ABRIEL Mallari vividly remembers where he was during game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. A communications officer for an NGO, he was alone in his work area while most of his peers were in a meeting. It was ideal timing—he could follow the game intently and support his favorite team in the entire galaxy, the San Antonio Spurs. He wouldn’t need to worry about getting too worked up about the game.
“It was perfect because I got to cheer loudly,” Mallari says. “I tend to get loud when I watch Spurs games.” He even wore a black polo shirt that day to match the Spurs’ colors. When Tim Duncan and company were up by five with only 28 seconds left in the game, Mallari was literally jumping in his workspace. A championship was in sight. People were already texting and congratulating him as if he was a part-time owner of the team.
But suddenly, Ray Allen’s miraculous three-pointer happened, and just like that, Mallari’s euphoria spiraled into dejection. “It was a championship that slipped through the tiny cracks,” he explains. “That was the longest 28 seconds of basketball I’ve ever ‘watched.’”
Yes, open-close quotations on ‘watched.’ Because you see, he wasn’t watching the game on TV or even through live streaming. He was just following the play-by-play and box scores online. Despite their loss in overtime, Mallari was still confident that the Spurs would win the winner-take-all Game 7. Alas, his favorite team this side of the Milky Way fell short. There are masochists, and there are those who, like Mallari, are sports fans. You could argue that rabid sports followers inflict pain upon themselves. They’re fully aware that they might just end up disappointed and frustrated. Yet there they are, year after year, game after game, minute after minute, cheering their lungs out, pumping their fists, and investing their entire gamut of emotions in hopes of getting the win. But of course, that isn’t always the case.
So why bother, then? Well, for feeling a sense of belongingness, for instance. As an article on the popular sports and pop-culture website Grantland.com puts it: “If you take time to consider it, following the ups and downs of a group of men wearing color-coordinated clothing makes very little sense. Fans have no actual agency regarding wins or losses—it’s a trick of the light played on our bone-deep instinct for tribalism.”
Trivial or not, fandom is as much a part of the sporting culture as the teams and players. It’s difficult to imagine sports without the face-painted fanatics in football matches, the gyrating, high-pitched homosexuals in PBA games, the heated debates in dingy barbershops, and the overzealous celebratory posts and rants on Facebook and Twitter. It can even take you through a different journey altogether.
“Fandom allows someone to also live vicariously through a certain team or athlete,” says psychologist Maria Christina Saldivar, Ph.D., a professor at the De La Salle College of Saint Benilde. “It gives fans the feeling that another group or person is doing what they’ve always wanted to do. Their favorite team or player becomes an extension of their self.”
While there’s that aspect of living vicariously through an athlete’s exploits, there’s also that raw and realness only a live game of any sport can bring. Other forms of entertainment simply cannot compare with the catharsis of a match unfolding. “It’s like watching unscripted reality TV, while gaining information at the same time,” says Noel Zarate, a veteran journalist who has covered basketball, volleyball, boxing, and billiards since 1994.
Not everyone, however, can be considered a true sports fan. It’s easy to name-drop Maria Sharapova, but do you know how many majors she has won? It’s almost impossible not to support Manny Pacquiao, but can you tell a jab from a hook? It’s convenient to cheer for the Miami Heat, but where were you when the team’s best player was Rony Seikaly?
If not, then how can you consider yourself a real fan of a team, let alone a sport? “A true sports fan must have the right combination of devotion and knowledge,” notes long-time sportscaster Anthony Suntay. “You can’t flip-flop or switch teams when your original pick loses. You have to know the team quite well to be able to support it, and you can’t truly appreciate the game and the performance of your team if you don’t understand the sport.”
Loyalty is indeed sacred for true sports fans. Changing sides shouldn’t be as easy as Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. In fact, the real measure of a fan is his capacity to stick with a team or athlete through the toughest of times. Think Tiger Woods’s adultery scandal, Martina Hingis’s cocaine addiction, the UP Fighting Maroons’ winless seasons, and the Boston Red Sox’s “Curse of the Bambino” days. If you still root for a player or squad despite similar situations mentioned, then you’re a legit fan.
But if you easily jump ship, then you fall in the bandwagon category—those who just cheer for whoever’s on top or trending. “Bandwagoners are novice sports fans. Some convert to being true sports fans, but mostly, they just become irritating,” Zarate remarks. And while you certainly have the freedom to choose the competitors to root for at any given time, you might be missing out on the long-term benefits of standing by an athlete or team.
