Today, like many, I feel a little down (and exhausted). I’d be curious to do a study on whether symptoms of depression increase the week after Super Bowl when it is hard saying good-bye to the NFL season. However, today also reminds me of how much joy being a sports fan can bring.

Being a sports fan has many psychological benefits. It’s an excellent form of distraction as I learned so well when I was a teenager. My mother had breast cancer when I was a freshman in high school and I am very thankful for the New York Mets, Cincinnati Bengals, and my beloved Connecticut Huskies for helping me get through this difficult time. More recently, as I was hanging by a thread pregnant with twins, the Huskies went on their amazing 2011 championship run. Suddenly, once March Madness began, I magically wasn’t as tired and uncomfortable at night. Instead, I was captivated. As a health psychologist, I try to teach sick patients how to distract themselves with strategies that are relaxing and enjoyable. For me, although maybe not always relaxing, watching sports has done this very thing.

Being a sports fan has other benefits too. No matter what one’s background, a love of sports is something that can be easily shared. The other day, while teaching “Abnormal Psychology,” I was trying to illustrate that sometimes what’s considered “abnormal” is contextual. For example, if you saw someone sitting in the park sobbing, you may consider this behavior “abnormal” but what if she had just experienced a loss? Then, her behavior would fit the context. As we were going over such examples in class, a funny thing happened. Someone mentioned Richard Sherman’s post-game interview after the NFC championship game. It was a delight hearing my students take this on; the majority concluded that his behavior was contextual! Best of all, it was an example that everyone could relate to and I bet that they won’t forget. I have found that sports can illustrate so many points in my classes.

 Finally, being a sports fan can lead to a sense of belonging that may even protect us from negative feelings (Joiner, Hollar, & Orden, 2006). This fall, on Fordham’s campus, our football team was undefeated right up until the end of the season. You could feel the excitement and pride across campus. It was such a pleasure walking into class and hearing the “buzz” about their performance. Last year, I had the joy of teaching two of our women’s basketball players during a fantastic season. Our class rallied behind their success and I relished what a close group we became. It reminded me of 1999 when the Huskies won their first championship. This was before social networking and so after the game, I spent hours on the phone soaking up every minute of this long awaited win with my fellow fans. I felt a little sad (and exhausted) the next day too.

Today, it seems like a long wait until the fall for another kickoff. But as we begin the transition away from football season, I look forward to many more exciting times this year and of course focusing on college basketball. It’s time to start thinking about our brackets!

Literature cited:

Joiner Jr, T. E., Hollar, D., & Orden, K. V. (2006). On Buckeyes, Gators, Super Bowl Sunday, and the Miracle on Ice: “Pulling together” is associated with lower suicide rates. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25(2), 179-195.

About the Author

Rachel Annunziato

Rachel Annunziato, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Fordham University.

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