Whom do you root for?

Exploring the prevalence (and causes for) sports fandom.

A friend’s son asked me which Superbowl team I would be rooting for during the big game – and I didn’t have a satisfactory answer for him. Team sports have always held a “red tribe/blue tribe” quality to me, even from a fairly early age. A great deal of that has to do with how we become associated with team sports, among other concepts.

There is a certain genetic component in how certain concepts, particularly belief systems, are transmitted – but studies tend to indicate that our beliefs are, at least, initially drawn from the belief systems of our parents (see: 1960s Bobo Doll experiment). This means that our initial viewpoints tend to stem from our parents, although it should be noted that some belief systems (when pushed too strongly by parents), result in children rebelling against those same beliefs.

Regardless of all of that, team sports is a bit too – arbitrary – in its fandom. A great deal of knowing which team you’re going to be rooting for is tied up in where you live in proximity to that team. The upshot of this is that if you had been born a hundred miles away from where you were born, there’s a very distinct chance that your favorite sports team would be different. It’s vaguely the same lottery present with religion – if you were born to a family of a different faith than your parents, there’s an overwhelming chance that you would follow that faith instead of whichever faith (or non-theist belief system) you have now. The same can be said for political ideology ; whether primarily by genetics or primarily by learned behavior, we tend to “inherit” these things from our parents (or other primary role models).

Tribes are artificial constructs meant to extend natural family bonds beyond those with close genetic similitude, and the notion is generally thought to predate the modern notion of the Nation-State. The internal workings of tribalism at a sociological level are constantly being challenged by anthropologists and sociologists, but we do have a number of fairly solid theories describing their operation, at the moment.

Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it - George Bernard Shaw, 1893

Patriotism is framed as being a larger, more structured version of team fandom – at least, in my supposition. If our fealty is simply based on luck of birth, how much stock should we put into it?

I’m going to round this out with a very simple observation: if it makes you happy (and isn’t hurting other people), there’s probably no reason why you shouldn’t be doing it. If sports fandom is your thing, by all means, don’t let my pseudo-analysis hinder you from enjoying the trials and tribulations of your favorite team. If not, I hope that this will, at least to some degree, help explain why others are so fascinated by their favorite tribe / team / nation.