cowboyangel wrote:The Red Sox fans, of course
October 17, 2004
Maybe Red Sox Fans Enjoy Their Pain
By BENEDICT CAREY
HERE'S a soothing thought, Red Sox fans: Losing isn't everything.
True, social scientists who study sports have found plenty of reasons for fans to root for a winner, like basking in the reflected glory of the team, finding a community of friends, even buffering oneself against feelings of despair. The sudden pleasure of watching a walk-off home run or overtime goal can touch the deepest emotional centers of the brain, research suggests, and even make some supporters feel more socially confident and attractive.
But those who are repeatedly denied the pleasures of winning find other compensations, which psychologists say go beyond the shallow charms of being simply a lovable underdog. "Long-suffering is not quite the right phrase, because at some level, I think, we do like it," said Christopher Peterson, a psychologist at the University of Michigan who is a Red Sox and Cubs fan. "So much of the human condition is about striving."
Make no mistake: the Red Sox nation wants nothing more than to win it all, shake off the team's history and throw a party to transcend all hangovers. And a defeat of the New York Yankees might be even sweeter.
But years of futility forces fans to express their identification in ways that go beyond merely celebrating wins and mourning losses. Loyalty to the club at all costs, an interest in the history of the team and emotional resilience often count more to supporters of cursed teams than victorious ones, said Dr. Christian End, a psychologist at Xavier University in Cincinnati who studies the relation between sports affiliation and self-presentation.
And these fans can be very appealing. In one study among 87 college students, Dr. End found that supporters of losing squads are if anything viewed more positively by their peers than fans of successful teams.
"No one can accuse you of being a lightweight fan," Dr. End said. "You've creatively changed the dimensions of comparison to include not just the outcome, the score, but measures of character."
People who root for losers also quickly learn how to explain and adjust to failure, skills that psychologists say are emotionally protective. Fans often come up with a short list of bad omens, wrong-headed decisions and misfortune.
"Injuries, officiating, the weather, some player's attitude, the curse - fans of unsuccessful clubs are particularly good at finding explanations other than their team is a bunch of chokers," said Dr. Daniel L. Wann, a Cub fan and psychologist at Murray State University in Murray, Ky., who has spent a career studying sports affiliation. Some explanations are no more than excuses or superstition. Many Cubs supporters still blame a fan who interfered with a foul ball during last year's National League playoffs for sinking the entire season, despite costly errors made by players on the field.
In special cases, fans agree on the cause of the loss, like the 1986 World Series, when Bill Buckner, the Red Sox first baseman, missed a ground ball, allowing the New York Mets to win. Other legitimate explanations, like injuries to key players, allow fans to take their team off the hook, soften the emotional blow of losing and salvage their emotional investment in the franchise.
This ability to consider multiple and combined reasons for failure - of spreading blame, if appropriate - can be especially helpful to people who blame themselves for things they have very little control over. It's a strategy that comes in very handy in other areas of personal life, said Dr. David Zald, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University. For instance, it can help any parent explain to a 7-year-old why her soccer team just lost by five goals.
Finally, supporting a losing team gives fans a psychological trump card. The long-denied supporters of teams like the Chicago White Sox, the Los Angeles Kings, the Colorado Rockies - the list is too long print, but you know who you are - know that one day, their team will almost certainly win it all, and the magnificence of that coming victory grows in the imagination with every blown save, every fumble, every mind-boggling collapse.
They know, too, that the fantasies of this deliverance are so cherished that the championship itself, if and when it happens, may somehow fall short.
The party will end, the curse vanish, and there will be no more heroic striving toward a paradise not yet found, but therefore not yet lost.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company