do. For me personally, I would love your help to get there. In fact, I know how much I need it.
I have another confession – the majority of folks I’ve met since I’ve joined, the staff, supporters, bloggers, media, Club Seat Holders, Section 8 members, etc., have all been more than welcoming. I’ve felt that they want both the Club and me to succeed. While there will always be those who might choose a different route, I’m glad to know that there will be thousands of others that will have my back.