Hating an Opposing Sports Team Develops a Moral Sense

The intensity of sports rivalry is justified if it helps us develop morally praiseworthy attitudes that transfer from the sporting arena into real life.

The New York Yankees are the 1 percent. The Boston Bruins are uncouth ruffians. The Dallas Cowboys are spoiled brats. Depending on your own sporting allegiances, you may or may not agree. But there's no disagreeing that passionate sports fans often develop a seething dislike for their rivals, sometimes descending into outright hatred.


But the intensity of sports rivalry is justified, says Oxford University ethics professor Joshua Shepherd, if it helps develop morally praiseworthy attitudes that transfer from the sporting arena into real life:

"Sometimes there exist moralized conflicts in life in which hatred of the opposing side is morally justified, and in which hatred plausibly motivates morally praiseworthy actions (exhibitions of courage, for example)."

Having attended a university in the Big Ten conference, I experienced this culture firsthand: the way it crept into my outlook even though I had no conscious proclivity toward one team or another. When we lost to a rival, I'd get a little blue. I suppose it helped me bond with others around me.

Dr. Shepherd argues that beyond developing a strong moral sense, sporting rivalries help us coexist with those who have different viewpoints. Indulging a rivalry to extreme emotional conclusions, however, may result in dehumanizing another team, or another team's players, and that has seriously negative moral consequences.

"[I]n hating archrivals, we give in to darker motivations to paint the world into obviously good and obviously bad, and to dehumanize those who fall on the wrong side. (And dehumanization is a real problem for human beings. It sits behind a wide range of societal and personal failings. We should practice overriding the natural tendency to dehumanize those who are strange to us.)"

That means practicing good sports etiquette, i.e., sportsmanship. When we do, we learn another essential life lesson: It's essential to work together with people who hold opinions different from our own to achieve common goals like friendship (we hope Congress is listening).

Treating sports as a training round for life was especially important as the National Basketball Association came into being. For years, says three-decade NBA commissioner David Stern, the league was viewed as "too black" for a majority white nation to support. But valuing diversity ultimately triumphed:

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

The philosophy of tragedy & the tragedy of philosophy - with Simon Critchley

Tragedy in art, from Ancient Greece to Breaking Bad, resists all our efforts to tie reality up in a neat bow, to draw some edifying lesson from it. Instead it confronts us with our own limitations, leaving us scrabbling in the rubble of certainty to figure out what's next.

Think Again Podcasts
  • Why democracy has been unpopular with philosophers
  • Tragedy's reminder that the past isn't finished with us
  • …and why we need art in the first place
Keep reading Show less

A bionic lens undergoing clinical trials could soon give you superhuman abilities

We're talking Ghost in the Shell type of stuff. 

popular

Maybe you watched Ghost in the Shell and maybe afterwards you and your friend had a conversation about whether or not you would opt in for some bionic upgrades if that was possible - like a liver that could let you drink unlimitedly or an eye that could give you superhuman vision. And maybe you had differing opinions but you concluded that it's irrelevant because the time to make such choices is far in the future. Well, it turns out, it's two years away.

Keep reading Show less

Why Lil Dicky made this star-studded Earth Day music video

"Earth" features about 30 of the biggest names in entertainment.

Culture & Religion
  • Lil Dicky is a rapper and comedian who released his debut album in 2015.
  • His new music video, "Earth," features artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheehan, Kevin Hart, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • All proceeds of the music video will go to environmental causes, Dicky said.
Keep reading Show less