Tonight is it. No matter if Russell Wilson guides the Seattle Seahawks to their second straight Super Bowl title or the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots secure their first championship in a decade, the NFL season will conclude and fans will have to wait for the draft in late April to get their next pro football fix.

This could be a difficult adjustment for the Hawks and Pats fans who’ve made such an emotional and financial investment into their teams since training camp started back in July. Sometimes this investment becomes an obsession and fans lose track of their priorities, putting sports first, and everything else, including relationships, their jobs and their health, a distant second. With the Nevada Gaming Control just announcing the state’s sports books “won $227.04 million off of the $3.9 billion wagered on sports in 2014,” which were both all-time records, sports are clearly becoming an even greater distraction.

“Some fans, especially when it comes to their involvement in fantasy sports, can be very distracted and emotionally unavailable,” said Farah Hussain Baig, LCSW psychotherapist and owner at InnerVoice Psychotherapy & Consultation in Chicago. “You can’t ask them a question, you can’t get any attention. The individual blocks out the rest of the world. The house could be on fire and that can create a lot of resentment in relationships. I think that sports can be kind of a family affair – if everyone is on the same page with it. If not, it can be damaging.”

As a result, when we hear about fans appearing to putting their needs before the well-being of their family and loved ones, the response is predictably not a kind one. That was the case recently with Seahawks fan Scott Shelton, who in case you didn’t hear, caught the ball that Jermaine Kearse threw into the CenturyLink Field stands two weeks ago after scoring Seattle’s game-winning touchdown in the NFC championship. This 32-year-old fan wasn’t ridiculed for the ball ending up in his lap (what Hawks fans wouldn’t want that piece of team history?), but in the hours and days after that game, Shelton, his criminal past, his parenting abilities, his intelligence, etc., all came under heavy scrutiny. Why? Because he was an unemployed father of two who passed up a $20,000 offer for the ball from a local memorabilia dealer so he could possibly swap it for Super Bowl tickets. Then when it was reported that Shelton would start a 26-month jail stint the day after the Super Bowl for the unlawful possession of a firearm, here’s a sampling of the response on social media:

  • Get a job, moron.  Stop buying jerseys and going to games and then take care of your kids. 
  • what a moron. you have two kids and you turn down 20 grand to be a Fanboy?
  • what a loser has no joband going to jail and mommy is supporting him
  • Hey dick head take the money and support yours kids. You have two choices here be a responsible father or freaking loser.

The anonymity of the Internet makes it easy for anyone to dish out this type of criticism without knowing the full story, but these harsh comments weren’t just directed at a sports fan that happened to catch a ball and get caught up in the moment. Shelton represented the stigma that’s long existed that fans are immature, irresponsible and live in a fantasy world. Sure, there’s no arguing that’s a perfect description of some fans, but it’s simply unfair to say that sports can’t produce a positive impact on fans’ lives.

“Sports give us this sense of connectedness and feeling positive,” Hussain Baig said. “It’s a place where everyone can get together and root for the same cause. With a group you get more of an identity outside of yourself with everyone putting on their sports gear and matching uniforms. Even if you’re not a sports fan, you can be the one who bakes the football cake and still feel part of it somehow. The Super Bowl tries to appeal to everyone like this. If you’re not into the game, there are always the commercials.”

Even though the end of the NFL season will result in some people dreading the return to “real-life” responsibilities, others will celebrate the connections they’ve built this season and fully enjoy the Super Bowl experience, no matter who wins or loses.

About the Author

Matt Beardmore

Matt Beardmore is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger.

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