A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist turns his attention to those who identify obsessively with their teams.
Dohrmann (Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine, 2010, etc.) doesn’t pretend to offer the last word on superfandom. Instead, he spotlights a field of study that is still in its infancy. He shows why the sort of fan studied by psychologists deserves more attention, at least partly because “sports is the rare piece of popular culture that exposes people of different cultures, races, religions and classes to one another, that brings them together on a large scale.” Though the author highlights some of the research and its conclusions, the liveliest parts are character studies of real people who devote their lives to their teams. Some seem to crave attention; others find an outlet for their artistic creativity; still others transfer their addictive tendencies to an obsession with sports. Many are displaced, and gathering with other fans far from where they first identified with the team reinforces their “place attachment.” In such cases as the Green Bay Packers and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the place is prized for forging certain character values that the fans see the team as embodying—even as the ties between the players and the place might be increasingly tenuous. This is also the rare field of academic research where “these academics behave like the people they study. They know how the sausage is made and yet they still have ordered a double helping.” In other words, they are sports fans who seem to have a lot of fun studying other sports fans and who give presentations such as, “Your Team Stinks! The Impact of Team Identification on Biased Ratings of Odors.” The book runs the gamut from the seriously disturbed sports fanatic to those who find transcendence in a community that might even be more important than the team.
The organization is a little scattershot, but this is a fascinating subject deserving of further study, and Dohrmann provides a good jumping-off point.