Sports fans take team loyalty too personally

Ian Essling and Ian Essling

We get emotional when our favorite sports teams win or lose – it’s just a simple fact of our society because of the emphasis that we place on sporting events.

If you were to walk into work or school and declare you were in a rotten mood “because the Cubs lost,” no one would question you. It’s not necessary to have a real reason to be upset. Forget the “rough weekend” or “case of the Mondays” excuses. In 2007, your favorite team losing a game can cast a pall over you that is accepted by society as a good reason to be depressed for the next two weeks.

When Bad Rex showed up to deliver his opus during last year’s Super Bowl and the Bears were cast down by Indianapolis, the depth of the depression radiating from the Chicago area was palatable and somewhat disturbing.

How many people remembered this was a game and was supposed to be fun?

There is a line between healthy support for your favorite team and an obsessive streak that can be detrimental to you and those around you and, unfortunately, fans are crossing this line.

Many fans are much larger stakeholders in their team’s welfare now than in past years. A study in Psychology Today magazine calls these types of fans “high-identifiers,” fans that they say have “extreme emotions in the face of defeat, compared with average sports fans.”

These labels used to be most often applied to the fans who really went over the edge and jumped onto the field of play, pummelling the guy sitting next to them or engaging in some other sort of outlandish behavior.

Increasingly, however, more and more fans are starting to drift toward the “high-identifier” category. Sporting events are transcending hobbies and pastimes and becoming emotional crutches, and that change in our thinking is not healthy.

When the hardcore fan becomes a part of the team, their health, both mental and physical, can become tied to the team’s performance. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology explained the team can literally become an “extension of the fan’s ego,” and when the team does poorly, the fan begins to feel tired, despondent and depressed.

If your favorite team decides to go on a massive losing streak and you are living and breathing every play, you are going to go down with them. Questioning the meaning of life because your favorite player just blew a tight game is just a little beyond the realm of healthy sporting fervor.

It’s important to not get too high or too low on your team. When my D’Backs finished off the Cubs a couple weeks ago, I was cautiously optimistic about their chances against the Rockies. Obviously, they got absolutely destroyed in the NLCS by the suddenly unbeatable kids from Denver, but at that point, it was something to shrug off.

As college students working and taking huge course loads, do any of us really have the time to become so wrapped up in our team’s destiny that a loss sends us into a haze for the next week?

Step back and remember: It’s just a game.

Ian Essling writes for the Northern Star, the student newspaper at Northern Illinois University.