Sports and Xenophobia: A Connection?


Stiller fans.jpg

One of the most rewarding and painful aspects of watching sports intensely is the rivalry factor between teams, and by extension, cities. When my sports teams beat their closest rivals, the good vibes can last hours or even days depending on the context. Getting humiliated in the same contest, on the other hand, can ruin about half of the next week for me. This became especially pertinent when I came to Penn State and was surrounded by fans of opposing teams on a consistent basis for the first time. Being from Pittsburgh, I had always naturally felt a rivalry with Philadelphia, but I never really knew kids from Philly until I came here. Needless to say, the animosity got ratcheted up a notch simply from seeing Phillies and Eagles shirts every day. This is not to say that I dislike Philadelphia or any other city whose sports teams I can't stand (Boston, New York, Baltimore, etc.). I have friends from all over the country, and would never hold where they're from against them. This brings up an interesting point, however. Why do sports fans feel such a rivalry with cities that they've never even been to? Why do sports fans feel the need to obnoxiously boast about their team and its success? I am overly guilty of both of these charges, and even I still can't understand my own actions.

I think that the answer to these questions could potentially answer questions about rivalries between countries and the failures of many different countries to achieve peace with each other. The impulses of the brain would logically seem to be somewhat similar, and it would be interesting to see a study on the exact area of the brain that controls things like xenophobia and geographic rivalry. Personally, the feelings of national pride that I got when, for instance, Osama bin Laden was killed were certainly comparable to my feelings after the Steelers won the Super Bowl (do I have a problem?). Maybe scientists could flash photos of various sports rivals' logos in front of a diehard sports fan and see what type of brain activity is registered. Then, they could bring in an admitted racist or xenophobe and flash pictures of a different flags of other countries and see what type of connections are being made in the brain. These studies could possibly go a long way in helping scientists understand why some people are so intolerant of other countries and cultures, and could help psychologists get a deeper understanding of the reason behind those types of brain functions. What do you guys think? Could there be a connection?



I'm so glad that someone decided to blog on this. At the first Penn State football game, I was so upset that we lost and going on to Twitter and seeing my friends from Ohio University posting about the game physically pained me. I have never been to Ohio University, but suddenly, I hated it. However, I think a lot of sports rivalries are also good-natured and overall harmless. At the end of the day, I think people realize that it is just a game. Conversely, after reading your blog post, I looked up "what causes rivalries" and an article about rivalries going too far came up. In this USA Today article, they show a shirt from Ohio State that reads "I'd rather shower at Penn State than cheer for the Wolverines." This is definitely an instance where rivalries take the sport too far and cross the line. Maybe it isn't good natured, after all. I think further delving into this study could prove really interesting, because maybe there is a correlation between xenophobia and sports, after all.

I actually thought this was really interesting and very possible- I'm from Pittsburgh too (Go Steelers) and one of my best friends here is also from PIttsburgh. Everywhere we go (parties, the white loop, you name it) we end up fighting Philly people over football. It's ridiculous, but we do it because we're proud of where we're from. I get the most homesick on Steeler Sundays because that was one of the times when I felt most at home and in love with my city. I think you're right that it could be connected to xenophobia because I feel physically sick to my stomach when a Flyers fan starts talking about hockey... it seems silly but there's something about sports that evokes emotions nothing else does.

This is an awesome topic to blog. Being from Philadelphia, I'm a die hard sports fan and I still can't get used to all the apparel I see people wearing for teams like the Giants and Penguins. Even today, walking around I saw a ton of Giants fan wearing their gear in support of their game tonight, and I just couldn't help but giving a dirty look every time I saw it. I think this is because people just naturally take pride in where they are from and, as Andrew pointed in the beginning of class today, that humans naturally think they are better than everyone else. I think this mindset extends to their sports teams and cities which why us diehard fans take such great pride in beating other teams, especially those that are our closest rivals.

This was definitely the most interesting blog I have read so far. Being a Dallas Cowboys fan, I have rivals from all over the place. I was raised in New Jersey and Giants fans surrounded me wherever I went. We had rivalry games twice a year and always competed who was on the top of the NFC East. I never thought, however, this competitive rivalries between football teams can translate to rivalries from countries all around the world. The more I think about it though, it may be possible. People in America will always have a grudge on certain countries around the world because of past and current events, just like I will have a grudge on Giants fans because of their past and current events. This would be an interesting thing for scientists to discover, and if rivalries from sports can translate to rivalries among countries, maybe we can find a way to make peace around the world.

This is so true. Ive tried explaining my hatred for the Mets, Cowboys, Giants, and Penguins to my girlfriend. I was lost trying to find an answer. This is exactly what it is. Not only do I tend to hate the teams, but it makes me hate the cities. For some reason I always hated going to New York City and avoided it at all costs. Fans become so passionate that everything about the rival city instantly sucks.

