It was not too many years ago, while still considering a career in psychology, that I took a class which included the examination of some of the social aspects of professional sports and their impact on the human psyche. I always had more than a casual curiosity why any sane person would follow three professional sports teams which – for the most part, anyway – routinely had their rears kicked (as I recall, that’s technical talk) on a regular basis, only to still come back for more.
If you really think about it, many of the theories on the subject make a lot of sense:
1) Back in the day – and I mean really far back – when we lived in small groups or tribes, we were usually protected by a group of warriors who went into battle representing us as a whole. Today, that still holds true as our sports teams do indeed represent us. We won’t get into any of the specifics regarding how successful they are at achieving their task; that would be too painful.
2) We, as humans, also have this so-called "healthy" desire to be affiliated with groups - be they family, clubs, church or lousy sports teams. My own personal opinion here is that if we really wanted to be top-notch psychologically, we’d have the good sense to know when to "cut the cord" as it were. But hey, my last name isn’t Freud or Jung, is it? (I should probably have just stuck to cherries like Mom wanted me to).
3) Another of the common theories presented is that we need the distraction derived from sports to help us deal with the negatives in our daily lives, such as work, family, the IRS, or Snooki. I don’t know about you, but personally, there have been many times in my life when I’d wished I’d had the distraction of WORK to help me forget what I was witnessing at an Indians, Browns or Cavs game. Talk about reverse psychology…
4) Finally, there’s also the benefit of being able to shout, yell, scream and generally act like an idiot with thousands of others who will think no less of you for acting in that manner. Of course, that’s primarily because they’re acting like idiots too. But it’s a release which allows you to vent and blow off a little steam, right? You can’t do that at home without drawing a few stares, can you? Remember how the family looked at you when you went ballistic over the new mandatory service charge on your water bill? We don’t want that to happen again now, do we?
I remember asking my professor – and keep in mind this man was always dead serious – about the dangers of following professional sports in Cleveland, specifically.
He looked up at me and, with one of the best impersonations of Freud I’ve ever witnessed, replied, “You’ll have to take Abnormal Psychology to cover that, my friend.”
What a wise guy - probably from Pittsburgh.