Your Brain on Football: Physical and Psychological Effects of Sports Fandom

Your Brain on Football: Physical and Psychological Effects of Sports Fandom

A year ago, I wrote a post about how and why absurdly addicted I, and most of the world, am to sports. Here are the physical and psychological effects of sports fandom, with a few updates…

Football Fandom Runs Deep and Affects the Brain

My Texas A&M football fandom began at a young age, and it’s progressively worsened into a serious condition. Symptoms include irrational beliefs that “this season will be different” (every season); uncontrollable emotion anytime my team scores, recovers a fumble, or intercepts a pass; low-key stalking high school players to learn where they’ll commit; and owning enough maroon clothing to outfit a small village.

Though my addiction might seem absurd to some, I know I’m in good company. Across the globe, sports enthusiasts do seemingly crazy things in the name of fandom every day. It’s as if our critical thinking skills are hindered by an addiction to our team.

And, that’s it. We’re addicts- looking for our next high. We sacrifice reason and logic for a chance to feel that flood of dopamine when A&M beats Clemson (hey, it could happen; we’re only 11 point underdogs).*

*Update: remember how I said it could happen? Well it basically did, but it’s part of the tragic hero nature of Aggie football to get screwed by refs:

Your Sports Addiction is Scientific: Physical and Psychological Effects are Real

There’s science to support the potentially addictive nature of fandom. We have very measurable physical effects when watching, or even discussing, our team. Elevated blood pressure, increased adrenaline, and changes in posture or speech are just a few of physical characteristics that accompany game time behavior.

If you listen to a die-hard sports fan, you’ll notice the abundance of the word “we.” In this, the fan is grouping himself with the players, coaches, and fellow fans. It’s our mirror neurons that give us the ability to place ourselves in the shoes of the actual players. Though we’re not in the game, we still feel like we have a part in the outcome. Our addiction is both physical and psychological.

Personally, I think this addiction to sports is both wonderful and terrible.

Humans crave connection. We’re built for community. For many, sports offer the chance to be a part of something. For me, being an Aggie is belonging to a cult community of individuals who share a passion for something bigger than any one of us. But, it’s not just an Aggie thing.

For a large portion of the world, soccer is an integral part of culture. The passion and community of soccer fans is an incredible sight to behold. For millions of children and adults, soccer isn’t just a sport, but it’s the escape from an often challenging life. Watching a game offers a momentary reprieve from the stresses of life.*

*Update: this year’s Women’s World Cup was massively controversial for Americans. Political speech from players dominated and divided the country. As a result, some Americans rooted for England to win the title…before the game began. But, fandom and patriotism took effect shortly after the first kick, and by the end, most Americans were proud to once again beat the British.

Athletes and Coaches Can Do No Wrong

The dark side of fandom is our ability to rationalize away sins for the players, coaches, and schools we love. I’m going to call out Ohio State University here because it’s the most recent, most egregious example of ignoring blatant misconduct for the sake of winning. When we let our addiction to the game supersede our morality, we set a dangerous precedent. Sure, Urban Meyer is a phenomenal coach, but he’s also a jerk. And, what are we saying to the up and coming generation about accountability when we let Coach Meyer off the hook because he wins games? I don’t think these are the values we should be teaching. Our addiction has clouded our judgement.

OSU isn’t the only administration to permit poor conduct. Every fan base has moments in its history we’d like to hide. We’ve all justified bad behavior from our favorite players and swore, “he’s really not a bad guy… he just made a mistake.”

From the outsider’s perspective, the amount of energy and emotion we dedicate to teams and players almost seems like lunacy. It’s just a game, right? They may just be games, but for many, they’re also community. They’re part of our identity. We feel successful when our team wins- a sense of failure when they lose. When our coach receives criticism for misconduct, we feel personally attacked.

For me, the addiction is well worth it. I’ve made some of my best friends at those games. I’ve cried tears of joy and frustration at those games (if you’re an Aggie and didn’t cry when we beat Alabama in 2012 and when we lost to UCLA in 2017, you’re a monster). The community and connection I find as a fan is unbeatable… even though my team is usually very beatable.

I have no doubt I will continue to do ridiculous things in the name of fandom; and I know I’m surrounded by good people who’ll be doing the same.*

*Update: this is a personal note, but the last few dates I had were with guys who didn’t know or enjoy football. As a football addict, I wondered if this meant my life would be spent pining for an Aggie natty alone. But this article’s posting last year convinced another Ag that there are women who might be as obsessed about recruiting as he is. And I hear wedding bells set to the tune of the Aggie War Hymn.

2019 College Football is Almost Here

Here’s to another season of turbulence- high highs and low lows. God bless Jimbo Fisher, Aggie football, and the community we sports fans need to survive the physical and psychological effects of sports.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    All to true. Well written, just, next time, don’t use The Ohio State as a poor example.

    That’s all.

    1. Avatar

      They need to stop giving me so much material, then. 🙂

  2. Avatar

    Nailed on in the connectivity issue. We all long to connect be part of something bigger than ourselves as he saying goes. And on a large community scale, what better way than via sports. It’s like if you’re in Europe and you meet someone and they say oh Texas, I know a guy from there. Do you know x? Really? It defies rational thought to ask that. But we all do it our search for commonalities to connect. And I mean, it could happen. People do actually win the lottery. Speaking of….#BTHOClemson

    1. Avatar

      I gotta say… I’m really loving your optimism, Chris.

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