The magic of sports fandoms

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Pointlessly yelling at my TV, trying to reach people who can’t hear me and inspire them to win a game that I’ve never played at even a fraction of their level — somehow, they can’t hear me. They make mistakes I swear I wouldn’t have made. 

The coaching would be better off if a toddler was in charge (no disrespect to toddlers). The referees have received the bribe — they’ve made it their personal mission to either look the other way on the opponent or call everything on my team. 

My blood pressure is at dangerously high levels, nervousness courses through my brain and my heart feels like it’s about to burst out of my chest.

After the loss, the crushing reality of coming up short mixes with unfulfilled promise and creates something that is disgusting to digest. Soon, the homework that I skipped out on doing to watch this is going to hit like a ton of bricks. 

Even if the season was overall positive, even if new players have caught my eye, even if I’ll likely move on by tomorrow — a meaningful loss still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 

So, why do I believe my fandom of football, basketball and recently baseball is one of the most healthy aspects of my life?

Well, there is some fact backing me up. According to Daniel Wann, a psychologist who researches sports fandom at Murray State University, “fandom connects us to other like-minded people, satisfying our human need for belonging.” 

Fans also tend to have increased self-esteem, reduced loneliness and overall satisfaction with life in comparison to those who don’t follow sports. 

Once this psychological connection is formed, research has found it doesn’t dissipate with losing. There is still a mental benefit in watching your pathetic team scrounge its way to a bottom-of-the-barrel standing, especially if you follow it with other passionate fans. 

As a college student, I believe sports fandom can be a powerful tool to maintain mental health. It’s especially useful at a place like Tech, where the rigor can spawn feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction. 

When I came here from out-of-state, I was able to find a community and form meaningful connections through my fandom. 

These connections have grown into some of my most cherished friendships here. I do, in fact, “wait all day for Sunday Night” so that I can sit on the couch and argue about the game with my friends.

It’s a form of escapism — a break from the academic load, because now I’m just a fan watching my team as opposed to a student. But, fandom is also a bridge to home.

When I call my brother, who plays Little League baseball and loves the Philadelphia Phillies, it’s easy to reduce the separation by talking — mostly untrue — trash about how much better my team (the Mariners) is. Him playing baseball is actually what inspired me to understand the game further. 

Without the baseball fandom, I would have never had the impetus to play catch with him and now, it’s one of our favorite things to do. 

For my personal development, the skill, fortitude, swag and teamwork that I see in my favorite players is inspiring. If I see someone on my team gutting it out and shooting buckets with a sprained wrist, I can probably grind out two hours of studying for a test. 

Even if I’m probably never going to play in the NBA, the theme of pushing through something because it needs to be done will always be relevant in my life. 

As a disclaimer, I doubt my fandom will be good for my physical health forty or fifty years from now. Watching stupid play calls drives my blood pressure up to a level that won’t age well and I’ll probably have to ease up on the nervous snacking.

I also recognize that being a student at Tech means that it’s just not realistic to watch every game. However, the mental health benefits are never going to fade. 

I’d encourage everybody to find a sport they have any interest in learning or understanding and look for that one team, that one player, that one game that just gets you hooked. It just might change your life for the better.