This is such a great topic to write about, especially at Penn State where we have kids from all over the country who love all different types of sports teams. I think your whole post was really informative and brought up a lot of great points that I believe could really be useful to figure out something such as why certain countries and specific parts of the globe cannot stand each other; it really is a very prominent problem in our world. I have grown up watching and playing sports all my life, and it is really crazy how some sports rivalries can be, some even leading to violence. Like many fellow Philadelphians, I am proud to root for all Philly teams and I find myself disliking other teams/cities just...because. Obviously this is really immature and naive, but that seems to be the way it is. I also have a lot of friends who cheer for different teams based on the city they are from and by coming to Penn State, I have come in contact and met a lot of great people who cheer for Pittsburgh teams, a place that the city of brotherly love tends to always go to battle with. It really makes you wonder though, why are we always competing with others based on sports? As many others have brought up great points as to why sports rivalries can go to such extreme heights, I also feel like it has something to do with where you come from and how you were brought up. By no means was I brought up to hate someone else for any reason, especially because of a sports team they liked, but I was brought up to like and appreciate where I came from, so that was that. When you get into a heated discussion with someone who is dissing your sports team, you get offended because that is something that is a part of you and something that you don't want others talking bad about. Like Andrew said in class today, people think they are better than other people and some also believe that when it comes to where we are from. I don't think sports rivalries will ever go away, nor do I think they should because they bring a great atmosphere to the event, but I don't think they should get out of hand where people hate each other because of it. I would be interested to see a study done like you described, to see the reasons and connections on a global scale as to why certain countries cannot stand one another. I think it would grab a lot of attention!

This was a very well thought out blog. I'm sure that there's a study out there that utilizes the type of study that you just described.

I think it's a very timely that you write this article a few months after the Olympics. Why do we have rivalries with countries that we've never been to and that, even weirder, we may have a good diplomatic relationship? Also, why is it that the host country is likely to have it's medal count go up by, I think they said 20%? It has to be this since of pride like what you're talking about.

We put so much emphasis on sports and the affect it has on our lives that sometimes something like winning the Super Bowl can be on the same level as getting Bin Laden. I don't think that's bad for you to feel that way, because as a die hard Steeler fan, I feel an abnormal sense of pride in my team as compared to less some less popular teams in the NFL. Why are sports so important to us-- and by us I mean the WORLD, not just Americans? Why is the need to win, to get medals, to be faster than Usain Bolt or have more Super Bowl rings than Tom Brady so important? This kind of explanation can go on forever if we wanted it to. I think part of it is trying to "keep with the Joneses," to be as good as your neighbor.

This is so odd to think about! I've never even noticed how much losing or winning in a sports game actually affects my life and way of thinking! I don't know if I'd go as far as to say there is a connection between sports rivalries and xenophobia, but I'd be really interested to see if you do more research on this and what you find. For all I know, there could be some aspect of the brain that controls those types of things and they could be similar. Who knows!

To simply put it, fandom and loyalty to a team seems to be A LOT more important nowadays than sport itself. We live in a society now where people can continuously talk about if you were "a fan before they got good" or if you have "jumped on the bandwagon or not". Trust me, I know about this topic way too much considering I'm a Pittsburgh Penguins (aka the absolute king of a "bandwagon" in sports) season ticket holder. We as fans like to associate ourselves with the team so much to make us feel like we are a part of the team. How the team does really affects people's lives because, once again, I know about it considering I grew up my entire life in a sports hotbead. In terms of rivalries, it's intended to be a clash for the guys on the field. But we associate ourselves so much with teams as "fanatics" that when negativity happens between the teams, we follow suit.

As you mentioned in your article with the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia rivalry, things can get way too out of hand. Just look right at what happened outside Dodger Stadium in August 2011 before a Dodgers and Giants game. Albeit, that rivalry stems all the way back to their times in New York, but baseball does not have to lead to extreme violence. If you are not aware of this story, a 42 year Giants fan by the name of Bryan Stow was beaten severely after a game by Dodgers fans and was left in a coma with permanent severe brain damage.

I think you're right, there has to be some connection between the two. As a huge Ravens fan I do experience some kind of anger when a Steelers fan decides to be obnoxious about his team. I especially become angry and/or upset when the Ravens lose to the Steelers for example; a feeling which I would compare to when I found out my dog died. I think these feelings and emotions could cause people to act out the same way a xenophobe would, and the points already expressed point to that (such as the beating of Brian Stow).
But since not all die-hard sports fans act out in these ways I think it would be interesting to do a psycho-analysis on the fans who do feel the need to act out. While other factors such as alcohol may effect these people during the act, I wonder if they would be prone to more violent habits when sober and away from the sports field as well.

To be honest, I think this problem can be traced back to the very foundation of human beings. Even the cave men had to "pick a side" to survive, and with those that they sided with, they became their family and chose to identify with them. Today, we are so wrapped up in our teams that they become a part of who we are, a make up of our identity. In this sense, I think you are correct in drawing a correlation in something like the Red Sox vs. Yankees rivalry to the United States and Iran. Obviously it sounds ridiculous on the surface, and it truly is, one has to do with life and death, and the other a round ball and a bat. Yet, being social creatures and needing a spot to fit in, when one of our teams loses or is insulted, for those that identify heavily with that team, it can be taken as a personal attack.

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