The Science Of Why People Don’t Understand Fans Of Multiple Sports Team

If you read my essays regularly you know that I am a weather geek, a scholar, and a huge sports fan. This essay touches on that world and is inspired by my own experiences. However, I always try to find science literacy in these moments. For context, the University of Georgia plays Texas Christian University for the College Football National Championship this week. I am a Professor at the University of Georgia but a three-time alumnus of Florida State University. I strongly support the Georgia Bulldogs and my alma mater Over the years, it’s amazing how many people seem to struggle with that concept so I decided to dig into this.

What I found in my research and personal experiences is that view is a powerful factor that shapes that response. My colleague Steffan Surdek wrote in Forbes, “Sight is the way people see the world. It comes from their personal perspective and is shaped by life experiences, values, their current state of mind, the assumptions they bring to a situation, and many other things.” I often refer to this as our “personal marinades.” Like vegetables or meat, we soak for years in cultural, religious, political and geographical marinades that shape who we are and how we see things.

I completed my undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees from Florida State University and I value my experiences at that institution. He launched what has been a fulfilling and rewarding career in atmospheric sciences. I spent 8 years of my life at that school, met my wife, and developed lifelong friendships. After a 12-year stint as a scientist at NASA, I joined the faculty at the University of Georgia in 2006 and am now the Director of their atmospheric sciences program. I also have a distinguished professorship there. When our semester starts next week, I will begin my 17th year at the University of Georgia. As you can see, I have “marinade” at two universities and I cheer for both of them in sports.

But, it’s not unusual for me to get tweets or comments like the one above questioning whether I’m a Florida State or Georgia fan. My answer to Bill was that I love both. This is where perspective comes in. For many fans, one team is their experience or anchor. It is likely that they grew up as a fan of a team, moved to an area, or went to one university. To me, that’s not true. I have strong and deep connections with more than one university. Likewise, many of you may have similar experiences with colleges or living in several professional sports towns.

Believe it or not, there is a serious scholarly literature on the subject of sports fandom. A 2016 press release from the University of Oxford stated, “Anthropologists have found that intense experiences of vital gains and losses shared with fellow followers bind them more tightly to each other and to the their club. From my perspective, I like this for two college teams. For you, there may only be one team. Article in Psychology today linking strong fan loyalty to self-esteem, a need for belonging, and a sense of acceptance of larger ideologies.

Although it’s a relatively minor topic at the end of the day, my thoughts here on sports fandom have more important implications. As a scientist, I often see how marinades and prejudices shape public opinion on things like climate change, vaccines, or even weather forecasts. For example, consensus scientific evidence clearly points to changes in our climate, but people still hold their “opinion” about it due to political, religious or other opinions. More relevant to the discussion at hand, it works for me to draw for Florida State University and University of Georgia. That might not work for you. It shouldn’t cause you to want to put your sights on me or diminish the loyalty of my fans. Hmmm, now that I wrote those words. They are certainly wise advice in other areas of life as well.

Come Dawgs! Go Noles!


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