It’s White & Gold, Damn it!: Why We Watch the NFL

Who here looked up #TheDress and decided they had to pick a side?

White & Gold or Blue & Black?  Whether you did or not, if you type in #TheDress on Twitter, you’ll see thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of comments, memes, and criticisms about this crazy Dress.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s just a sampling of what’s been happening:

So being an NFL fan, and not much of a “debate-the-color-of-the-dress” fan, I still felt compelled to chime in.  Why is that?  Well, I think it’s the same reason that we’re all rabid NFL fans.  Let me explain.

Bear Down, Chicago Bears!

nfl_bears_fans_moustaches-LAs NFL fans, what’s the first thing you do when you see someone wearing your team’s t-shirt?  Or a hat with your team’s logo?  Well, you smile.  You might also nod at the stranger slightly as if to say “hey, I got your back.”  What you’re feeling there is a sense of belonging.

Daniel L. Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State University and author of “Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators” found that being a sports fan can help your emotional, psychological and social health.  Wann also found that fans who identify with a team tended to have higher self-esteem and are less lonely.

“Pretty much any way you look at it, the more you identify with a local team, the more psychologically healthy you tend to be.  You have a built-in connection to others in your environment. If you live in San Francisco and you are a Giants fan, it’s pretty easy to be connected to others.”

Of course, I suspect Wann is referring to the baseball Giants and not the football Giants.  I suspect being a New York Football Giants fan in San Francisco would lead to being the exact opposite of being connected.

According to Rick Grieve from Western Kentucky University, identifying with a sports team can help people feel like they belong.

“I have a group of friends who are like me because we root for the same team—that gives me a network of valued connections…. Identification with a team gives you a kind of social support network that provides a buffer from things like anxiety, loneliness, and depression. There’s also evidence that people who have established social support networks have some protection against physical illness. There are a whole host of benefits.”

Honestly, we probably all got into watching sports because of a family member, friends or just being in the right environment at the right time.  And according to Professor Sam Sommers of Tufts University, there are a lot of benefits to raising your kids as sports fans, such as teaching kids the importance of perseverance.  For me, becoming a Bears fan was due to being in Chicago during Super Bowl XX, listening to Super Bowl Shuffle and living near William “Refrigerator” Perry.  And, trust me, there’s some stories there, but we’ll leave that for another time.

NBC Photo

NBC Photo

But regardless of how you start, the reason why we continue to be fans is the sense of camaraderie and the importance of being invested.  When the Bears win, I’m happy.  When the Bears lose, I’m mad.  When the Bears bench Cutler for Jimmy Clausen, I sigh, shake my head and think “Come on, Ditka.  Please come back to coach the Bears.”


At any rate, the point is we all like to belong.  And we all like to be heard.  Taking a side keeps you invested, good or bad.  It’s a safe way to take a stand without serious consequences.  As Adam Sternbergh of the New York Times Magazine said:

“The epic collapse, then, is an opportunity to confront an event that’s bewildering in its unlikelihood and ruinous in its effect, yet to also walk away entirely unscarred. It matters, deeply, and yet it doesn’t matter at all. It’s heartbreak with training wheels.”

And psychologically, that’s a good thing.  Being able to experience the camaraderie and the consequences of picking a side without really impacting your everyday life is part of being healthy and happy.

And that, my friends, is why we love the NFL.

…AND why that damn dress is WHITE & GOLD!  Come on, how in the world are you seeing BLACK & BLUE?  That’s nuts!  You’re so wrong!  Kim Kardasian knows what I’m talking about!

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime