Better Luck Next Year? How Bad Teams Affect Their Fans

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By DYLAN PENZA
Sports Editor
Published: October 22, 2014

Every April, I convince myself that the New York Mets might actually be worth rooting for. I understand that a successful season is theoretically possible, but deep down, I know the most likely outcome will be another below mediocre summer for my favorite baseball team. Why would we Mets fans, or other long-suffering fan bases like those of the Cleveland Browns and Washington Wizards, continue to believe in these franchises? We recognize that every season will bring us, at best, fleeting joy that our team exceeded our low expectations, or at worst aggravation and unhappiness.  Yet, we’re still packing the stadiums, buying t-shirts and tuning in to watch these teams fail on a regular basis.  It makes one wonder whether or not rooting for a disappointing team produces some sort of psychological or emotional burden for a devotee.

There’s no definitive or concrete reason why sports fans convince themselves to stay loyal to their respective franchises. However, psychology majors James Vicari Jr., Joanna Rizzo and Michelle Williamson, all Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC)’16 have developed some theories as to what causes emotional attachment to a sports team and why that bond is difficult to break. Jimmy believes that because many people have their first experience with sports as a result of a loved one, an emotional bond is what habituates fandom as opposed to simply rooting for the team’s success. He said, “It’s more of a family thing than caring about the team’s success kind of thing. Your dad brought you to a Mets game when you were a kid and that’s why you support the team.  The team is bad, but who cares, the family is there watching.”

However, most 19-year-olds don’t base every opinion on the beliefs of their parents, so there must be some sort of other connection or relationship other fans and I form from the team that keep us involved despite win loss records. According to Rizzo, that connection is a sense of community one feels part of when they root for a sports team. “You have a built in connection with others in your environment. If you live in San Francisco and you root for the Giants, you  have a connection with those around you. It’s basically social support.”

Vicari and Rizzo may have accurately deduced a reason why someone may have begun and continues to root for a bad team. However, it is difficult to assess whether or not the act of cheering for, and to an extent believing in a perpetually misery-inducing team would affect your brain.

Rizzo believes that the stress of watching your favorite team lose most likely will not induce any sort of significant mental harm. “It’s a stresser that’s on the spectrum, but it won’t cause something like symptoms of depression.” However, that is under the circumstances of an American sports fan watching a game purely for it’s enjoyment.  Williamson said that how you react to your team losing has a cultural base, saying that “Our stress is not like the stress for other countries when our teams lose.  We Americans like sports, but we don’t obsess over sports the way other countries do.  Look at the way Brazilian soccer fans reacted after their loss in the World Cup.” refering to the riots in Rio after Brazil’s loss. Vicari also mentioned that someone having “external things like betting on a game” could lead to higher stress.

All three of the students have come to the conclusion that a team’s losses do not have a significant impact on one’s mental health under normal circumstances. Rizzo summed it up by saying “The more you identify with your local sports team, the more likely to be mentally healthy you are to be.” So cheer up Mets, Jets and Islanders fans! Nothing is biologically wrong with us cheering on our favorite teams, and the communities we foster as a fanbase harbor way more significance than if teams win.