Sports fans, or more accurately stated…the sports fanatic. They came in all shapes and sizes, all backgrounds and differing walks of life. From those who stand shirtless and sporting body paint in sub-freezing weather at football games… to those who bang wildly on the glass in hockey arenas… to those who loyally only purchase products whose logos are affixed to the car of their favorite NASCAR driver… to soccer, (football), fans who’ll span the globe in support of their nation’s team…to those who simply gather at the local watering hole to enjoy the game and a beer with others…the sports fan is as much ingrained in human culture as any tradition, religion and ritual.
So what is it about sports that will bring out such emotion, dedication and passion from otherwise “normal” people? I mean, let’s face it…there are some who afford a level of loyalty to a team or athlete which they cannot seem to give even to their spouse.
Could it be the thrill of competition alone? Is it the ‘David vs. Goliath’ effect in which heavy favorites can indeed be knocked off by lowly underdogs on any given day? Might it possibly be the need to come together in groups to support one another in a common interest? Or is it just an outlet to allow grown adults to live vicariously through the success of those teams and individuals they follow and support?
“I always turn to the sports section first. The sports page records people’s accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man’s failures” – Earl Warren
Like so many of you, I first experienced “fanhood” at an early age. In the 1970’s my family lived in the Tampa St. Pete area of Florida and around the age of 9 I discovered the sport of soccer. I had played baseball and football like every other red-blooded American male… but for some odd reason, I seemed to have a natural ability to perform best on the soccer pitch.
At roughly the same time, the North American Soccer League had expanded into the area and my family became fans of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. While attending games, I found myself gravitating towards the north end zone of old Tampa Stadium to hand out with the “rowdiest” of fans…otherwise known as “fannies”…to view games. This group of hooligans were known for their, shall we say, over indulgence in adult beverages and took to tossing dead fish carcasses at and into the goal netting being protected by the opposing goalkeeper.
It certainly wasn’t the strawberries and cream crowd found at Wimbledon, that’s for sure.
“New Yorkers love it when you spill your guts out there. Spill your guts at Wimbledon and they make you stop and clean it up” – Jimmy Carter
In short, it was there I realized that paying customers were not in attendance simply to observe the proceeding in as much as they were there to be a part of it… and I became addicted to that type of sports environment. This would serve me well later in life when ice hockey became my sport of choice. Let’s face it folks, hockey fans are a different breed.
Many of you, I’m sure, experienced much the same feeling when you first started attending NHL hockey games, or whatever sporting event it was that gave you that initial rush of excitement. And like myself, it has stuck with you as you’ve grown into adulthood, started your careers and/or wed and become parents. Then, the cycle begins anew as we’ve taken our own children to their first games, seeing that magic, fire and passion in their eyes just as it was in ours at that age.
But even when I was younger, I wondered what exactly was it that caused people to freely surrender such loyalty and devotion to a spots team…to spend so much time, energy and money following their favorite team. When asked that question by a reporter, Rodney Marsh…one of the star players for the Rowdies…responded, “Most people are in a factory from nine till five. Their job may be to turn out 263 little circles. At the end of the week they’re three short and somebody has a go at them. On Saturday afternoons they deserve something to go and shout about”.
“Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelveminutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not a coincidence” – Erma Bombeck
So, it’s a release, an escape from the doldrums of our average lives. Okee-dokee then, but surely there must be something more to it than just that, don’t you think?
In this article by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlin…who has a degree in Education and Psychology from the University of Alberta…there are certain benefits to being a sports fan. Watching sports, specifically hockey, has a positive effect on our brains. She cites a University of Chicago study that concludes, “Being an athlete or a sports fan changes the neutral networks in the brain and improves language skills”.
Ms. Pawlik-Kienlin goes on to say, “playing and watching hockey can boost your brain health and language skills”.
Hmmm…well, I can certainly see where she is coming from in regards to ‘language skills’. I must admit that sitting in the middle of some well-seasoned hockey fans can be quite an education in vocabulary. If you are in need of a prime example of this, just make your way down to Philips Arena the next time the Buffalo Sabres are in town.
“Sports are the one thing that an adult can invest 100%, total passion in without fear of any consequences” – Rush Limbaugh
Also, as we can see in this report by Lisa Jancarik, Dr. Rick Grieve of Western Kentucky’s clinical psychology says it has a great deal to do with our need to interact in social networks, and it begins with the family unit given that children tend to gravitate towards the sports and teams that their parents follow.
“Why are my sons big hockey fans?” Dr. Grieves asks in a rhetorical fashion. “Because I take them down to see the Predators on a regular basis. Why are they not baseball fans? We don’t have a baseball team to follow”.
Grieves also continues to reasons why sports fans cling to certain superstition and traditions. “Personally I believe this has more to do with anxiety reduction…than with actual belief”. It helps us deal with the tension that comes with following our favorite teams.
This has to explain why I, like so many others, simply cannot bring myself to wash my Thrashers jersey while they are on a hot streak and playing well. And that explains why my jersey has been so clean for much of the past three seasons.
“We are inclined that if we watch a football game or a baseball game, we have taken part in it” – John F. Kennedy
Modern technology certainly plays a big part in the sports fanaticism of today. Television has brought sports of all kinds into our homes for decades now, Ted Turner’s vision helped beam the Atlanta Braves to baseball fans nationwide in the 1980s and cable packages such as NHL Center Ice allow fans to continue following their some teams even if they have to move several states away.
The same is true with streaming games over the internet, which even allows for game viewing overseas.
“Hockey is like a disease. You can’t really shake it” – Ken Wregget
Not to be overlooked is how sports is able to cross over racial, ethnic, spiritual and political boundaries in a way nothing else can. Take baseball for instance… how many times have you seen a player smack a game winning homer over the wall and the observed the celebration as he crosses over home plate? There are whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians jumping around together enjoying the success achieved by the team. There are no quota systems required to field a team in any sports…a player’s abilities alone gives him the right to perform at whatever level he finds himself at. And we can sit right next to someone who may be our political opposites at a game, but as long as they are wearing the same jersey that we are…we are brothers!
Society as a whole can learn a lot from that, if you ask me.
Of course, it’s just as possible that there is a more cynical basis that drives our reasoning…the sheer brutality that comes with sports that rely on physical contact.
As George Orwell put it, “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words, it is war minus the shooting”.
“Fans are the only ones who really care. There are no free-agent fans” – Dick Young
Whatever the cause and circumstances, sports fans display a type of passion for their favorite teams and players that are deeply embedded in our society. It need not follow logic and it need not follow reason. To me, it’s based purely on emotion and the cause of a person’s “fanhood” can only be truly found inside of his or her soul, the fiber of their being.