The Roots of Rooting

The Psychology of Sport Fans

Will Packers Fans Forgive Favre?

There are a multitude of factors that might influence Favre's reception.

After Brett Favre retired in March 2008 and then announced his desire to return to the Packers four months later, some Green Bay Packers’ fans unwaveringly supported Favre’s return to the team, others became infuriated with his indecisiveness, while most fans were at a loss on how to feel about the situation. The question inevitably became, are you a Packers fan or a Brett Favre fan?

For years, fans in Brett Favre’s camp have asked the Green Bay Packers organization, “When are you going to honor Brett Favre?” On Monday, August 4th, 2014, the Green Bay Packers provided an answer, announcing that Favre will be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in the summer of 2015. The question remains - How will Favre be received by the Green Bay Packers’ faithful? One study of a series of studies I conducted with Shaye Worthman (XU ’09) and Elizabeth Fichtel (XU’10 ) might provide some answers.

With the help of Kathleen End and her stable of ambitious high school students, 96 Green Bay Packers fans were sampled from high traffic, public areas of Milwaukee, WI., including Miller Park, within a week of Favre’s official request of release from the Green Bay Packers. The Green Bay Packers fans completed a Player and Team Attitudinal Loyalty Scale adopted from the Attitudinal Loyalty subscale of the Sport Interest Inventory and responded to items regarding judgments of responsibility, attributions of intent, and forgiveness.

We hypothesized that fans with high team loyalty would demonstrate more adverse reactions to Favre’s abandonment of the Packers than fans with high player loyalty. An exploratory hypothesis predicted that fans with high player loyalty to Favre would demonstrate more defensive attitudes toward him and his actions than fans with high team loyalty.

Multiple regression analyses revealed that of the player and team loyalty variables, only the player loyalty was a significant predictor of how the participants responded. Player attitudinal loyalty predicted how participants perceived the intent of Favre, to what extent they would forgive Favre if he apologized, how they perceived the effectiveness of an apology, and how receptive they were to Favre’s return. Additionally further analyses demonstrated that player loyalty was indeed a significant predictor of how participants perceived if Favre was able to control the situation. The results indicate that high player loyalty to Favre affected how participants perceived the situation and an apology would facilitate forgiveness, while high team loyalty did not significantly predict participants’ responses.

Based on these results, one would predict that those who are loyal to Brett Favre will welcome and honor him in the summer of 2015. But how many people are still loyal to Brett Favre?.

The number of fans who are loyal to Brett Favre has likely dwindled since the time he demanded his release. Why?

a) After being traded to the Jets, Favre eventually signed with a Packers’ division rival – the Minnesota Vikings.

b) As a member of the division rival Vikings, Favre defeated the Packers twice.

c) Aaron Rodgers has proven to be a more than competent replacement.

d) Until recently, Favre made statements that minimized the success of Aaron Rodgers.

 

There are also some forces that might encourage Packers fans’ forgiveness.

a) Favre has accepted some responsibility for what occurred.

b) Favre has enabled Packers fans to experience Schadenfreude – the pleasure enjoyed by the misfortunes of others - twice. First he threw an interception in the NFC championship game against the Saints. Then he threw a pick 6 against the Packers the year the Packers won the Super Bowl. As one of my friends said,” I don’t know what makes me happier, that the Packers won or that Christmas is ruined in Minnesota!”

c) Aaron Rodgers has proven to be a more than competent replacement.

d) The current team is encouraging acceptance.

e) Time has passed.

Although there seems to be a multitude of reasons for Green Bay Packers fans to cheer or boo, my expectations are that they will honor Favre with applause. Packers fans have always been known for their knowledge and respect for the game. (For example, I attended a Browns-Packers game at Lambeau Field with a half dozen Browns fans the week after Browns fans pelted the field with beer bottles in response to a bad call. Instead of chastising the Browns fans, tailgaters around us welcomed the Browns fans to Lambeau, acted as hosts, and joked innocently, “If I give you a brat, do you promise not to throw a bottle at me?”) This understanding that the game is bigger than who you identify with makes me think that unless Favre alienates the Packers during his acceptance speech, the Packers fans will accept him regardless of his sins.

Worthman, S., Solomon, R., Fichtel, E., & End, C.M. (October, 2008). Loyal fans’ reactions to and willingness to forgive a disloyal group leader. Poster presented at the annual conference of the Ohio Psychological Association, Columbus, OH.

 

Christian M. End, a social psychologist who investigates the psychology of sport fan behavior, is an associate professor at Xavier University.

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