Why So Serious?

In Eric Dunning’s, The Dynamics of Modern Sport: Notes on Achievement-Striving and the Social Significance of Sport, he touches upon many different thoughts about sports in the modern era. However the two that are most prevalent in my opinion today are the differences between the interests of the players and spectators, and the difference between seriousness and play.

Dunning states that when the players are heavily invested in the game, then likewise, the fans are also brought into the game in an intense fashion. The rivalries and increased tension in a certain game between the players, increases tension between fans, who feel as if they do have an effect and sometimes take it into their own hands. There have been multiple instances where fans try and affect the game, and in some cases they do, while in other cases they cross the line between playful banter and people get seriously injured.

The Seattle Seahawks have invested heavily in their fan section, titled the “12th Man” who encourages their team throughout every home game, and there are statistics that show that they actually do have an impact on the game.

The Governor of Seattle and Seattle Seahawks head coach, Pete Carroll, presenting the banner of the 12th Man that is flown at every Seahawks home game.

They have registered the second loudest recording in the world of 137.6 decibels, have actually shook the Earth during a playoff game, and have caused a league leading, 2.36 false starts per game at their home field. There is a resounding effect to having home field advantage, and the Seahawks definitely use their fan base to their advantage.

While those fans have let the seriousness in the game contribute to their own success, some fans do things out of spite because of the seriousness or lack thereof in a game. On August 20, 2011, there was a preseason football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, which proved to be disastrous and fatal for some fans. Two men were found shot in the parking lot outside the stadium, and one other man was found unconscious in a bathroom. Dunning shows that when fans are rivals, the fake game that is at hand is actually transformed into a real one, where people commit crimes and other illegal acts. This was a preseason football game, which had absolutely no implications on the regular season, but the rival fans from the Bay Area still felt the tension and let it show, according to Dunning’s thoughts. These spectators identified with the teams so much, that they felt fighting would be a way to show their allegiance and help gain the intended outcome of the game, even though there was nothing to be gained.

The players and fans as a combination are a very volatile group of people. The fans continuously model the way that the players act, while the players also feed off of the fans; it is a give and take, which could possibly influence the game depending on the situation. In black and white, the fans cheer and the players play, but if we all really thought that we had no influence on a game, would we still be watching and following the sport that fiercely? Dunning thinks that we would not watch the games without this correlation between the two, and frankly, neither do I.

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4 thoughts on “Why So Serious?

  1. Great post! I completely agree with everything you’re saying here. When a hockey player, for example, is in a scoring slump, being booed by his own fans will only cause him to panic and make more mistakes/bad shots. Having the support of a fan base is equivocal to having the support of a family – you need it to thrive.

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  2. I love the connection with Seattle’s “12th man”, it is exactly what comes to my mind when anyone talks about spectators significantly influencing a sporting event, it’s such an amazing phenomenon (all the false starts!). It’s also a great tie to Dunning’s theory on the relationship between spectator and player, in this case both a positive and negative one, depending on which team you were rooting for. However you mention that fans are only fans because they believe they can influence the game or their favorite team. I’m not sure I agree with this point fully, every time my Dad and I attend a Yankees game we go because it is a sport we love and a team we love to watch play even more. There is little to no thought about actually influencing the game itself.

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  3. I completely agree with what you are saying! I think this is an awesome post especially considering what our own football team has been going through this year. For whatever their reason may be (be it the price of tickets, our athletic director, or the current caliber of our team) the student section in particular has been extremely empty this season, especially in comparison to what it has been in the past. As you said, and as the commenter above me mentioned (but disagreed with), fans are often fans because they believe that their presence will have some influence. While that is not the only reason I am a fan, I do believe that a fans presence at a game does help the team or players out quite a bit. Take the Penn State game a few weeks ago, Now I’m not saying that the fans were the only reason our team won, but a full, fired up student section, couldn’t have hurt the players drive and strength in the game. And as you mentioned there are also some crazy things fans will do in order to try and affect the game while its happening. As a member of the Basketball student section “The Maize Rage” I can say that the students do chants and movements in order to distract the other team. Great Post!

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  4. Really interesting post! The examples you used such as the 12th Man and the incident during the 49ers-Raiders game provide excellent support for the points that you made. I completely agree with you that fans try to put themselves into the game and try to convince themselves that their actions will have some affect on the game. However, I don’t think this is the reason that fans watch sports. I think the crowd at a game definitely believes that they have some sort of effect on the outcome, but what about the people that watch sports at home? I think most fans realize that their superstitions and traditions won’t really have an impact on the game from the comfort of their own living room. Although I do agree that some people may watch sports for that reason, I believe that majority of sports fans have different reasons for watching and following their teams so closely.

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