The Irrationality of Sports Fandom

By Alex Norman

So, I’m a big hockey fan.  The team and the situation aren’t important to the story, but recently my team lost a playoff game that they had greatly in hand.

It bothered me.  It bothered me the point that the rest of my day was ruined, as was the next day.

I was miserable.  The patience that I normally have at home was gone.  The messes that I normally let go as a part of the contract that exists in a home with small children suddenly bothered me to the extent that there was yelling.

The mortgage suddenly was too high, the utility bill too costly, and the air conditioning unit not pushing out nearly enough cold air.

The previous week, when my team had won their opening round series, life was good.  The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and the weekly paycheck was more robust.

You know… I don’t think that I ask for much as a man.  A healthy, happy family.  A job that doesn’t suck out my soul.  A roof.  A cold beer and a steak every now and again…

But when my hockey team loses a playoff game they should have won, suddenly the world is a dark place that nothing good comes from.

This got me wondering… why do I feel this way.  And I know for a fact that I’m not the only one.

Here in Knoxville, the economy gets a big boost when Tennessee’s football team is doing well.  When the Vols are losing, there are more calls to the cops for incidents in the home.

Do a quick search on YouTube for “Crying Vols fan” and you will see a treasure trove of reactions, specifically from the Vols “Hail Mary” win against Georgia in 2016.

So why do we care so much about our sports teams?  When you think about it… it is a truly irrational emotional reaction.

Let’s just look at Tennessee for example.  Maybe you grew up here.  Maybe you went to school there.  But are you on the team?  Is your brother on the team?  Why should a person’s ability to carry a football over a line make the difference in your happiness or sadness?  How is it that when someone wearing an orange shirt scores more points than a guy in a Crimson and White garb we feel tremendous joy?

The comedian Jerry Seinfeld had some great commentary about sports during a visit to “Late Night with David Letterman” back in 1994.  I think it still holds true today.

“Team loyalty is a kind of hard thing to justify in the end,” said Seinfeld. “You know I love the Giants but when you think about it, who are the Giants?  I mean every year it’s different guys, right?  The teams will move from city to city… you are rooting for clothes when it comes right down to it.  I’m rooting for an outfit that’s what it comes down to. I want my team’s clothes to beat the clothes from another city.   We’re rooting… we’re screaming about laundry here.”

Peyton Manning will be a god in Knoxville for an eternity.  Lane Kiffin will be a villain in Knoxville for longer than that. But Peyton Manning probably didn’t pull you out of a burning building and Lane Kiffin likely was not responsible for your divorce.  Still, we feel strongly on both accounts mostly because of what they did while representing Tennessee.

Are sports important?  That depends on who you ask.  But most would agree that our sports fandom puts us an irrational state.

All I know is that I would feel better about life if I saw my team win another Stanley Cup in my lifetime…

Sigh…

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