Some sports fans cross the line between devotion and obsession
by Jennifer Cohron
Jan 08, 2012 | 1423 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Two sports fans watch ESPN at Handy’s TV and Appliance in Jasper. Some fans turn a sports team into an obsession that affects their relationships with family and friends. Photo by: Daniel Gaddy
Two sports fans watch ESPN at Handy’s TV and Appliance in Jasper. Some fans turn a sports team into an obsession that affects their relationships with family and friends. Photo by: Daniel Gaddy
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Joshua Spooner was an intense sports fan until the infamous ending of the 2008 Super Bowl caused him to reevaluate his priorities.

The New England Patriots were close to wrapping up a perfect season with a championship win. After trailing early in the fourth quarter, quarterback Tom Brady connected with Randy Moss for what many thought was the game-winning touchdown with less than three minutes left in the game.

“The only emotion that got out of me was a single fist pump. I don’t remember smiling. I didn’t hoot or holler. I was just like ‘Okay, I expected this to happen. Good for you for doing your jobs,’” Spooner recalled.

Then came the play between Eli Manning and David Tyree of the New York Giants that became known as “The Helmet Catch.” The Giants scored seconds later, upsetting the Patriots and their legions of fans.

Spooner was devastated.

He couldn’t sleep. He moped around the next morning and avoided football coverage for months because he couldn’t bear to hear about or see the catch again.

By the spring, Spooner was eager to root on the Boston Red Sox.

The defending World Series champions opened their season in Japan. Due to the difference in time zones, Spooner had to get up at 6 a.m. to watch the Sox play on the East Coast.

“I really could have used the sleep because I had a 4-month-old daughter who wasn’t sleeping very well through the night as well as work and other responsibilities,” Spooner said.

Spooner thought back to his disproportionate response to winning and losing the Super Bowl. He wondered if a third World Series title in five years would mean much to him as a Red Sox fan.

Spooner decided that he might be devoting too much time and energy to sports.

He chose a typical week that summer and tracked how much he watched, listened to or read about sports. The total, 32 hours, surprised him.

Kevin Quirk, author of “Not Now, Honey, I'm Watching the Game,” said while sports is a fun social activity, it can also become an obsession.

“The drama of sports is really a drug. It hooks us,” Quirk said.

Quirk, a former sportswriter who has also studied psychology, received more than 400 responses to a survey he conducted in the 1990s related to sports addiction.

Some fans admitted that they were using sports to avoid tough situations at work and home.

Others were so emotionally invested that how their favorite teams fared each season brought them more excitement and caused them more pain than anything else in their daily lives.

Spooner said he gravitated toward sports to connect with others.

“Being a sports fan helped me get into social situations and interactions that an otherwise shy and introspective person like I was might not have been able to experience,” he said.

However, sports also has the potential to negatively affect a fan’s relationships and grip on reality.

“When it becomes too important, it starts to overshadow other needs that don’t get the same attention when we’re wrapped up in sports,” Quirk said.

He added that while the amount of time spent on sports is one sign of an addiction, a person’s choices are important too. “Sportsaholics” will not only prefer sports over practically anything else but also become defensive when confronted about their habits.

University of Alabama at Birmingham clinical psychologist Josh Klapow defines an abnormal love affair with sports as thinking about it while doing other things, getting irritated when a game is interrupted, missing family or other important events to watch a game or becoming depressed, angry or violent after a loss.

“Ultimately this is a habit that needs to change, and moving forward means changing your behavior a little bit at a time,” Klapow said.

Spooner chose a more drastic course of action.

He walked away from sports for a year. He didn’t watch it (even in movies), discuss it with others or wear sports-themed attire.

His only exceptions were to exercise and follow coverage of sports stories that became national news, such as Congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball.

Spooner said although he suffered through withdrawal symptoms initially, the break from sports allowed him more opportunities to focus on his family.

“I wasn’t trying to multi-task with a Red Sox game on in the background or reading a column on ESPN.com while my wife was talking. She noticed that. She said I was listening to her like we were dating again,” Spooner said.

Two years after the experiment ended, Spooner has a different perspective on sports. He no longer participates in fantasy leagues and can’t spout off statistics that he once thought were so important.

The day after the Red Sox were eliminated from playoff contention last fall, Spooner’s co-workers and students at Western New England University walked around like they were in mourning.

For him, it was just another day.

“I am comfortable knowing how the Red Sox did last night. I don’t feel the need to watch the game, watch highlights and then read about it,” Spooner said.

Quirk said only sports fans like Spooner can take themselves out of the game.

“It’s up to individuals to ask themselves if sports is just something that they play with, have social engagement and then let go or if it’s only about the fate of the team. And is that really the way you want to have connection with the important people in your life?” Quirk said.