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“Four people are dead as competing fans riot at Honduras soccer game”
“It is a dark day in tennis as Monica Seles is stabbed on court”
“Fans Attack Baseball Coach On Field”
“Hundreds of soccer fans riot violently at game in South Africa”
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These are real news headlines. They come from the past few years and around the world. They are all about violent sports fans. Fans are loyal to a team or sport. Of course, not all sports fans are violent or bad. But fans do many extreme things because of sports games. Millions of people say that being a sports fan is one of the most important things in their lives. Why do people love sports so much? And why do fans support their teams so strongly? Today’s Spotlight is on the reasons people become sports fans and why they act in particular ways.
Loyalty to sports teams crosses every border. People of every nationality, culture, income level, gender and age love to watch sports. Sports are entertaining. They are easy for anyone to access, and do not cost much. And people like to watch athletes perform! Athletes inspire us with their strength, skill and hard work. Many people follow one sport, and one team in particular.
But being a loyal sports fan can have negative results. At the beginning of this program we heard examples of sports fan violence. People can also feel depressed when their team loses. However, being a sports fan has many positive results too. Fans feel great when their team wins! Studies show that sports fans think better thoughts about themselves. They are less depressed and less lonely. Dr. Daniel Wann is a leading expert on fan behavior. He made a list of 24 examples of social well-being that come with being a fan of a sports team. He tells the Seattle Times:
“There has been a lot of research in my lab and by others in multiple cultures. It shows that when an individual becomes attached to a sports team, there are pretty clear mental benefits of that.”
Being a fan also produces complex biological reactions and social behavior. Imagine you are watching your favorite team or athlete play a game. Your heart starts to beat faster. You become very excited. You are not moving much but you begin to sweat. Studies show this happens to many sports fans. They react physically to the game even though they are not playing.
Chemicals in the fans’ bodies also change in the same way that the athletes’ bodies do. Experts call these “mirror neurons.” So sports fans experience a kind of mirror reflection of what they are watching. They feel tension. But they also experience the release of chemical substances in their body. These make the fans feel happy. Shankar Vedantam is a social science reporter for the news organization NPR. He says:
“Sports allow us to feel intensely about something that really is not very important. The truth is, tomorrow, if your team wins or loses, you are still going to be OK. So in some ways watching sports is like watching a horror movie. You feel intensely but the risks are not that high.”
Our minds, emotions and bodies respond strongly to sports. And we respond even more if we care more. The other main reason people care so much about sports is social. Many people like to watch sports events with their friends and family. But the social element of being a sports fan is much more than that.
People like belonging to a group. Being part of a team makes us feel we have things in common with the people around us. We form groups naturally. People are also naturally very loyal to their “in-group.” They feel they belong and connect emotionally to the other members of the group. They also often share a dislike for people in an “out-group” – like an opposing sports team. Christine Emba reports for the Washington Post:
“Studies have shown that for fans, being identified with a favorite team is more important than being identified with their work and social groups. And it is sometimes more important to them than being identified with their religion.”
Our attachment to sports teams comes from a deeper desire for connection. People want to feel valuable and important in the world. Some experts say we all want to be part of something larger than ourselves that will continue on, even after we die. Jeff Greenberg teaches social psychology at the University of Arizona. In the online science magazine Nautilus, he says:
“The underlying importance of sports fanship is that need to feel good about yourself, the need for self-esteem and meaning. What is the point? Why do we need to feel valuable and good about ourselves and our place in the world? In a sense, that is what we are doing in our lives. We are trying to feel larger than our own lives, to feel higher than death. We want to feel that somehow we are going to continue on beyond. Sports are a symbolic version of the drama of life. Winning and losing feels like life and death.”
People have found many ways to belong to groups. Sports fans form a strong bond with other group members. In this way they satisfy the need to belong. And they fill the need to be part of something larger than themselves. When their team loses, they feel as if they have lost. And when their team wins, they celebrate victory.
Lastly, there are some outside reasons to be a sports fan. Sports are a multi-billion dollar global business. It is good for people in this business when sports fans are loyal. Many people make a lot of money from sports that people watch. Sports are an important part of the global economy.
Most people cheering for their team are probably not thinking about all these things. But it helps us to understand why sports are important to so many people around the world. Are sports important to you? What team do you support? Do you think it is because of the reasons in this program? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also comment on YouTube, At youtube.com/spotlightenglish1.
The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “Are You A Real Sports Fan?”
Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.
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