“Through loyalty, fans also learn to cling to hope,” says Saldivar. “You learn that in times when your favorite team or player loses, there’s always hope that they can win again.” That lesson can come in handy when you encounter setbacks of your own. It can give you the confidence to try again or the hope that things will be better.
Various studies have also attributed several health benefits to sports fandom. Research done by the University of Utah found that watching sports consistently increases levels of testosterone, which is of course primarily responsible for the male libido. Meanwhile, a University of Chicago study discovered that regular sports viewing (or listening to commentary) stimulates different parts of the brain. It makes people think and visualize without being physically active.
That said, as much as it brings benefits, sports fandom can also ruin your health—giving a quite-literal meaning to the saying “live and die.” Heart attacks are possible, especially after a significant loss. According to a Wall Street Journal article, the number of heart-related deaths in Massachusetts shot up by 20 percent in the days following the New England Patriots’ defeat at the 2008 Super Bowl versus the New York Giants. And there’s never been a Pacquiao fight without news of anybody suffering a heart attack.
Other common health risks include heightened anger and depression, which could lead to more severe emotional illness if not treated properly. So if you’re a hardcore fan, Saldivar warns that you should be aware if you’re going overboard. “The time and energy you spend on your favorite team or player should not affect your personal life. You should know when to give equal value and importance to your own growth as an individual.”
The succeeding days after the Spurs’ defeat were difficult for Mallari, who has been a fan for 15 years. Though he hasn’t moved on completely, he has learned to accept it. He’s still rooting for Tim Duncan and company and clinging to yet another season of faith and hope, while also being aware of the lurking disappointment.
After all, whether you’re a Spurs fan, a kabarangay of Ginebra, or the president of the Rafael Nadal Fans Club Tayuman Chapter, sports shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all. The ecstasy of winning and the misery of losing are both fleeting. This adage, even if it’s as worn-out as Pete Maravich’s trademark floppy socks, is true: You win some, you lose some. A true sports fan knows that.
What’s important is that you learn along the way. “You can still derive something positive out of your team losing—maybe pick up a few life lessons like rising from adversity or coming back stronger the next time,” says Suntay. And as with anything that can cause undue stress, you must also learn to detach yourself from the sporting world. “As a fan, you have to remain in touch with your reality,” stresses Saldivar. After all, life is another ballgame altogether.
Socialize sans sports and you’ll be a well-rounded person
Find new hobbies
Your world shouldn’t revolve around sports. Why not try to counterbalance the manly dictates of competitive pursuits by enrolling in cooking classes, joining a book club, or delving into arts and crafts? The upside: Meeting more women.
With today’s web-driven society, it’s really difficult to stay offline. But once you give it a try, it can be liberating. Don’t check sports updates on Facebook, avoid browsing Twitter, and say no to fantasy-league invites
Go on vacation
Stress-related conditions aren’t new to sports viewing. That’s why taking a break from competition, even if you’re just a viewer, is essential. Even athletes take vacations! Go on a trip and see the world outside the boxing ring or the golf course.
The easiest way to take a timeout from the flurry of sports is to talk to others. Listen and find interest in what they have to say. Or better yet, meet new people and learn what they’re passionate about.
Have your crossed the line that separates being a passionate fan from being a psycho one? Here are signs you should look out for
Warning #1: You alienate others.
Do you yak about your favorite sport, team, or player 24/7? It could be a problem. “[It’s troubling] if you fail to connect with others who may not be interested in your chosen sport and you have no other topic to talk about except about your favorite player or team,” cautions psychologist Maria Christina Saldivar, Ph.D.
Warning #2: You have a surplus of merchandise.
As with most things, buying sports-related stuff should be done in moderation. “It’s not healthy when you have more items belonging to a team or player than your own personal things,” says sports journalist Noel Zarate. “Worse [is] if you begin dressing like the athlete and become confrontational to those who don’t approve.”
Warning # 3: You have sports-related tantrums.
Sports fans tend to get immature, especially when they’re on the losing end. “Fans lose control of their emotions,” states sportscaster Anthony Suntay. Are you ready to throw stuff on the court because of an errant call by the ref? Then it’s time to calm down, buddy.
Warning #4 You live in an alternate universe.
Some fanatics create a world of their own and forget their real lives. “If fans become too obsessed, this may become their world and [they may] get detached from reality,” Saldivar notes. “They stop becoming accountable for their own responsibilities. Keep in mind that once the buzzer signals the end of the game, it’s back to your life already.