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Surprising Science

Why is There So Much Rage in Sports Fandom?

Favorite sports teams become outlets for fans' personal frustration. Sometimes this can be seen as a healthy way to channel dissatisfaction. Too often though, this channeling gets ugly.

Quick. Take a guess as to which part of the year sees the biggest spike in domestic violence incidents in the United States. If you guessed the Super Bowl, you are, sadly, correct. 

“Do we take sports too seriously?”

This is the question asked by Dr. Henry Kimmel, a clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles, who has watched both his local ballclubs, the Dodgers and the Angels, get unceremoniously dispatched from the MLB playoffs this past week. Since then, Kimmel has observed legions of angry baseball fans exhibit spiteful behavior and say hurtful, callous things about the athletes who failed to live up to their lofty expectations. If we step outside the situation and remove ourselves from this familiar sports trope, isn’t it easy to see how ridiculous it is to channel one’s rage through something as fickle as a baseball team? 

Sports have long been an outlet for fans’ own personal frustrations. The sorts of people who become extremely passionate about their favorite teams — often to the point where their emotions are inextricably linked to the club’s win-loss record — are also the sorts of people who have trouble openly expressing their feelings. Instead of engaging in healthy communication, they bury their resentment within. Here’s Kimmel’s description:

“Rageful sports fans are usually people who suppress their anger about other frustrating or painful aspects of their lives. Things may not be going well on the job, or in their relationships. They’re not comfortable talking about their emotional pain, so they redirect it elsewhere. This week, likely targets were the Dodgers or the Angels.”

Social media and the 24/7 sports news cycle only add additional fuel to the fire. Shrewd sports marketing — no doubt helped by ESPN’s adoption of the CNN model — have made sports more “important” than ever in the eyes of fans. How often have you seen breaking news about Tim Tebow or Derek Jeter get reported on SportsCenter like war had broken out in Europe or NASA had finally sent someone to Mars? Sports in the United States are treated more and more like matters of national importance rather than the games they are.

And fans too often make it personal.

All you have to do is search “Rosenthal” and “sucks” on Twitter to sift through the thousands of rageful tweets vomited out by St. Louis Cardinals fans after pitcher Trevor Rosenthal coughed up a lead in the 9th inning of last night’s NLCS game (a game, mind you, the Cards went on to win).

Take a look at Facebook comments on an NFL post and you’ll find hundreds of people blasting players like Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger who had rough games on Sunday. It’s easy to say “oh, those are just cretins on the internet — pay them no mind,” except that those cretins on the internet are also the accountants, store clerks, janitors, counselors, and teachers in our own communities. Every local cross-section features people whose happiness relies on the results of sports fixtures and, often, the whims of chance. As Kimmel notes, this often results in “hypertension, high blood pressure and depression,” as well as substance abuse and domestic violence.

Kimmel recommends sitting down with friends and family members who you’ve seen react too intensely to their team’s misfortunes. Despite how widespread this affliction is, Kimmel explains that ubiquity does not equal healthy. The most extreme examples of hardcore fandom may need professional help.

“Let them tell you about the frustration they feel with their team. Maybe they’d consider speaking with a professional. If they won’t step up to the plate, the next loss may be their own health and well-being.”

Read more at Post Periodical

Photo credit: Lorelyn Medina / Shutterstock


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