Why Do We Naturally Care About Sports?


It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m lying on my bed trying to figure out what to write for this week’s edition of From the Desk. I could write about my time so far at Fordham, my brief experience as sports editor or literally any other topic. The list is endless. As I lay, my heart is almost beating out of my chest. Not because of this article, but because of what I was focusing on before. I just finished watching Rutgers basketball narrowly defeat Penn State to significantly increase their chances of going to the NCAA tournament. I barely even have a connection to Rutgers, yet I find myself attached to the team.

Sure, I’m from New Jersey and my mom went there, but that still doesn’t seem like it should be enough for the team to captivate me in the extreme way it does. Perhaps it’s because Rutgers are lovable underdogs who have gone from being irrelevant to a top power in the Big 10 conference in the span of four seasons. Or simply because I enjoy watching sports. But I think there is a deeper psychological explanation as to why so many people in the world care so deeply about sports.  

Why is my mood at least somewhat dependent on the results of seemingly arbitrary games? The answer doesn’t lie in the game itself, but rather with the individual watching it. According to Daniel Wann, a professor of psychology at Murray State University who focuses on the psychological aspect of sports fandom, people watch sports for a variety of reasons, ranging from a desire for a sense of community to a need to escape from real-world troubles. Depending on what people are lacking from a psychological perspective, they might turn to sports as a way to fill that void. 

Even with these explanations, there is still one aspect of sports fandom that seems even more primal. When the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018, Eagles fans tore down traffic lights and damaged cars and storefronts after the game. Similar events occurred in San Francisco in 2018 when the Giants won the World Series. 

The first reason that comes to mind for this behavior is obviously alcohol. People tend to do stupid things when they drink, and when you’re surrounded by a large number of people who just witnessed the same thing you did, it is easy for mob mentality to take over.

Some people might also dismiss the Philadelphia incident as Eagles fans simply displaying the extreme passion that they are notorious for in the sports world. While these factors definitely play a role, there is a biological explanation for why fans riot after their team wins. 

Studies indicate that fans’ testosterone levels often increase after their favorite team wins and decrease after a loss. This likely fuels feelings of aggression, almost like it does for other kinds of animals during competition. While aggression is undoubtedly a negative side effect, your favorite team winning also has positive impacts on your psyche. Research shows that fans view themselves as more attractive and have higher self-esteem after their team wins.

This leaves one all-important question unanswered: What happens when your team loses? Say you only win 50% of the time. Any sports fan knows the low after a tough loss is just as severe as the high after a win. So why do we continue to watch if the odds of us feeling good are only 50/50? It doesn’t really make sense when you write it down on paper. Perhaps it isn’t even logical.  

On an unconscious level, sports fans like me are chasing that psychological response that comes from competition. It feels good when you win and bad when you lose. Not much matches that feeling of joy I felt on Sunday when Rutgers was able to hang on for the victory over a heated rival. We’re all chasing highs in some way or another. For myself and so many others, sports is my outlet.