Sports fans as religious believers

June 12, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More

Writing for Psychology Today, Nigel Barber asks whether modern day spectator sports function as religions. The evidence suggests that the answer is yes:

“The similarities between sport fandom and organized religion are striking. Consider the vocabulary associated with both: faith, devotion, worship, ritual, dedication, sacrifice, commitment, spirit, prayer, suffering, festival, and celebration.” . . . [S]pectators worship other human beings, their achievements, and the groups to which they belong.” And . . . sports stadia and arenas resemble “cathedrals where followers gather to worship their heroes and pray for their successes.”

Fans wear the team colors and carry its flags, icons, and mascots. Then there is repetitive chanting of team encouragement, hand-clapping, booing the other team, doing the wave, and so forth. The singing of an anthem at a sporting event likely has similar psychological effects as the singing of a hymn in church. . . . As a group, sports fans are fairly religious, according to research. It is also curious that as religious attendance rates have dropped off in recent decades, interest in sport spectatorship has soared. . .

[F]ans are highly committed to their favored stars and teams in a way that gives focus and meaning to their daily lives. In addition, sports spectatorship is a transformative experience through which fans escape their humdrum lives, just as religious experiences help the faithful to transcend their everyday existence.

The same issue of Psychology Today features the ex-gods and the ex-goddesses of the sports/religions. Their sports careers often end with a thud.

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Category: Culture, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Mike M. says:

    I would extend this concept further out and contend that Patriotism is also a religion. To bolster my point, I've taken the liberty of substituting the word 'sport' with 'patriotism', and 'fans' with 'patriots', and 'team' with 'Nation'. Just to see how it reads..and if it holds up. It does, imo.

    “The similarities between patriotism and organized religion are striking. Consider the vocabulary associated with both: faith, devotion, worship, ritual, dedication, sacrifice, commitment, spirit, prayer, suffering, festival, and celebration.” . . . Patriots worship soldiers, their achievements, and the groups to which they belong.”

    Patriots wear the team colors and carry its flags, icons, and mascots. Then there is repetitive chanting of "Nation encouragement", hand-clapping, booing the other nation, doing the wave, and so forth. The singing of an anthem at a patriotic rally likely has similar psychological effects as the singing of a hymn in church. . . .

    Patriots are highly committed to their favored Nation in a way that gives focus and meaning to their daily lives. In addition, Patriotism is a transformative experience through which patriots escape their humdrum lives, just as religious experiences help the faithful to transcend their everyday existence."

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