Exactly why am I a Boston Red Sox fan? Rooting for a team that hasn't won a championship since 1918 isn't exactly easy, yet I still follow them. I still believe that this will be THE year they win the World Series (in seven games over the Cubs -- see, I told you this was a humor column.) And, even if that doesn't happen, I will continue to enjoy their victories and fret about their losses. But why? Why do so many of us invest so much mental energy into watching what is just a game?
In between innings, I looked into this and discovered that a tremendous amount of strange research has been conducted about sports fans. For example, Edward Hirt of Indiana University found that fans are more likely to ask out an attractive member of the opposite sex when their team has just won. Call it the "when Nomar scores, I score" theory to dating.
After basketball games, Hirt showed fans pictures of very attractive people. When their team had just won, the fans thought they had a much better chance of getting a date with the attractive people than when their team had lost. Interestingly, when shown pictures of unattractive members of the opposite sex, the winning fans didn't usually think they could get a date.
"My suspicions were that they thought so highly of themselves that it was, 'Oh, they won't go out with me because they will be intimidated by how suave and debonair I am. I am out of their league,' " Hirt told the Los Angeles Times. "It is the whole idea that 'I am a winner, too.' "
Think of the most zealous sports fans, and it seems a ridiculous notion: "Yeah, I'm telling you, man. After we won, the chicks at the game were all eyeing me. They just couldn't resist me with the team logo painted on my gut and my new beer helmet on. Yeah ... they wanted me."
Of course, in some ways, Hirt's theory is comforting. At last, I have a scapegoat for my lackluster dating life. I can blame the Red Sox. I'm thinking of calling up sports radio to complain.
"Joe from Cambridge, you're on the air."
"Yeah, Eddie, the Sox are killing me! You know, I was gonna ask this cute girl out on Monday, but then the Sox blew the lead in the ninth, and I just lost my nerve. What's going on with Jimy Williams? How could he take Pedro out like that? Doesn't he realize I haven't had a date in weeks? Eddie, let's fire him and get a real manager!"
Many studies have also shown that a man's testosterone level will rise and fall during a game depending on how his team is performing. Charles Hillman of the University of Illinois even discovered that fans often experience some type of physical arousal during a game.
Dr. Hillman studied the reactions of football fans at the University of Florida. As the New York Times explained in an article last year:
"Among zealous male and female fans, Dr. Hillman's study found, the level of arousal -- measured by heart rate, brain waves and perspiration -- was comparable to what the fans registered when shown erotic photos or pictures of animal attacks."
So, basically, if Fox were to bring back When Animals Attack with a naked woman in a Red Sox cap hosting, they might really be onto something. At the very least, Dr. Hillman must have been popular at the football games.
"Hey, look, everyone, the doctor with all the porn is back!"
It's a shame Dr. Hillman didn't pursue the study further. Here's my question: When shown pictures of porn stars, were fans of winning teams more likely to think they could get a date with the porn star? Sadly, we don't yet know, but hopefully some research student is working to answer that question right now, preferably on a government grant.
As for why we become fans, psychologists have offered many answers, but few are satisfactory. Some think that sports provide us with a sense of community, but many things provide that. Why choose sports? Others claim that fans are looking to boost their own self-esteem by identifying with the accomplishments of a team, but why then am I a Red Sox fan? Trust me. Rooting for a team that hasn't won in 82 years has done little to boost my self-esteem.
There's even a particularly hokey theory that we are programmed to be sports fans. In ancient times, people would live in small tribes, protected by warriors. According to this theory, just as ancient people rooted for their warriors, so we root for our athletes. I suppose it could be true, but there's a key difference. If Jose Offerman of the Red Sox fails to turn a double play, that doesn't mean the Huns are about to capture my Cambridge apartment, and I think my body is well aware of that.
There may be a simple answer to all this. Perhaps being a sports fan is just fun. It certainly can provide an enjoyable release of emotions, and it's probably made all the more enjoyable because in the end it really doesn't matter. As for the Red Sox part of the equation, who knows? It could be that I'm just a masochist.
|Copyright 2001 by Joe Lavin
Joe Lavin's Humor Column is published every Tuesday at: http://joelavin.com
As long as you include my name and web site address, feel free to forward this column all over the place. And if you enjoy my column, why not let your local newspaper or magazine know about it?
Submitted By: Joe Lavin
Jun 28, 2001 13:39