The Psychology of Being a Fan, Part Three: The Know-It-All

UT/Florida Atlantic Football PanoramaCowboy Fan Hubby took a circuitous route to earn his degree at the University of Texas, so we had tickets in the student section for football games for a lot of years, and I had plenty of opportunity to observe the behavior of the native fan base there. Countless games I attended over the years went something like this: the stands would have a healthy portion of empty seats until about mid-way through the first quarter when the over dressed co-eds and their dates would meander in from their pre-game parties. Once seated, one of the guys would pull a flask out of his boot and they would begin criticizing the play calling on the field. Very often, the conversation would begin something like this, “I would never have…” or “When I played…” I would passively listen as the males in the group essentially let it be known that they had been football players in high school and therefore had a command of the game. As the contents of the flask went down, the bravado would go up until the group generally got either bored or just overly anxious to get the post-game party started and would trickle back out about mid-way through the fourth quarter. A working-girl-outsider, I was probably a little overly cynical, but I always wondered why, if those ex-jocks were so talented, they weren’t down on the field instead of up in the stands criticizing the actual players and coaches. That was probably a bit harsh on my part because I wasn’t sensitive to the underlying sensitivities, but I don’t doubt I read into it correctly that these were young men trying to impress young women with tales of their glory days which manifested into how much smarter they are about the game as opposed to the high paid coach on the sideline. And we all know the saying it’s not hubris if you can back it up? Well, what I over heard over and over in the stands in Austin was hubris, no matter what drove it.

To an extent, we’re probably all like that. I was reminded the other day as I read a caption about an over-the-top fan that the very word “fan” is short for fanatic. If we love a sport, we want to feel like we know a lot about it. And it’s human nature to feel slightly superior if we know more than the next guy. For me, I confess, the desire, as a female fan, to know more than the next “guy” is pretty strong actually. I like it in particular when I know more about hockey than an Average Joe because it’s relatively new to me, and, while I could skate in my youth, I didn’t play. The psychology of that is easy: I don’t want to think of myself as a bandwagon fan, and I really want people to respect and accept my love for the game. With football, it’s less of a niche sport and more widely understood, so the trick is being up on the latest before anyone else.

But, I was recently trying to research the psychology of all those ex-jocks I shared some bleacher seats with once upon a time and was surprised to not find anything. Has no one ever looked into what drives a sports fan to profess to be an expert? There was a lot of material about the workplace Know-It-All, but this, to my mind, is different. This is about trying to relive a time in a fan’s life when they felt like they were important and respected. It’s about trying to feel smart and in a measure of control in the present day. Because, face it, you can say we’re the Twelfth Man all you want to, but besides disrupting some play calling by being noisy, we’re pretty much helpless to do anything more than watch (a fact I have to remind myself while curled up in the fetal position during the playoffs), so there is a small measure of comfort to think that if only we could have drawn up that play or thrown that ball. And of course sometime it’s very simply just about trying to impress a date.

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